The Sadim Touch

by Russ Roberts on October 1, 2006

in Education

The Sadim touch is the opposite of the Midas touch. With the Midas touch, everything you touch turns to gold. With the Sadim touch, you ruin everything you touch.

The government has the Sadim touch. Three articles in today’s Washington Post make this clear.

The first is that the No Child Left Behind federal legislation ended up benefiting a lot of Bush cronies:

 

The centerpiece of the new research-based
approach was Reading First, a $1 billion-a-year effort to help
low-income schools adopt strategies "that have been proven to prevent
or remediate reading failure" through rigorous peer-reviewed studies.
"Quite simply, Reading First focuses on what works, and will support
proven methods of early reading instruction," the Education Department
promised.

 

Department officials and a small group of influential contractors have
strong-armed states and local districts into adopting a small group of
unproved textbooks and reading programs with almost no peer-reviewed
research behind them. The commercial interests behind those textbooks
and programs have paid royalties and consulting fees to the key Reading
First contractors, who also served as consultants for states seeking
grants and chaired the panels approving the grants. Both the architect
of Reading First and former education secretary Roderick R. Paige have
gone to work for the owner of one of those programs, who is also a top
Bush fundraiser.

Here’s the close of the article:

 

But it is clear that Reading First has been a terrific boon for the
textbook publishing industry, and for the department’s favored
programs. For example, the company that developed Voyager Passport was
valued at about $5 million in a newspaper article before Reading First;
founder Randy Best, whose Republican fundraising made him a Bush
Pioneer, eventually sold it for $380 million. He then put Lyon and
Paige on his payroll.

 

Local domination of education is an
American tradition, and Bush took up a storied cause in challenging it;
reformers since Horace Mann have promoted national education policy as
a way to encourage common culture and equal opportunity. But
local-control advocates have always warned that empowering heavy-handed
federal bureaucrats would breed self-serving, one-size-fits-all
solutions. Now, Reading First is making them look like prophets.

Second, the DC school system stinks. But the new mayor is going to fix it:

 

Schools in the nation’s capital suffer from a special affliction:
too many emperors. The continual battling for control over the school
system among government officials and agencies — as well as the
congressional gorilla on Capitol Hill — has resulted in ever-shifting
priorities, an absence of accountability, low morale and waste. It has
spawned an endless churning of leadership (six superintendents or
acting superintendents in the past 10 years), promoted patronage and
spurred endless political infighting.

 

These are hardly the
circumstances from which successful school reform springs. Just the
opposite: An outside audit of the school system in 2004 found that the
District’s hydra-headed power structure had left the city unable even
to establish a vision for improvement. Indeed, the review concluded
that the city had "no . . . strategy for raising student achievement."

 

Into this vacuum strides Fenty with a promise to "demand and deliver results."

Want to wager on whether he’s going to be successful?

Finally, George Will writes
about how the feds are undermining referenda and legislation that would
require the a state to spend at least 65% of its education expenditures
on "classroom instruction."

 

But in July the National Center for Education Statistics, part of
the U.S. Education Department, undermined this national effort. A
report on expenditures for public elementary and secondary education
for the 2003-04 school year contained this finding: "The percentage of
current expenditures spent on instruction and instruction-related activities
was 66.1 percent in 2003-04 for the nation as a whole" (emphasis
added). Seasoned students of government verbiage noted the suspiciously
vague phrase "instruction-related activities."

 

Opacity is a sign
of insincerity: Government language becomes opaque as the government’s
conscience becomes uneasy. When no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction
were found, the U.S. government began speaking foggily of finding
"weapons of mass destruction-related program activities."

The government has the Sadim touch–it ruins everything it touches,
increasing the demand for more government unless we realize the true
source of the problem. Remember Milton Friedman’s insight, one of his deepest:

 

And
that is the fallacy — this is at the bottom of it — the fallacy that
it is feasible and possible to do good with other people’s money. Now,
you see that fallacy — that view — has two flaws. If I want to do
good with other people’s money I’d first have to take it away from
them. That means that the welfare state philosophy of doing good with
other people’s money, at its very bottom, is a philosophy of violence
and coercion. It’s against freedom, because I have to use force to get
the money. In the second place, very few people spend other people’s
money as carefully as they spend their own. Let me take this down to
the situation of New York City right now. About six or seven or eight
years ago — I’ve forgotten when it was — John Kenneth Galbraith, in
an article he wrote in The New York Times Magazine Section, said, there
are no problems in New York City that would not be solved if the New
York City budget were twice what it is now. Now, the New York City
budget has since then something like tripled. And all the problems are
worse. Why? Because the fact is, it’s a confusion to identify the City
with the people. The New York City’s budget is higher, but that means
that the people of New York have less to spend. It’s only been
transferred from people individually to the City. Now, who spends the
money more carefully — the City civil servants or people who are
spending their own money? Now, of course, you may say to me, but when
the City spends the money, it’ll go for the good things, and so even
half of it is wasted, it’s better off. But that’s nonsense. City civil
servants and others are just like the rest of us. We’re all of us
interested in pursuing our own objectives. The label again on the
bottle may be welfare or health or education. But you have to look at
all of the places where it drops off en route to going there. There are
lots of other things that can be accomplished under those titles, and
the fact is that no more — no larger a fraction of the money the City
spends goes to good things. Let me illustrate in a very concrete way. A
major problem in New York City is housing. Why? Because of bad
governmental policy. Rent control, which was continued in New York
after World War II, and the only city in the country where it was
continued, everywhere else it was dropped. It has caused enormous
abandonment of houses, eroding the tax base, public housing,
governmental subsidy to housing, so that people who occupy it have no
incentive to maintain it. If you had eliminated the government from the
housing market and left that money in the hands of the people
themselves, the housing situation in New York today would be far better
than it is.

If we want children in Washington DC to have better education, if we
wants children in Maryland to have better education, if we want
children in America to have better education, get the government out of
the education business and let parents spend their own money.

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{ 18 comments }

KipEsquire October 1, 2006 at 2:17 pm

Why Sidam and not Sadim?

Russ Roberts October 1, 2006 at 2:59 pm

Fixed. Thanks, KipEsquire.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick October 1, 2006 at 4:42 pm

The Midas Touch was a curse. You would better communicate the point of your story, that the State destroys what it touches, without the confused metaphor.

Someone more fluent in the language of welfare economics than I would do us a favor by detailing the difficulties in the abstract "public goods" argument. Even if (dream on) people become spiritually transformed into well-informed and intelligent altruists when they enter the State's employ, they will face the problems described by Von Mises in __Socialism__ and by Hayek in __The Road to Serfdom__: how are planners to know what people want?

True_Liberal October 1, 2006 at 4:57 pm

A key element in any new law or govt. program is the NAME it bears. The content, the execution, and the results may be an obvious failure, but if the NAME is good, all's well.

ben October 1, 2006 at 7:41 pm

True Liberal

Another great point by Friedman from the same source quoted in the article is that people are content to judge a government program by its intentions. So I guess if the program's name is good, and its intentions pure, all's well.

joan October 1, 2006 at 8:23 pm

If we want children in Washington DC to have better education………. let parents spend their own money.
Before you advocate a position like this you should look at the income of the families of the students in the DC public schools. I like much of what Libertarians stand for but taking absurd positions like this means you will never be taken seriously.

Rex Pjesky October 1, 2006 at 9:29 pm

Joan, school choice/vouchers work even (esp.) for the poor. everyone is given a voucher that they spend on education. This makes it "their" money (at least they have the incentive to spend it like it was theirs).

I'd say that if libertarians have done something "adsurd" it is to underestimate the misinformation that the Left has put out about policies that proxy free markets, like school vouchers.

Anonymous coward October 2, 2006 at 1:23 am

Typo Alert:

"if we wants children in Maryland to have better education"

'wants' should have been 'want'

Please fix it.

Russell Nelson October 2, 2006 at 1:59 am

Joan, clearly the people of DC manage to scrape enough money together to spend on educating their children now. If they were spending their money themselves, I must believe that they would do it more wisely than somebody spending it for them. Thus, the argument that they're too poor to afford educational spending has no legs.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick October 2, 2006 at 2:39 am

Education is a great example of the problem. The education industry is not a natural monopoly. Beyond a rather low there are no economies of scale at the delivery end of the education business as it currently operates. Education only marginally qualifies as a public good, and the public goods argument implies subsidy and regulation of an industry, at most, not State operation.

Compulsory attendance at school limits educational options. The State cannot subsidize education without a definition of "education", but then students are bound by the State's definition. It does not take 12 years at $10,000/year to teach a child to read and compute. The Wright Brothers were high school dropouts. Jewel Kilcher was homeschooled. Billie Holiday and Joss Stone were largely self-taught. Ben Franklin attended school for two years. Hiram Maxim apprenticed at age 13. David Farragut joined the US Navy at 9, went to sea at 11 and commanded his first ship at 15.

Compulsory attendance and school-dedicated taxation take resources (students' time and parents' or potential employers' money) from the non-State economy. The $500+ billion/year K-12 education-dedicated revenue stream subsidizes a coalition of insiders who lobby for more resources (including more student time in school), a positive feedback loop which overwhelms citizen input.

School has become an employment program for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel, a source of padded contracts for politically-connected insiders, and a venue for State-worshipful indoctrination.

Jaimy Sorenson October 2, 2006 at 6:22 am

With the height of the Foley follys we are finally seeing in the media today…This is just the tip of the iceberg…
Seems our glorious residents in orifice have decided to cover up his sex peversions..
Those same people had our past president impeached..Guess a perverted sex predator amongst our congress people has clout enough to keep it all a secret for over a year now…
Head of our congress Dennis Hassert knew about Foleys peculiarities and didn't bother to make them public…
With this type of cover-up I wonder what they would of done to nixon during the ill-fated watergate fiasco..
I sincerely believe that many heads should roll on this one…
Those who knew and did nothing should be tarred and feathered and worse criminally held liable..
They knew and never lifted a finger to stop this slimy monster…
Why?>
Jaimy Sorenson

Jaimy Sorenson October 2, 2006 at 6:24 am

With the height of the Foley follys we are finally seeing in the media today…This is just the tip of the iceberg…
Seems our glorious residents in orifice have decided to cover up his sex peversions..
Those same people had our past president impeached..Guess a perverted sex predator amongst our congress people has clout enough to keep it all a secret for over a year now…
Head of our congress Dennis Hassert knew about Foleys peculiarities and didn't bother to make them public…
With this type of cover-up I wonder what they would of done to nixon during the ill-fated watergate fiasco..
I sincerely believe that many heads should roll on this one…
Those who knew and did nothing should be tarred and feathered and worse criminally held liable..
They knew and never lifted a finger to stop this slimy monster…
Why?>
Jaimy Sorenson

John Thacker October 2, 2006 at 9:24 am

I disagree with federally controlled education, but the first article is very misleading and wrong in many details. A little discussion here. (http://d-edreckoning.blogspot.com/2006/10/washington-post-on-reading-first.html) The article basically completely twists around the truth by suggesting that it's requiring that funding go to programs without scientific support.

1) The law requires that funding goes to programs supported by scientific research.

2) The scientific research overwhelmingly favored two programs, Success For All and Direct Instruction.

3) The National Reading Panel performed meta-analysis and studied Success For All and Direct Instruction in order to find commonalities and how their teaching method differed from the programs found to be ineffective. After doing so, the NRP produced a set of essential components and guidelines that the scientific research suggested helped those two programs perform much better.

4) Any program including those components and guidelines that the scientific research suggested were important is eligible for funding.

5) Textbook companies responded by developing programs incorporating the results of the research. These programs were eligible for funding if sufficiently based on the research and incorporating its results, though as the article notes, they are too new to have been researched explicitly like the programs on which they are based. (But surely if only DI and SfA were eligible for funding, an entirely similar article could be written.)

6) Many states continued to select reading programs which had been specifically studied by research– but various whole language programs which the research overwhelmingly suggested was less effective at teaching reading than DI and SfA. They were denied funding, but see fit to complain in this article about their applications being rejected when they attempted to sneak in programs such as Reading Recovery which perform significantly worse in every reading research experiment ever performed except one, performed by the creator of the whole language concept, an experiment which has not been replicated. All those references to the "Michigan list" thus refer to applications attempting to include programs not backed by research.

7) Reading First funding is entirely determined by state choice; the article notes that some schools switched away from Success for All after receiving Reading First money, but that's entirely because their states chose other programs. Reading First does not force states to not choose Success for All; indeed, 28 states have received funding for Success for All under the program. However, North Carolina stupidly chose to omit Success for All from its application, hence the school mentioned in the article did not get funding for it. Blame the state.

John Thacker October 2, 2006 at 9:32 am

The way it stands now, *any* textbook company is allowed to design standards which incorporate the scientific research on reading and receive funding, but funding is not allowed for programs based on concepts which the research overwhelmingly claims is ineffective. The article tries to simultaneously claim:

1) Money should only be available for the two programs (Direct Instruction and Success for All), or possibly three (OpenCourt, which is somewhat supported by research as better than most alternatives but also behind the other two) specifically analyzed and supported by research. Imagine the complaints then; the same exact article could be written, especially since Direct Instruction and OpenCourt are McGraw-Hill programs, and McGraw-Hill is slammed as a Bush crony in the article.

2) Money should be available for any reading program that a state wants to select, even if the scientific research overwhelmingly suggests that it's ineffective or based on principles that are much more ineffective than the supported programs. The vast majority of complaints in the article come down to this. It's the equivalent of states complaining that they couldn't spend science funds on creationism.

Gary Benny October 2, 2006 at 5:46 pm

"…clearly the people of DC manage to scrape enough money together to spend on educating their children now. If they were spending their money themselves, I must believe that they would do it more wisely than somebody spending it for them."

If we were to follow that same logic, why give vouchers at all? Why not just give cash? Would you be willing to do that? And does that same logic apply to all infrastructure? Where do you draw the line? Should we cut the government out of building roads and bridges, or providing police and fire protection too, assuming we would do a better job if we just had the cash in our pockets? I know, we could pool our money! But then we would have to hire somebody to manage it, and plan the projects and…uh, dang.

Cord Blomquist October 3, 2006 at 10:53 am

"And does that same logic apply to all infrastructure? Where do you draw the line? Should we cut the government out of building roads and bridges, or providing police and fire protection too, assuming we would do a better job if we just had the cash in our pockets?"

I think you have to make a convincing argument for saying that roads and schools are equivalent in an economic sense, but this is just an assertion. Things like roads, sewer systems, and telecom and power lines are examples of networks, which are more defensible as infrastructure.

Education is a consumer good. People choose to consume more or less of it when it comes to post-secondary eduction. Some consume 12 years worth, others 4 or 2 or none at all.

The difference between vouchers and cash is that vouchers force folks to use money on a certain item, in this case, education. The scheme is redistributionist and gives educational opportunities to people who couldn't otherwise afford it, which I think is something that most people would view is very good. The only difference is the matter of decision making, which vouchers leave with families, rather than officials.

I don't understand this resistance to giving people more choices and control over their lives and the future of their families. If economic data shows that individuals making choices works out better and if theoretically it makes sense and if we have examples of voucher system producing great results then what is the sticking point for opponents?

bbartlog October 3, 2006 at 11:13 am

why give vouchers at all? Why not just give cash? Would you be willing to do that?

If we assume the existence of a welfare state which takes care of the indigent, then giving cash is problematic – we can assume that many people will use the cash not to educate their children, but for more short-term goals. This would result in the creation of a large class of extremely unskilled people who would be a burden on the state. Vouchers are an attempt to split the difference by giving people some choice while ensuring that they are still keeping the desired goals in mind.
That said, I would not personally have a problem with giving cash instead of vouchers (a la the negative income tax proposed by Friedman). This really would be something of a 'devil take the hindmost' policy, however, as the children of the poorest would probably fare badly. But so long as we could afford to continue the wealth transfer(s) it is unlikely that anyone would be starving in the streets.

Vince Williams December 30, 2006 at 11:59 am

OK, gang! Are you up for a sing-along … It's still the Christmas season so here are three songs for us all to sing. Join right in …

GEORGIE, THE RED-STATE "REIGN-DEAR"

by Vince Williams

verse:
We've had Bushy and Cheney and Carl Rovey's tricks, son!
Maybe they've all tried to out-Nixon Nixon.
But we must admit …
This current president sure IS A GIT!!!

chorus:
Georgie, the red-state reign-dear
thinks he has some tiny foes–
thinks he can just ignore them
as the army death count grows.

Yet in the last election
voters told him loud and clear
they could no longer trust him:
his decisions made them fear.

Now his foggy thinking style
once more is in play,
"I'm the one who's always right:
THAT'S WHY THEY MUST DIE AND FIGHT!"

So now we should impeach him;
let him know we don't agree.
Georgie, the red-state reign-dear:
HE'S THE WORST IN HISTORY.

BUSH'S BLUNDERLAND
by Vince Williams

SLAY-bells ring! Are ya list'nin'?
Parents cry, eyes are glist'nin'.
Iraq is a fight that's really not right:
Dying in George Bush's blunderland.

Gone away is the true word,
In its place is the "screw" word.
We sing a sad song: "This war's gone too long!"
Dying in George Bush's blunderland.

CHORUS:
With impeachment we can bring indictment:
He deserves it for his crimes and lies.
At long last we'll feel some real excitement–
and maybe we'll recover some allies.

When they write Bush's bio,
He'll be quoted, "Yippee-tie-yo!
We knocked off Hussein, why do you complain?"
Dying in George Bush's blunderland.

CHORUS.

Corp'rate friends make a "killin"
killin' poor people's chil''en–
"It's worth the attack on oil-rich Iraq!"
Dying in George Bush's blunderland.

SINGLE CELLS
by Vince Williams

Single cells, single cells
Stem cells is a way:
Parkinson's is one dead end–
could be cured some day-ayy!

Embryonic single cells:
Stem cells can provide
wonders yet unheard of now–
and ailments override.

***
Dashing people's hopes
with a veto pen in hand–
Parkinson's still copes
with that Bush's ban.

"Hell" from sob-tale springs
anecdotal grief!
Bush is now the Villain-King,
and CRIMINAL-IN-CHIEF!

***
OHHH …
Single cells, single cells:
Stem cells is a way:
Parkinson's is one dead end–
could be cured some day-ayy!

Embryonic single cells:
Stem cells can provide
wonders yet unheard of now–
and ailments override.

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