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The Sadim Touch

Posted By Russ Roberts On October 1, 2006 @ 12:47 pm In Education | Comments Disabled

The Sadim touch is the opposite of the Midas [1] 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 [2] 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 [3], 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 [4]
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 [5], 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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URL to article: http://cafehayek.com/2006/10/the_sidam_touch.html

URLs in this post:

[1] Midas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midas_touch

[2] first: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/29/AR2006092901333.html

[3] Second: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/29/AR2006092901336.html

[4] Finally, George Will writes: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/29/AR2006092901438.html

[5] Milton Friedman’s insight: http://www.theopenmind.tv/tom/searcharchive_episode_transcript.asp?id=494

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