Political philosophy

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

I fell in love with the left wing of the Democratic Party because they, alone, opposed the Vietnam War.  And of course, because they were the party of compassion for the poor.  Over the years, I fell out of love because they wanted credit for their good intentions rather than for what they actually accomplished.

Although the Democrats started the war in Vietnam and a Republican president ended it, I didn’t blame the Democrats or give credit to Nixon.  I didn’t begin to question my love for the left wing until someone I knew and cared for began to get the “help” and “compassion” that were a trademark of the Democrats since Lyndon Johnson began the “War on Poverty.”

What I discovered, to my shock, was that welfare assistance from the government was not a helping hand, or a hand up.  To the contrary, welfare assistance was a sentence to dependency and poverty without an exit.   The details of how the system ran meant that gradually working one’s way back to self-sufficiency was made harder, not easier, by the so-called “safety net.”  The first step out of dependence is part-time work and jobs that don’t last more than a couple of months.  But all the money you make in such jobs goes against your benefits.  Everything with the government is slow, and so the reckoning takes months.  This means that you have to pay back the benefits you received a couple of months ago, just about the time you’re out of work again. So when you need assistance desperately, you can’t get it, but only because you took a job and tried to better yourself.  If you hadn’t tried to take a job you would still be entitled.  So the lesson is—don’t take a job.

It turns out all of the forms of help and compassion run by government agencies have the same basic structure.  You “qualify” by virtue of having little or no income and you “lose” benefits as soon as you get some income or try to get some.  I have another friend who was unemployed and receiving unemployment benefits because he couldn’t find work in his profession in the local community.  When he went out of town to a trade conference (so he could network with people in his profession from all over the country and hopefully find work) his unemployment benefits were cut off.  He hadn’t stayed in the local community “available for work.” Go figure.

I had learned from personal experience that government assistance, as championed by the left, did not actually help to reduce poverty.  Governmental help does not have the right structure, knowledge, or flexibility needed to really help anyone. It is simply a trap. Not surprisingly, data now show (see the graph to the right) that the poverty rate has stopped falling since we began trapping more and more people in these dependency programs.  They have almost no way out.  That was one nail in the coffin of my love for the left-wing.

The next nail in the coffin came as a result of what I learned as a teacher.  At one point as a special education teacher I had a caseload of 28 third grade children with dyslexia—none of whom could read.  I found and used a curriculum called Direct Instruction (DI) that taught every one of them to read.  My school district was uninterested in my success.  DI used phonics and was labeled “harmful.”  DI was removed from the district, without regard to data.  When I realized that the public school system was unresponsive to important outcomes (like whether or not children learned to read!), I began to learn about school choice—in which parents, who do care about outcomes, get to choose a school.

Charter schools, which are public schools freed from the constraints of the administrative bureaucracy of districts and sometimes from the teacher’s union as well, have to attract all their clients.  I went to work for charter schools, and of course, the charter schools in which I was involved used DI. In our schools we taught every one of our students how to read, and we filled our schools, located in poor neighborhoods, with students.  Parents, especially poor parents, were finally able to choose a school that would teach their children to read.  But our schools were not allowed to grow because of deliberate political obstacles.

When I realized that left wing Democrats were the primary obstacle to increased school choice, I was done.  The left wing says it cares about children and the poor.  The left wants to be judged by its good intentions.  But the policies the left supports do not help, and actually hurt children and the poor.  I think results speak louder than words.  I do think the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Posted by donc1950@gmail.com in Political philosophy
What is the right direction?

What is the right direction?

The right vs. the wrong direction on 9 topics

Why can’t we end the gridlock in Washington, make some sensible compromises and get the Congress to solving some of our most important problems?   The reason is that there is no way to “compromise” or “negotiate” with someone who is advocating going in the exact wrong direction.  Most of the major problems our country faces have been created by us going in the wrong direction for too long.  The problems will not be solved by continuing the failed policies that have caused the problems in the first place.  Instead, there must be a complete change in direction which cannot be achieved by compromise with the wrong direction.  Here are nine major ways we are going in the wrong direction.

  1. Stop making stuff “free” for people.  First, a basic economic fact we must understand.  In our well-intentioned efforts to spare people the indignity of not being able to afford things such as health care or college, we drive up prices by subsidizing them. We pay for the service for them or give them vouchers that can only be used for that purpose. Prices will never come down when we are doing this.  Prices only come down when customers say, “No.  I won’t buy that because it is too expensive.”  The more money that taxpayers (through the government) make available to pay for health care or college tuition, the less the high cost matters, and the higher the prices are able to go.  The only way to help people and keep prices down is to give them cash they can spend in other ways if they wish.  Then they won’t waste money on things that are too expensive and that they don’t value because they are “free.”
  2. Stop buying health coverage for people.  When it comes to medical care, our goal should be to empower customers to drive prices down through free market competition rather than to try to insulate everyone from having to pay anything for health care.  More subsidies and more coverage paid for by the employer or the government keep making the problem worse.  That is the wrong direction.  Instead we have to move towards paying for more of it ourselves so we all become more sensitive to the price of health care.  If we keep going in this wrong direction, the price of medical care will grow until we can no longer afford it as a nation, and instead will have to rely on the government to ration care so it isn’t so expensive.  Again, if we gave people the money that they could spend in other ways they would begin to economize.
  3. Stop buying college for people.  When it comes to college tuition, our goal should be twofold: 1) to increase competition and alternatives to traditional college education and 2) to reduce the various government subsidies that drive up the cost of college.  If people could gain entry to various professions through other means, the colleges would have to compete for customers.  College tuition costs would have to come down if they weren’t being subsidized.  So making college “free” for students is the exact opposite of the direction we need to go.  If instead of scholarships and grants, we gave money that the recipients could spend however they want, e.g., to start a business or on any type of vocational training they wanted, the price of college would go down.
  4. Stop providing in-kind benefits.  In our well-intentioned efforts to help poor people, we put in place more and more programs and benefits that are available only while they are dependent.  When the poor make an effort to become self-supporting by earning money with a job, they lose as much or more than they gain.  That makes dependency a trap.  Most of what is being lobbied for when it comes to the poor is in the wrong direction. Give them money they can spend any way they wish and they can keep as they start earning money.
  5. Re-instate the starting rungs on the career ladder.  When it comes to poor people, our goal should be to help them become self-supporting and to make sure there are more rungs at the bottom of the ladder and strong incentives for getting off the dole—rather than supporting programs that trap them in dependence.   More rungs at the bottom of the ladder include eliminating the minimum wage, eliminating licensing requirements in most occupations, and eliminate all barriers to starting your own business.  Strong incentives for self-sufficiency means more private charitable help that can be flexible, fewer programs and services for the poor and more direct payments that do not cut off abruptly when you get a job.
  6. Eliminate the government monopoly in education.  When it comes to K-12 education, our goal should be to unleash creativity and innovation through increasing school choice options rather than to give more money to the teacher’s unions or more power to educational bureaucrats.   Top-down mandates from even the most well-intentioned officials, while they attempt to ensure social justice, can only stifle needed innovation.  One-size-fits-all governance cannot possibly drive schools, teachers or pupils towards excellence—only the freedom to try new things can do that.  The right direction is to allow and encourage a variety of forms of school choice so that parents can decide what is best for their own children.  And Education Savings Accounts enable families to be frugal with their dollars to help drive down the costs of K-12 education.
  7. Eliminate regulations and barriers to new business formation.  When it comes to creating jobs, our goal should be to remove barriers that inhibit new business formation.  Our economy stagnates because of the innumerable obstacles to entrepreneurship that has depressed the development of new businesses to its lowest rate perhaps ever.  The free market has sufficient incentives to foster new business formation if government rules, regulations and taxes were gotten out of the way.  The more rules and regulations that are imposed on businesses by government agencies, the fewer businesses will be started.  The more rights and benefits that are mandated for every job that is created, the fewer jobs will be created.   More rules, regulations, rights and benefits mandated by those who mean well are the exact wrong direction.  Instead, we need to be dismantling those as rapidly as possible.
  8. Free trade unilaterally.  When it comes to trade we have to realize that trade is the driver of our prosperity.  Trading freely with whomever we wish is the key to getting the most out of life.  While some people do lose jobs and some businesses fail due to competition from abroad, it only impoverishes all of us to erect trade barriers that attempt to protect us from that competition.  Instead, we need to ensure that our economy is vibrant, active and growing so that there are ample opportunities for those whose jobs are lost in one industry or another.  Change is an inevitable component of growth, but a healthy economy can find plenty of places for people who are displaced by change.  See above for how to ensure that adequate numbers of jobs are created.  Erecting barriers to trade is the exact wrong direction to go.
  9. Balance the budget.  When it comes to our increasing government debt, we have to reduce spending below what we are taking in so we can reduce the debt.  Continuing to spend more that we take in is the wrong direction.  We need to reduce spending, reduce programs, go to zero-based budgeting and keep cutting until we are generating surpluses that can pay down the debt.

We need to turn our country around to go in the right direction.  We cannot achieve that by compromising with the wrong direction.  Gridlock is preferable to going in the wrong direction.


Posted by donc1950@gmail.com in Political philosophy