Figuring It Out

In discussing The Donald’s ban on Muslims entering the US, Charles Krauthammer notes:

Temporary only, we are assured, except that the ban applies “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on” — a standard so indeterminate as to be meaningless.

The quote is a wonderful phase.  It made sense to us when we first saw it and the concept still makes sense but the quote tell us much about the condition of politics in 2016.

The concept makes sense.  If we have a problem we should stop the problem immediately and work at a permanent solution.  It is especially true in government where the processes to implement change are involved.

The problem is two-fold.  There are problems with the concept and the application.  It would be great fun to be able to stop X as president.  As a purely hypothetical example, if the Clintons left the country we could keep them out until we figured out what to do with them.  The concept is one of those slippery slopes that we don’t want to go too far down.  The problem is for most of us we want to go a little way down the slope without sliding into the abyss.  It is why judgment is (or at least should be) an important characteristic in our candidates for office.  For example, John Taylor’s many discussion about rules for monetary policy.  Here is one:

Adam Posen says that “any imposition of a simplistic rigid policy rule with mechanistic monitoring will only serve to politicize monetary policy to an unprecedented extent.”  But the Act does not impose anything simplistic, rigid or mechanistic on the Fed, which would describe its own strategy.  Moreover, having a clearly stated economic strategy reduces, rather than increases, politicization.

There is a time when the President will need to say this must stop now but the general rule is that the President cannot do that at will.

The application challenge is getting our country’s representatives to figure out what is going on.  Most voters are wondering when this will happen.  In fact, one take away from The Donald’s announcement might be that this is a permanent ban because our country’s representatives will never figure out what to do about immigration.  One of the reasons is that for the last decade or so there has been an obsession with comprehensive solutions.  The problem is that attempted comprehensive solutions, see Obamacare, tend to be neither comprehensive nor solutions.  Regular order rather than grand bargains or comprehensive solutions are in order.

For example, let’s reform entitlements step-by-step rather than comprehensively.  We are convinced that Social Security needs to be means tested.  Let’s start with a modest proposal and see how it works.  For example, how do you measure income or wealth that leads smaller or no checks?  Would a person with a $10 million Roth IRA still get Social Security under your proposal?

The point is that life is a multi-player game.  As governments take actions so do individuals.  The government need to see the reactions to its policies.  Comprehensive solutions have too many moving parts to be improved.  Of course, the difficulties of the federal government in reacting to change is a big reason to delegate to state and local governments because they are more nimble.  Regular order and leaving the work to state and local government would be a nice change.

Easy Choices

David Harsanyi hyperventilates at NRO:

The important question for conservatives is: Would they rather have a Republican president with views antithetical to their own, or Hillary Clinton as president? Would they rather have a Republican who might cause irreparable damage to their brand, or Bernie Sanders?

There are hard questions but these are not.  If necessary,  support The Donald in the general.  The Bernie and Herself make it an easy choice.


At the Best of the Web, Taranto quotes Jeet Heer of the New Republic:

The real challenge BuzzFeed and other outlets will face is if Trump wins the Republican nomination. All the rules of American mainstream journalism dictate that Republican and Democratic presidential candidates be treated equally and as impartially as possible.

Perhaps Jeet fell asleep in 1957?  Could he really be serious?

Trouble With Titles

Recently we discussed an op-ed by Charlie Swayne on Why Tenure Is Bad For Wisconsin.  As we discussed, it was really about why research expectations for faculty were bad.  Now the empire has struck back with an editorial by the provost and the chair of the faculty senate.  It spends more time addressing some factual inaccuracies and explaining why there is tenure then meeting the research question head on.  An important paragraph from the school is:

All faculty are reviewed annually on their work (teaching, scholarship and service) and, in addition, tenured faculty have a more rigorous review every five years as part of post-tenure review. Student feedback on teaching is considered as one form of evidence, alongside examination by other faculty, assessment of student learning and teaching outcomes. When instructors are unable to provide evidence of quality teaching, they are not rehired or not tenured.

Yup, it is true there is post-tenure review but the “not rehired or not tenured” clearly refers to actions before tenure.  And there are merit reviews every year but when there is little or no money to allocate for merit, the article identifies how little, then merit isn’t a big deal for those with tenure.  So there is post-tenure review that might identify concerns but the risk of losing your job is astronomically small.  It is rare that a tenured faculty member doesn’t put any effort into teaching but when it happens it is a big problem for the students and difficult for anyone to take action.  None of the things in the response have a solution for that problem.  We agree that it is not common but it does happen.

Still, even though he was a bit unclear, we think the big issue from Swayne is about research and the response does not address that issue.  We still think research is critical to quality teaching.  Kevin Williamson has a nice article that touches on the importance of academic research for economic growth.  Here we are talking about teaching but, even at at state school with a hyphen, there can be significant findings.  Swayne is right that much research is rubbish but the process can often help the instructor and students.  Most research is rubbish because future research will show its flaws.  Time sorts out the rubbish from the quality work.  We are still a big fan of research for its findings and because it is one element of quality teaching.  The response does not carry much weight because it does not address the importance of research.

Economic Rents

Iain Murray at NRO tries to worry us market based folk:

This is a complex problem for free marketers, who understand trade-offs, and are fine with parties who have had an unfair advantage losing that advantage—an attitude that can be seen as cold-hearted towards the “losers” when reforms are instituted.

He gives as an example Mrs. Thatcher’s victory over the coal miners and other unions.  Those unions enjoyed decades of economic rents.  We’re sure they want them back and it appears that they are having a hard time adjusting.  The same is true of Ma Bell in the states.  Should we reintroduce monopoly phone service?  The same will be true for ethanol and sugar in the near future.  We need to encourage the individuals in those areas to adapt.

It is not complex.  You made economic rents.  You get no special future benefit in the future for having made them in the past.  Of course, it may not sell politically in an environment were everybody is demanding and all candidates are trying to supply economic rents.


A former colleague, Charlie Swayne, has come out with a blistering attack against tenure in Wisconsin.  We suppose he is against it everywhere but Wisconsin is what concerns him at the present time.  Here we are going to discuss what Swayne says.  There is another issue about academic freedom that should be important to conservatives but will not be discussed here.  We may have an additional post on it.  He starts by saying:

Gov. Scott Walker says tenured professors at the University of Wisconsin should teach another class. He’s wrong — but more on why in a moment.

He ends with:

Walker says UW professors should teach another class. He’s wrong. If they are a great teacher, they should teach several more classes. If not, they should go to the University of Minnesota.

In between he says that tenure is a scam, research is useless, and questions the ethics of faculty on both research and work.  He misses that service is a requirement of faculty at most schools and a statutory requirement at state schools in Wisconsin.

Decisions relating to renewal of appointments or recommending of tenure shall be made in accordance with institutional rules and procedures which shall require an evaluation of teaching, research, and professional and public service and contribution to the institution. [emphasis added]

He is also concerned about the cost of education.  Of course, just eliminating tenure will increase the cost of education.  Instructors, like everyone else (it is one of those research things), trade off risk and reward.  Tenure makes a position less risky so an instructor is willing to accept a lower salary.  What would make it cheaper is eliminating the research requirement.  The issue is: would eliminating research make for better or worse teaching?  One reason to think research makes teaching and learning in college better is the recent emphasis on undergraduate research (see NCUR).

Professional and public service and contribution to the institution is often referred to as service.  In practice, a big part of service is related to operating the school including curriculum and personnel.  See one school for example.

We have been involved in taking action for cause against a tenured faculty member so we know how difficult it is.  That experience showed both the difficulty of it and that it can be done successfully.  We have also been involved in highly charged university-wide budget confrontations.  Tenure was very reassuring in those instances because we were a faculty member making recommendations to deans and other senior administrators.  To make it clear, the university expects faculty to make quality recommendations to folks who are their superiors on the organizational chart.

We have found that the tenure decision is taken very seriously and a significant number are denied tenure.  We think that research is critical to the mission of educating students.  We have found that with rare exceptions, faculty are ethical about research and work.  Indeed, the senior faculty are generally effective at creating an ethical environment.  Faculty work hard and research in an ethical manner.

There are two concerns.  The big one is that tenured faculty can be taken to task for is the failure to stop the administrative bloat at the university.   Of less significance to us, is the exception to the rule where tenured faculty shirk their responsibilities.

Administrative bloat is part of the reason that tuition has increased so rapidly.  Faculty may have constrained it but must take some of the blame because curriculum has been in part moved outside of faculty to the dorms.  On the other hand, it might be worse without faculty and tenure.

Tenured faculty that shirk their responsibilities are a small but intense problem.  It rarely happens but when it does it is a big problem for everybody.  Processes can be improved so these situations can be resolved or tenure will be eliminated.  If it is eliminated it may inhibit academic discourse, it will make administering the university more difficult, and it will probably increase faculty salaries.

To summarize: tenure can cause some problems but it does not make school more expensive.  An emphasis on research does make school more expensive.  There are several reasons to think that research is positively correlated with quality teaching.

Profile In Cowardice

In The Hill:

“The bottom line is many people around here think Cruz would be worse for our chances of keeping the majority,” said a senior Republican senator, who requested anonymity to speak about Cruz frankly.

These cowards are not worried about Cruz being a bad president.  They are worried about their jobs.  We hope that our senator (the other one is a Democrat) was not one of them.  If you didn’t think that term limits were necessary before you should now.

We are not big Cruz fans but we expect a little more backbone from our elected representatives.  You would think that election would add backbone, almost everybody gets reelected, but the opposite seems true.

Fixing Healthcare

Chen and Capretta have a summary of their healthcare proposal in WSJ.  One questionable idea is:

Retaining employer coverage. About 155 million Americans get health insurance through their place of work. They should be left alone. The only change would be a new upper limit on the tax preference for employer-paid premiums, set so that only the most expensive 25% of plans would exceed it.

It is a bad idea but the rest of it is an enormous improvement.  One bad idea might lead to a massive heath care improvement.  We’re not supporting this proposal yet.  We would prefer one that makes fringe benefits taxable to the recipient but the health care house is on fire.  Politics and economics are about choices.  We need a discussion before we pick the a better choice.  We also need to remember that the solution might be step-by-step rather than comprehensive.  If it is comprehensive then we need to decide what would make a proposal unacceptable.

Facebook Fun

It was hard with a weekend of foolishness coming on but we kept it to two: Citizens United decision and inequality.

There are 445 likes for The Bernie when he says: Today is the six year anniversary of Citizens United, one of the most disastrous Supreme Court decisions in my lifetime [Ed. remember he is 74].  Join our political revolution to overturn it.

He was alive for the Japanese Internment decision.  It means the Democratic candidates are firmly against free speech.  Don’t forget that Citizens United was about censoring a movie about Herself so there is no chance she is for free speech.  Bernie has supported the second amendment in the past but seems to be reconsidering recently.

There are 257 folks that like Oxfam America’s demand that corporations pay their fair share.  It also notes that the 62 richest people have the same wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest.  They seem to think the second sentence is bad news.

Two things about this: First, other than envy, who cares about the rich?  We care about the poor.  We know the way to help the poor: market tested betterment.  We need to encourage it at home and around the world.

Second, as we know, corporations are tax collectors.  They transfer money from individuals to governments.  We impoverish ourselves (the United States) and the world by our incentive destroying tax system.  Kevin Williamson (and MWG) support eliminating corporate taxes entirely.  It would be good for the United States and probably good for the world.  Rather than keep the money offshore let’s let it be invested at home.  While we are doing useful things we could eliminate all our tariffs too.

Post-hoc Explanations

Alan Blinder at WSJ takes the market to task and concludes:

In sum, the traders who make stock market prices seem to have a few things wrong: China is not as big a deal to us as they think; and falling oil prices should help, not hurt, U.S. growth. Don’t misinterpret any of this as investment advice, however. The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.

He may well be right but it is worth considering another alternative that post-hoc explanations of the whole market are suspect.  An alternative explanation is that the actions by the current administration to choke the economy are coming to fruition.  The problem is exacerbated by the fact that oil exploration is one of the industries that has kept the economy afloat during the current administration.  In addition, none the final five (The Bernie, Herself, The Donald, and two senators by our count) presidential candidates emphasize a positive economic message.  Yes, there are some good ideas from some of them but we are unimpressed by their emphasis on other issues.

We agree with Blinder on all three counts: China is a small problem for the US, falling oil prices are good overall (but not universally) for the US, and the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.  We also know that post-hoc explanations of the market are suspect.  There could be real reasons for the market reaction.  The economic malpractice of the current administration and the proposed economic policies of candidates to create a new administration are leading investors to reject the old conventional wisdom that we will survive until January 2017 and then be better after that.  It might be that the thinking is a tough 2016 followed by additional problems in 2017.

Update: A WSJ Editorial from James Freeman is much more optimistic about the GOP:

Once it’s clear that Washington will be setting a new policy course that rewards success, business investment will start to rebound. Combined with cheap energy and consumers who are cautiously growing more optimistic, you have the makings of old-fashioned American growth. The war on business could be over very soon.

We are not.  We don’t like the term war on business because it is a war on prosperity that business is one of the fronts.  It is not that they don’t have proposals.  It is the lack of enthusiasm that they show for growth.  Especially, as Freeman notes, Trump seems to itch for a trade war.  We hope we are wrong but we don’t see an emphasis on growth anytime soon.  The Democrats are no hope.  The Republicans won’t get around to it because they are more interested in other things.