The Sticky Wickets of Governmental Oversight, Ethics, and Continuing Education

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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24 Responses

  1. Avatar Politically Speaking says:

    If you passed the test honestly (you really did know the answers) then the purpose of it was accomplished, and should feel no other obligation.  However, kudos to you for following that letter of the law and spending the required time on subject.

     Report

  2. Avatar James Hanley says:

    In one sense the answer is easy–you should have been asked only question a, not question b.  The tricky part is how you get there.

    My preferred method would be to move the state out of the licensure business and have private firms do it–those who licensed low-performing agents would (or at least should) find their market share diminish while those who license only moderate to high-performing agents should find their market share increase.  That’s because the agents themselves would mostly want to receive what was clearly a higher-quality endorsement because their customers would seek out those with a higher-quality endorsement?

    Libertarian daydreaming?  No; it works with ANSI, Snell, Green Seal, ISO, etc.  When I buy a bike helmet I look for the ANSI and Snell stickers, and I wouldn’t buy a helmet that didn’t have them but did have a sticker that said the helmet was certified safe by some organization I’d never heard of.

    Also, get Yelp to have a category for your service.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      How would we have new entrants into such a market?Report

    • Avatar Ryan Davidson says:

      Shifting the operations from the state to a private firm doesn’t actually change anything. What’s the private firm going to do? Collect affidavits that you’ve spent [x] number of hours sitting at a desk.

      The real problem here is that the difference between a competent and an incompetent professional is usually entirely opaque to the consumer. What exactly constitutes a “low-performing agent”? As far as the insurance company is concerned, that’s going to be his loss ratio, something the consumer doesn’t care about at all. The percentage of losses where coverage is denied? Given that agents don’t always file claims–plaintiffs’ lawyers do a lot of that–this doesn’t tell us much either.

      And what would constitute a “low-performing” attorney? I do tort defense. The vast majority of my cases wind up with the client (or rather their insurer) paying money in a settlement. Does this go in the “loss” column? Maybe, maybe not, but I don’t get to pick my clients. Same goes for criminal defense attorneys: most of their clients are guilty as sin. Indeed, most state bars explicitly prohibit advertising on the basis of “success rate” and require any mention of previous victories to be accompanied by a warning that past results are no guarantee of future performance. Really, a “high-performing” attorney is one who can efficiently resolve cases with a minimum of expense and time. If you can put a number on that, you’re going to make a ton of money. But you can’t, which is why no one has yet.

      The reason ANSI, ISO, etc. work is because they’re engineering standards. Insurance, law, and medicine are not things about which one can do science.

      In short: this is a terrible idea.Report

      • Avatar RTod says:

        Good comments by both James and Ryan, but piggybacking off Ryan….

        “Shifting the operations from the state to a private firm doesn’t actually change anything. What’s the private firm going to do? Collect affidavits that you’ve spent [x] number of hours sitting at a desk.”

        I should also add that – at least in my state – the teaching, classrooms, online tests, etc. are entirely privatized.  The state itself does not do any of these functions.

        “The real problem here is that the difference between a competent and an incompetent professional is usually entirely opaque to the consumer. “

        This.

        “The reason ANSI, ISO, etc. work is because they’re engineering standards. Insurance, law, and medicine are not things about which one can do science.”

        In addition to this, studies show that professional designations in my industry, such as CIC, CPCU or (my own favorite) ARM are not considered important to customers, and act more as an internal industry signaling device amongst ourselves.

        “In short: this is a terrible idea.”

        I duuno, none of what James suggests seems any more or less effective than anything else that I have seen or is currently being done.  So if it is a terrible idea, it is no more terrible than all the other ideas.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Ryan,

        Shifting the operations from the state to a private firm doesn’t actually change anything. What’s the private firm going to do? Collect affidavits that you’ve spent [x] number of hours sitting at a desk.

        No, the private firm is less likely to measure the inputs as opposed to the outputs, precisely because…

        The reason ANSI, ISO, etc. work is because they’re engineering standards.

        And companies that can devise those kinds of standards are better suited to measuring outputs, even when they’re not so straightforward as engineering standards.  The distinction you want to draw isn’t as strict as you think.

        More serious is RTod’s argument that,

        studies show that professional designations in my industry, such as CIC, CPCU or (my own favorite) ARM are not considered important to customers,

        If that’s correct, then the proposed solution will be of little benefit because the proposal is based on consumers actually using the available evidence; if they don’t, the solution is not helpful.  But then no more not helpful than government licensure, presumably.

         Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      I’m a bit more skeptical about private certification schemes, though I do agree that private certification makes a useful supplement to government certification and licenses.

      I think the main problem is that unlike ISO or ANSI certification, this would be a relatively subjective measurement and such measurements tend to attract rent-seeking behavior by cozying up with the interests of the industries the certification agencies are ostensibly supposed to examine. See: Credit Rating Agencies for this sort of potential problem.Report

  3. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    Time spent simply isn’t a good indicator of the quality of education; a “better way” would be for government mandates to recognize this.Report

  4. Avatar kenB says:

    This being the League, I know that there will be some that simply say that any kind of government mandated minimum level of knowledge is inherently wrong

    I find this rather an odd statement — while there are plenty of dogmatic libertarians in the world, the ones around here would object to the government mandates based on pragmatic reasons such as what you describe.

    I do think there really is no “solution” — just different trade-offs.  Mandates and licensure increase costs and reduce choices, while not really being able to guarantee acceptable service.  Lack of them means that those who are less attentive or less able to evaluate their options sensibly are more likely to be harmed by incompetence or fraud. There are legitimate disagreements over how/where to draw the line in each case, but I think our society would make better decisions overall if at least we better understood that there’s no “right” answer.Report

    • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

      Ken’s right: there’s no solution that solves every problem. And the biggest problems haven’t even been raised here. The real problem with licensing isn’t that the government test designers are boobs. It’s that they can be and are captured by industry incumbents to keep competitors out. No one is saying no good at all comes out of government testing. It’s that it is outweighed by the abuses of power it engenders. Any defense of testing must consider the nature and extent of these abuses.Report

  5. Avatar Meaghan says:

    Anyone can sit in a classroom watching anime for 3 hours. Is that guy more ethical because he spent the time? You knew the material. Lesser of two evils I say.Report

  6. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    This seems like a badly worded agreement to me. If the spirit of the rule is that you make sure you know certain parts of certification and be able to answer truthfully on the issues they ask you questions for, how much time you spent on it should be immaterial.Report

  7. Avatar Katherine says:

    Good for you on doing the reading.  Honesty is honesty, after all.Report

  8. Avatar James K says:

    This is a classic example of  a very common problem in government, a focus on measuring inputs instead of outcomes.

    Let me take as given that government licensing is necessary here and that the body of information captured in the education requirements is appropriate.  What is the objective of the education?  Presumably to ensure a minimum level of knowledge in certified people.  So why on Earth would you measure hours of education (the input to the education process), rather than the level of knowledge people have (the outcome you are actually trying produce)?  I see this all the time, and it makes no sense.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      James,

      Not to argue the essential idiocy of measuring inputs, but I think the answer to why is fairly obvious–often the inputs are easier to measure, and since few people are appropriately trained to recognize the problem, an agency can report inputs and give a readily perceivable appearance of accomplishment.Report

      • Avatar James K says:

        Yes what you say is true, also most monitoring is set up by operations people, and not policy people.  Ops people by their nature tend to focus on “are we doing what we were told to do?”, and not “is what we’re doing actually working?”.  You need to know both things of course, but you can’t stop at point 1.

        Anyway, mostly I’m just venting mostly, input-orientation is one of me pet peeves.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          input-orientation is one of me pet peeves.

          I hear you.  I’m going to be asked to do a departmental review in a year or two, and it will mostly be input measurements, which means I’ll be spending lots of time doing something that’s of no value, but telling that to the higher-ups will only cause me trouble.

          One of my favorite examples is of state highway departments in the U.S. measuring themselves by how many miles of paved highway they create in a year.  A thousand mile long spiral road that terminates in a dead-end would measure as an outstanding achievement.Report

  9. Avatar Scott says:

    Tod:

    So you are worried about the ethics of self verification but yet you get upset when the Va. GOP asks folks to swear that they will are voting in the GOP primary in good faith?  I think you have your priorities are a bit off.  And just so you know, Va. isn’t the only Commonwealth.Report

    • Avatar RTod says:

      Scott – This is a bit of a reach, from my point of view.  The GOP is doing nothing unethical about asking people to sign a pledge; people who are legally allowed to vote that wish to vote for someone the GOP establishment don’t want nominated are not either.  I see no ethical dilemma there.

      And I did know that about the commonwealths, thanks to you.  I googled after I got your comment.  I truly had no idea, so thanks.Report

      • Avatar Scott says:

        Tod:

        Yes, you can legally vote in the primary and choose to manipulate the system by voting for the other sides worst candidate but that doesn’t make it moral or ethical. You certainly aren’t voting in good faith, so I disagree. Is the fact that you can vote enough to make it moral?  Doesn’t it it hurt our system of civil gov’t when people try in bad faith to manipulate the system?

        Tell me this, if voting in the other sides primary to skew it is ok, then what is wrong with efforts to limit the other sides turnout using lies and misdirection. Assuming it isn’t illegal it must be ok, right?Report

        • Avatar RTod says:

          If the practices you describe are an issue, then don’t hold an open primary. If the Virginia GOP is really to the point that a few thousand jokers make the 3 to 4 million registered GOP voters nominate an unelectable candidate (which is a claim I find most dubious), I might suggest that the Virginia GOP has bigger worries it needs to deal with.

          But legally voting for anyone for any reason in not, IMHO, unethical – any more than voting any protest vote is. Do I find those that hate all Republicans voting in the primary stupid and childish? Sure. Pointless? Absolutely. But not unethical.Report

          • Avatar Murali says:

            Acutally, Scott’s got a point. It probably is going to take a full post, but we do have a duty to vote intelligently or not at all (even though our individual vote has negligible consequences). The question of whether it is ethical to underhandledly manipulate the democratic system so that your preferred candidate wins is more complicated.Report