Archive for February, 2011

Show Me the Cheddar! Correction

February 28, 2011 1 comment

Sorry guys. Turns out I passed on some bad data. It appears the correlation between collective bargaining and low test scores was old and possibly had faulty methodology. Here’s a link that clears up the mistake and adds some analysis.

Consider Wisconsin’s third-place ranking in the SAT. It sounds great — but only 4 percent of graduates in the state took the test in 2010, and those that did likely did so because they had a particular need to take the SAT as they applied to certain colleges. And that means that Wisconsin SAT takers were a self-selecting group, probably more academically advanced than average.

As a result, it’s fairer to look at Wisconsin’s ranking on the ACT, which was taken by 67 percent of graduates in 2009. And that ranking was 13th in the nation — not bad, but well short of the 2nd place finish cited in the Facebook post.

Meanwhile, in the five non-collective-bargaining states, the SAT was the more widely taken test, and in those rankings, the non-union states placed between 34th and 49th nationally. Meanwhile, for the ACT — where participation ranged from 15 percent to 50 percent — the rankings in the non-union states ranged from 22nd to 46th.

So, on neither test did the five non-collective bargaining states perform as well as Wisconsin did, and in general those five states clustered in the bottom half of the national rankings. Given these statistics, it’s reasonable to say that Wisconsin outperformed the other five states significantly — but not as overwhelmingly as the blog and Facebook posts suggest.

I do my best as always to provide accurate information. I usually try to fact-check myself and thankfully I caught this early. If anything ever gets through again and someone catches it let me know so I can correct the record. I still stand by the thrust of my argument in the previous post.

Categories: Correction, Wisconsin

Show Me the Cheddar!

February 24, 2011 3 comments

When most people look at a political question objectively they try to determine which side is right and which is wrong. But that framework doesn’t properly illuminate what’s going on in Wisconsin (or most other political dilemmas). Just making this a battle between pro-union Democrats and taxpayer Republican advocates obscures some of the deeper issues going on.

Most attempts to make one side righteous and the other wicked come off as silly.

Here’s Paul Krugman in an otherwise decent piece on the issues:

What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy.

As Clive Crook notes Mr. Walker may be disingenuous when he claims busting the unions is all about the budget (“the unions have agreed (under pressure) to the cuts in pay and benefits he was seeking”), but suggesting Walker and allies are trying to bust not just unions but American democracy is ridiculous. Do fair-minded people really think Walker is sitting in his office rubbing his hands dreaming of undermining our founding fathers? It’s is also a weird charge since the only thing preventing Walker from stripping public employee’s collective-bargaining rights is a group of Wisconsin Democrats fleeing the state so a democratic vote can’t proceed.

It happens that I actually side mostly with the pro-union side and think collective-bargaining isn’t incompatible with balanced budgets. Yet after complaining strongly about how filibusters and other anti-majoritarian legislative tools cause more harm in the long run I feel compelled to condemn the technique of fleeing the state to break the quorum. It’s not in some misguided offering to the alter of political consistency, but as a “secular consequentialist” (via Scott Sumner) I think even if this counts in the negative column, more good comes from allowing legislatures to actually govern.

With that out of the way allow me to clear up some lingering issues. A lot of the debate centers on whether or not public employees are “overpaid” compared to their privately employed counterparts. In the much passed around EPI study, we have strong evidence that in Wisconsin comparable public employees are actually compensated less than private workers. Jim Manzi calls into question some of the assumptions in the study and argues that without factoring in an “all-but infinite number of such relevant potential differences” we can’t say for sure that public workers “are underpaid, overpaid, or paid just right.” To a certain extent he’s correct, but as Ezra Klein notes, the EPI study shifts “the burden of proof [onto] those who say Wisconsin’s public employees make too much money.” Anyone who argues that they are overpaid is arguing in spite of available evidence, and public policy shouldn’t be made on sheer opinion.

The reason so many people conclude public employees are overpaid is because those people often have an ideological commitment to that assumption. Many on the right hold as an article of faith that government a priori causes more problems than it solves and doesn’t work as well as the private sector. Given that premise, it’s perfectly logical to reason that public workers are necessarily overpaid. Any cost above 0 is overpayment for a counterproductive job.

Some on the left assume that any benefit cut or pay cut is automatically unreasonable, but given that the union itself has agreed to cuts and compromises we can’t say this about the union itself. The budget shortfall is largely caused by the recession which dried up revenues and for much of the poor reasoning behind cutting the wealthy’s taxes when facing large deficits, Wisconsin’s public workers were going to have to give up a little make the budget math conform to a fair deal for Wisconsin’s taxpayers. With an absence of the ideological assumption that the government can’t provide anything of value, taxpayers need to balance the need for qualified workers with their tax burden. If you think government can provide useful services it’s important to try to attract public employees that won’t cause a potentially self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s only a correlation but “the two states with the lowest public sector unionization rates — Louisiana and Mississippi — have the highest corruption rates.” Also, the 5 states without collective bargaining for educators rank last or near last on their SAT/ACT scores (h/t Heidi).* I don’t believe that the lack of collective bargaining is directly causing corruption or low test scores but if you look at the labor market as one competitive entity it seems natural that lower compensation leads to a weaker work force as better workers flow to higher paying jobs.

Everything unions want isn’t always in the best interest of the state or even of workers generally, but there is no persuasive reason to believe that removing unions as a counterweight to corporatist (anti-market) influence and demonizing public workers leads to a stronger middle class, better public services, or even balanced budgets.

*[update: correction]

When Cruelty is Kosher, ctd

February 21, 2011 4 comments

Back in November I explained that kosher and halal slaughter methods are needlessly cruel. Well, here’s a video to prove it.

It starts off with the comparatively “humane” bolt killing of a cow – then we get to see the ways god is satisfied by animals writhing in pain as they drown in their own blood after having their throats “naturally” slit. It’s just another example of how faith and dogma can get well-meaning people to proudly support gratuitous barbarism.

(video via Pharyngula)

Categories: Animal Rights, Religion Tags:

Who Runs Hollywood?

February 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Looks like the Hollywood Left is putting out another socialist propaganda movie. This time they’re promoting high-speed rail or something.

Categories: Ayn Rand

Pinker, Animated.

February 15, 2011 1 comment

Cool video of one of Steven Pinker’s talks.

Categories: Steven Pinker

To the summit of Mt. Washington… and back.

February 10, 2011 1 comment

I’ll be away for the weekend to hike Mt. Washington. Stay warm while I’m away.

[update 02/15]: I survived!

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Graphs that Subvert Conventional Wisdom

February 4, 2011 Leave a comment
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