Republican Messaging, Going Galt, and a Tale of Two Cities


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.

Related Post Roulette

368 Responses

  1. Avatar Ken says:

    Why are you trying to confuse the issue with facts?Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      Not all the facts are correct. Didn’t anybody else find it odd that the parks budget would work out to over 70 thousand dollars per capita, were that the correct figure?

      The real figures are that Vancouver spends about 55 dollars a head on its parks, and Portland about 78. Portland spends more for sure, but not an order of magnitude more.Report

      • Avatar Turgid Jacobian says:

        Yes, somebody did at 9:52 pm on March 2nd.Report

        • Avatar Barry says:

          “… Portland has just over three times the population, but its park budget is $41 billion around $61 million. ”
          And the camera zooms in on the face of the new head of Parks and Recreation – Dr. Evil!


  2. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    It’s probably worth pointing out here that Vancouver’s value proposition is that you can simultanously take advantage of Washington’s lack of a state income tax and Oregon’s lack of a state sales taxes. Which means, essentially, that Vancouver can’t support high-end retail due to the competition from tax-free shopping in Portland.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      I’m not saying that that’s the whole answer, of course, but it’s certainly a part of it. I think there’s likely an element of path dependence here, too.Report

      • Avatar Rod Engelsman says:

        I suspect there’s a lot of truth to both of your comments. I have to wonder how the property taxes compare.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Vancouver residents can also take advantage/free ride on Portland’s great parks and public features without having to pay for them. They can have all advantages of being near a great city without paying. That is a benefit of most suburbs.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        This is a good point. Suburbanites get massive advantages from being near cities at substantially lower costs. They have to pay for parking and tolls and whatever they buy but that does not cover most of the costs.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          Of the many reasons for middle class flight from cities after ww2, one was the increasing ability of many people to work in cities and live in other places. They got the money and play opportunity of the city but could live on their own patch of lawn. Most people could not do that until after ww2. Rich people could do that if they wished before ww2. Best of both worlds.

          One of the big mistakes made in this country has been governing cities and their suburbs under different states. NYC is an example. Lots of NY workers live in NJ or Conn, but they have no input into the city gov where they work. Metro areas should be all in one state. Costs should be born by all the people that thrive due to the presence of the city.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer says:

            How many major metros really have people commute from out of state?

            The Northeast Corridor feels a bit odd in this area because of proximity. It is easy to get to NYC from certain parts of NJ and Connecticut and the borders were formed centuries before commuting from the suburbs was the norm. The same is true for DC, Boston, Philly, and Chicago, and maybe Portland but not by much.

            There are plenty of major metros which have all the commuters in the same state.

            I suppose you can force an annex but that is not going to make anyone happy and seems like a technocratic solution from a wonk that finds democracy and voters to be pesky.Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              Oh i think it is mostly NE cities and some in the midwest. I’m not suggesting a forced change just that it was a bad idea to start with. I also think states in the west should have been aligned along major river drainages instead of by arbitrary lines in the sand.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                But many things are handled at the municipal level, no? Which would mean even in-state suburbanites would be limited in their power.Report

              • Avatar Barry says:

                “But many things are handled at the municipal level, no? Which would mean even in-state suburbanites would be limited in their power.”

                Unless the suburbanites do their legislating at the state level, where the state government tells the cities what to do.Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                I’m thinking that border towns were more common in those Louisiana Purchase states, while outposts more so more westerly.
                A number of cross-border cities exist along our borders with Canada & Mexico as well.
                It’s nothing for someone to work in Detroit, but live in Windsor; or to go into El Paso for work every day.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer says:

            This might be frustrating but I am not very sympathetic to wonk types who write white papers and then can’t convince voters to enact the policies that are allegedly the best.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          First, nobody moves to the suburbs to get out of paying municipal taxes. Vancouver’s advantage is that it’s in Washington state, which has no state income tax (compared to Oregon’s 9% income tax). People move to the suburbs for lower cost of living, more space, and better schools.

          Second, most of the things that draw people to cities are due to network effects, not government spending. A larger population supports more diverse retail services and entertainment. Parks are nice, but they’re not the reason suburbanites go to the city.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            This doesn’t seem that complicated to me.

            There are benefits to living in the city. There are benefits to living in the suburbs. Many of these are economic, which we tend to focus on because they are easily quantifiable, but there are other factors as well.

            If folks are willing to indulge in the Vancouver/Portland tax discrepancy at the cost of additional commuting costs, additional commuting time, and less access to other Portland offerings, so be it. If enough folks do so that Portland starts to suffer, Portland can and should take whatever (legal and ethical) steps it takes to incentivize a different behavior.Report

          • Avatar Will H. says:

            St. Louis is probably something of an anomaly. It separated from the county years and years ago, because of the county people soaking up all its services. Now it has a 3% income tax for everyone who lives or work within the city.
            The county flourishes, the city has been a shell of its former self for some time.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            They do around here. we have HIGH municipal taxes. Also: see Austin.

            Most people hear the rumor that the city has high taxes, and build that into their valuation of living areas.

            The city does not do half the challenges of assessments that the rich suburbs do. The tax rate is not actually comparable, particularly of new residences.

            Depends on the park, depends on what you’re doing. We have an observatory in a park, and we used to have horseback riding. I could certainly see someone going to the city for frisbee golf (or ice skating) — or dragon boat races (yes, those are on the river. you’re plunking your tuchus on parkland).Report

    • Avatar Barry says:

      That’s a big point, and I at first thought that Todd was going to fall into that trap, where city A has low taxes/services, while city B has high taxes/services. Obviously those who can will try to arbitrage that, with the classic example of people living in New Hampshire but working in ‘Taxechussets’ (which somehow seems to have all of the jobs).Report

      • Avatar Barry says:

        (I was replying to Brandon, waaaaaaaaaaay up above)Report

      • Avatar Shannon's Mouse says:

        People who live in NH and work in MA are doing a very poor job of tax arbitrage. NH residents that work in MA are subject to non-resident MA income tax. NH also has one of the highest real estate tax burdens in the country.Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain says:

          NH is one of the few states that — the last time I checked — does all of its K-12 education funding at the local level. I believe that the school districts there are only allowed property taxes, rather than income or sales taxes. Many (most?) states got the state involved in education funding, commonly through the creation of an “equalization” fund of some sort. Once started, it’s a slippery slope. In my state, state funding for K-12 now accounts for about 60% of total K-12 funding.Report

          • Avatar Morat20 says:

            Texas has a real problem there.

            In fact, Texas’ school funding methods have been under court scrutiny for decades. (State court, not federal). Effectively, Texas has a serious equal protection problem because the disparity in per-capita spending (and, as the courts determined, the quality of instruction, supplies, and resources and options) between the average suburban school district and the poor districts (primarily rural, although some are deep urban) amount to, well, “seperate and entirely unequal”.

            Of course the Texas legislature refuses to pass anything that would even make a token gesture towards solving the problem, so we ended up with the courts basically matching poor and wealth school districts and mandating fund transfers. (The court apparently has the power to do that, but not raise taxes of it’s own violition). Of course, that was sorta working but then the recession hit and rather than use the rainy day fund (we had to keep it ‘for emergencies’. The same governor who said that is now openly mulling using it to cut taxes on businesses) they cut the very minimal (and mostly aimed at the poor districts) school funding even further…

            Make a precarious problem worse, because the vast bulk of the poor district’s funds are from the state, whereas the money sent to the more affluent districts are basically a token. (In general, those districts pay OUT far more to other districts via Robin Hood than they get from the state. MUCH more).

            So it’s back in front of the courts again.

            Texas, FYI, is funded entirely via sales taxes and property taxes and has the lowest — some 40% less than the next lowest — per capita spending out of all 50 states. We run a very, very lean government. How well it works is in the eye of the beholder.Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

              Texas, FYI, is funded entirely via sales taxes and property taxes and has the lowest — some 40% less than the next lowest — per capita spending out of all 50 states.

              Citation needed.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Tax Foundation.

                I did mispeak: 40% lower than the average (although not from 2007 — it’s only 30% down from that).

                It’s from 2007 (first year I found). Texas has 3831 per capita, and the next lowest is Florida at 4009, which is only 5% less.Report

            • Avatar Michael Cain says:

              Colorado takes a back seat to no one with regard to a school financing mess. The Lobato decision by the state district court (a) declared the entire school finance system unconstitutional because the funding level had no rational ties to the requirement that the state fund a “thorough and uniform” system of free (to the students) public schools; and (b) found that the state was underfunding K-12 education to the tune of $3B per year. The court further ruled that there was no need for the courts to attempt to harmonize that dollar figure with the TABOR constitutional requirement that tax hikes would have to be approved by the voters — that’s a legislative problem. The state supreme court is scheduled to hear the appeal this week.

              This is the second time the case has been to the supreme court. Initially, the district court found that the issue was not justiciable. That decision went all the way to the supreme court, which decided that the courts did have a role and remanded the case, leading to the current situation.

              There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that the voters will approve a $3B/year tax increase. If the supreme court upholds the ruling, the likely outcomes are that Colorado will cease to fund higher education in the state, and withdraw from Medicaid. There simply are no other sources of General Fund money of sufficient size.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                Upon brief further reflection, it seems more likely that if the supreme court upholds Lobato, the General Assembly will refer a constitutional amendment to the people that puts state-level school finance decisions outside the reach of the courts.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Any prospect for an initiative that would try to fix the system?Report

        • Avatar Barry says:

          “People who live in NH and work in MA are doing a very poor job of tax arbitrage. NH residents that work in MA are subject to non-resident MA income tax. NH also has one of the highest real estate tax burdens in the country.”

          I didn’t know that; I thought that it was the other way around.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        people living in New Hampshire but working in ‘Taxechussets’ (which somehow seems to have all of the jobs).

        Like I said, path dependence. Massachusetts has a huge lead for historical reasons (chiefly, I suspect, the importance of a shipping port to local economic development), and once cities get big, they tend to stay big unless they screw things up very, very badly.Report

  3. Avatar NewDealer says:

    A very good post. This is the post I was striving to write with my own piece on cities and the middle-class.

    All those things you mentioned do attract people to the city but they also drive up costs of living that drive old-time residents out. There doesn’t seem to be a balanced solution which allows for all those nice things but also keeps housing at moderate prices. Perhaps I am naive in think that a middle-ground solution exists.

    I wonder if it becomes hard for an area to maintain good public schools once population exceeds a certain level. There does not seem to be a large city in the United States that is not known for having a chaotic school system. Large means anything above 350,000 in this case. I grew up in an upper-middle class suburb of NYC. It was the classic inner ring suburb where people move for the school districts. Are large school systems simply too unwieldy and need to cater to too many interests?

    The people who move to the inner-ring suburbs seem to be middle class people who expect or want their children to attend college. This leads to the definitional problem of what is a middle-class American. I think you can be white-collar or blue-collar and be middle class but my biases tend to paint a more white-collar view of the world. However many other people talk about the middle class as being a more blue-collar thing and imagine well-paid manual labor jobs.

    As an example: The New Yorker published an article recently about window-washers. The people who clean all the skyscrapers. This is a good paying, closed-union shop job in New York. One of the guy’s interviewed was high-up in the union. He made an off-hand remark (and very old-world) about how he expects his daughters to come up to him one day and say “Daddy, you have to give my boyfriend/husband a job.” What is remarkable here to me is several things:

    1. He doesn’t seem to have any expectation or dreams for his daughters to attend college or higher.

    2. He expects them to marry guy’s who need help getting a decent job.

    3. There is nothing wrong with this and it is the way of the world.

    I have no qualms with the guy or his union. And it probably is a good manual-labor middle class job. However, I don’t see how you design one school for that guy and his children and a family where both parents have college degrees or higher and expect the same of their children. It seems that having a college education creates an expectation that your children would go. I know very few people who are college-educated that would be supportive of their children not attending college.

    Another interesting that that can be noted is the dislike of chain stores whether Wal-mart or even more expensive/classier brands. I live up the hill from an area in San Francisco called Hayes Valley. Like the Pearl, this used to be very rough but is now filled with nice condos, fashionable shops, and nice restaurants/bars. Plus it is the new home of SFJazz and the close to the Symphony, main Library, and Asian-Art Museum. Today I noticed a sign in one of the shops protesting that “GANT Rugger” was coming to the neighborhood. GANT Rugger is fairly expensive as a clothing store goes, a shirt costs 125 dollars. Yet this was still too corporate for Hayes Valley. Another similar protest happened because Starbucks bought a small-local coffee chain called La Boulange.

    I would say that the divide between GOP and Democratic types are strong on many levels. This goes beyond policy but even into aesthetics and what a city is for and many (but not all) GOPers seem to have a hard time grasping that liberals will gladly pay higher taxes for the services mentioned above. The Papa John’s CEO did a similar cynical ploy during for Obamacare by saying that pizza prices would need to go up if Obamacare became law. He does not seem to realize that many liberals would not mind paying an extra 50 cents per a pizza (a very paltry sum) if it means more people would get healthcare. I can’t even fathom the kind of person who would be outraged at paying an extra fifty cents if it means getting healthcare to people.

    I think some conservatives are starting to think wait a minute but the party is still hide-bound in Orthodoxy and many seem to have swalloed the kool-aid of their own yeoman fantasies. They can’t conceive why someone would consider single payer to better than everyone buying their own health insurance.

    Choice quotes:

    ‘There are no House Republicans from New England. Nan Hayworth, a Tea Party representative from upstate New York who lost to a Democrat in November, told me about a Southern Republican who once tried to win her support for a colleague on some internal conference position. “He’s a good Christian man,” the congressman told her, assuming that was the first thing she needed to know. She responded, “Well, I’m married to a good Jewish man.”’

    ‘Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon from Georgia, who holds Newt Gingrich’s old congressional seat and is seen as a leader of the most conservative House Republicans, said that, during a recent debate over taxes, “we talked past each other oftentimes as much as Republicans and Democrats talk past each other.” He explained how surprised he was when one of his colleagues from a Northern state told him that he favored a tax increase on millionaires. “It hit me that what he was hearing when he’s going home to a Republican district in a blue state is completely different than what I’m hearing when I go home to a Republican district in a red state,” he said. “My folks are livid about this stuff. His folks clearly weren’t. And so we weren’t even starting from the same premise.”’

    The problem I think is that a lot of non-Southern GOP politicians are essentially Southernized in many ways like the people in close-by Vancouver. Burt Likko has mentioned several times how the GOP Parts of California have more in common with Alabama than they do with San Francisco or Los Angeles.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      Actually, those “large districts” often have very good and very bad schools. In the same district.

      I know, for instance, HISD (Houston) does.

      In the end, you might as well claim demographics are destiny. Each and every ‘bad school’ is filled with students of the very, very poor. And the good schools, in the same district, are filled mostly with the children of the middle class.

      It’s very, very, very difficult to educate the children of the poor. They tend to have other priorities (like managing to pay rent, find enough money for food, going to their second job, etc) than their children’s schooling — and even those who do care often lack the time or energy to really help.

      The ones that do have the energy and motivation generally make excellent poster children for charter or private schools — they’re self-selecting motivated students and parents to attend.

      In the end, you find the same patterns in large school districts as you do in states — or in education overall in America — if you lop off the very, very, very poor, American public schools are great. The districts servicing the downtrodden, so to speak, tend to have terrible results. (Although I understand if you dig down in the weeds, those are perking up a bit.)

      There’s a limit to what you can do in a classroom to counteract a crappy life filled with poverty, drugs, violence, or all the other things tha t– rightly or wrongly — tend to take precedence to education.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Same in pittsburgh. we have some pretty damn good schools (magnets too), but some schools really suck. Occasionally that’s management’s fault, but normally it’s just because.

        Ben & Jerry’s gives out jobs to disadvantaged kids. I wonder if a certain amount of school credit (&free icecream) could be used to good affect here?Report

  4. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Wow. What a post! Well done Tod. Really exceptional work.Report

  5. Avatar NewDealer says:

    IIRC, the Oregon State Constitution has a very strongly worded free-speech clause and the Oregon Supreme Court interprets this clause very absolutely. I think that there was a case where the Oregon Supreme Court declared nude dancing as being protected under the Free Speech provisions of the Oregon State Constitution.

    A quick google confirms that I am right:

  6. Avatar Turgid Jacobian says:

    Tod if a 90% budget is $4.6M short of the 100% budget, the total budget is definitely not $41B. Also the total economic product of Oregon is of order $200B by napkin math!Report

  7. Avatar LWA says:

    A terrific post, that is to say, one that confirms my personal viewpoints.

    In all, the parts that stand out are the points that Portlanders aren’t secretly yearning to live free of evil gummint and the boot of taxation; they grasp that good things must be paid for.

    One thought that us liberals need to be conscious of, is the point about how this embrace of the public sphere and what it can do isn’t open ended or uncritical; when it comes to schools and their own kids, no one is tolerant of failure.

    Especially intolerant of school system failure are the people most coveted by cities- the higher income higher tax base demographic. If you are pying BMW taxes, you want BMW performance.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I think all liberals would agree with you on the BMW taxes=BMW performance.

      The problem is that we break down upon what education should be like.

      You have the neo-liberal/Michelle Rhee set which seems to go for STEM and a lot of testing, testing, testing. This side is very pro-charter/voucher and very anti-Teacher Union.

      Then you have liberals like me who want a lot less standardized testing, a more well-rounded education that emphasizes critical reading and writing and has well funded arts programs and other extracurriculars.

      Americans cannot seem to agree on what the point and purpose of education is. A good chunk want it devoted to practicality and things that will make the United States strong on an economic basis. Basically education is for creating good worker bees. Then you have people like me who want education to be for creating educated and intellectually curious people on ALL subjects.

      I don’t care for rote memorization or standardized testing or pushing people towards STEM. The STEM fields are important but this does not mean we should ignore the arts and humanities.

      I am not accusing you of being a Michelle Rhee sympathizer. Just writing how I see Democratic/Left infighting on the matter of education policy and where I stand.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Americans cannot seem to agree on what the point and purpose of education is.

        Education reform is a tough nut. I’m a liberal, but I think the institution of public education needs to be put under the microscope. I’m not convinced most liberals are willing to do that.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          The problem is that educational policy is very localized and not national.

          As far as I can tell, most other countries have national education policies. We still have a lot of people that want to abolish the Department of Education because they see it as “unconstitutional.”

          Public schools in upper-middle class suburbs are fine. The upper-middle class suburb I grew up in has been sending a large number of students to elite colleges and universities for decades now. There are many places like this all over the United States*.

          Then there are other schools in more mixed or poor areas that are absolutely a chaotic mess.

          A national education policy can help but then it would be a matter of culture war. New York and California would go crazy if they had to work with Texas or South Carolina on teaching certain aspects of US History and the sciences. Local control still makes some parts of the U.S. a laughing stock in the world but it also allows others to function fine.

          *College/University snobbery seems to exist more on the East Coast then the West. In my hometown the push was towards the elite and private: the Ivies, MIT, CalTech, Standford, and the small liberal arts colleges (Wesleyan, Vassar, Williams, Amherst, etc). SUNY schools were considered second tier. In California, I know many people who grew up in comparable socio-economic suburbs or even went to fancy private high schools but there is less shame in attending a UC like Berkeley, Santa Cruz, or UCLA. I realize that UCs were always considered among the best schools in the nation and might still be competitive but the lack of school snobbery out west is a bit striking to me.Report

          • Avatar M.A. says:

            Public schools in upper-middle class suburbs are fine. The upper-middle class suburb I grew up in has been sending a large number of students to elite colleges and universities for decades now. There are many places like this all over the United States*.

            And yet so many of the racist conservatives simultaneously insist that inner-city schools are failing, AND that they don’t want to pay to fix the issue.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            The problem is that educational policy is very localized and not national.

            I have to critique this. “Nationalization” is the liberal equivalent of conservatives’ “privatization.” A simplistic mantra. A single national policy stifles innovation. Instead of having multiple models to compare and learn from, we end up with a single model and a vested constituency that will view any proposed change as a threat.

            And we have increasingly moved toward a national policy, call NCLB, and that national model–testing, testing, testing–is killing education.

            When you say you want a national education policy you are unwisely assuming your side controls it. Very simply, though, nationalization is no automatic cure, it is not inherently superior. Those who fixate on it are thinking no more deeply than those who fixate on privatization.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              that national model–testing, testing, testing–is killing education.

              Amen. One of the reasons I sent my kids to private schools was to get away from that. They spent literally zero time being drilled to pass a specific test because the school’s funding depended upon it. I was educated in public schools, and I’m a great believer in public education, but, as James says, NCLB is ruining it.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:

                Plus you live in Marin 😉

                I’ve noticed that my Bay Area friends who grew up in Lafayette or Orinda tended to go to public school. Same with the ones who grew up in the Silicon Valley/Palo Alto areas. A lot of people in Marin seem to prefer private schools. Though some did go to public school.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I went to public schools in Marin.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:

                You are of the Master Plan generation 🙂Report

            • Avatar NewDealer says:

              I am no fan of NCLB and did not necessarily say I supported nationalization. I just noted that most other countries seem to have national education policies. They are also much more homogeneous than the United States.

              All things being equal, cultural/social politics probably mean that state/local control is good. I would rather not have to come to a consensus with South Carolina or Texas on teaching evolution.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                And I’d rather have national standards strong enough to make it so South Carolina and Texas finally got the message and couldn’t keep trying to force creationism and religious nonsense into the schools, as opposed to having to work with the recklessly dumb cowboy-wannabes Texas keeps exporting to the other states.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                So the assumption is that your preferred policies would be going through rather than via some democratic process where “the recklessly dumb cowboy-wannabes Texas keeps exporting to the other states” also have a vote?

                What happens if, say, one of the recklessly dumb cowboy-wannabes Texas keeps exporting to the other states ends up in the “I get to make a decision and other people don’t get a vote” chair?

                “When”, I should say. Not “if”.Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                That’s an often-neglected point. I think the reason why the US has so much trouble over evolution in schools has less to do with local control, and more to do with the US’s high incidence of religious fanatics.Report

              • Avatar Russell M says:

                my problem with letting each state set their educational standards is that Texas is such a big market the textbook makers usually just tailor their base book to whatever “jebus killed the dinosaurs” standards the Texas school board sets and next thing ya know kids in schools from Maine to Washington have to learn the terribly untruthful things Texas wants us to learn. A national Standard that enforces fact based reason and cognition would be a boon for the education system.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                And who would set this national Standard?

                Someone elected? Someone appointed by someone elected? Someone appointed by someone appointed by someone elected?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Jaybird, you’re missing the point. “National standard” is a magical device that automatically produces what the seeker wants.Report

              • Avatar Russell M says:

                make congress do it. at least congress is dysfunctional by numbers and has experience with clusterfraks.Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                I don’t understand why you’re so concerned with So. Carolina or Texas in the first place.
                Those kids already have parents to attend to their needs.
                If it’s the orphans you’re concerned about, then getting involved with some orphanage might help to address these issues.

                When I look at Texas & So. Carolina, I think, “I don’t have to live there.”
                I’m wondering if this is somehow faulty thinking.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                You’re not fully aware of how much of an affect Texas already HAS on your public schools. Like the available books. Or the fact that the high-stakes part of NCLB was fathered here.

                (On the bright side, parents in Texas have — after 20 years of increasing use of standardized tests and given those tests more and more power over kid’s education careers — started to get a little PO’d about them.)Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                Available books?
                That reminds me of the English teacher that was excused from further employment at the Catholic school for having the kids read Toni Morrison.

                It doesn’t matter what’s available.
                It matters what they’re going to buy.
                It matters what they’re going to use.

                There was plenty of Robert E. Howard available when I was in high school.
                And I had it readily on hand.
                But guess what?
                I was told to read some other stupid book that had nothing whatsoever about Robert E. Howard.

                That’s how terrible some of these schools are.Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                And it should be noted that a large part of the course work had nothing whatsoever to do with AD&D.
                And I’m talking First Edition here.
                There’s no excuse for that.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Textbooks. Not library books. Texas and California more or less dictate the textbook market. (Texas more than California).

                For public schools, you take what Texas — and to a lesser extent — California wanted for most core classes. Because it’s not worth the money to make general (Englishes, non-state histories, etc) individual for each state. You make them to fit your big, unified Texas market — whatever they require — and then point out to everyone else that they can get the books at this price if they use the ones you already have (made for Texas) or you can pay a HECK of a lot more and wait a year or two for another set.Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                First of all, the First Edition DMG is, in fact, a textbook– regardless of whether it is “officially” recognized as such or not.

                Secondly, this sounds like a delivery issue.
                I still don’t get why I should be more concerned about what Texas is doing (and there’s quite a few reasons I really don’t care to be there) rather than the way that the delivery system is made up, as you describe.
                And really, I’m not so sure Newtonian physics changes that much from year to year.
                Or French.
                Or health.
                Or typing.
                Or English.
                But I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, and fear the worst for students nationwide should the personal hygiene of Texans become the national standard which is taught in public schools.

                But then, I have to wonder about this requirement that each page in the textbook should be taught by all schools.
                I can think of a lot of classes where we skipped over whole chapters– and not just of the Robert E. Howard stuff either.
                I’m talking about such things like, “Read pages 52 through 57 and pages 62 through 75 of chapter five.” Stuff like that.
                If they’re forcing these kids to read every page in the book these days, well, that’s just dastardly right off the bat.
                Unless they’ve finally taken to teaching the DMG, of course; in which case, I heartily endorse this measure.Report

              • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

                Will H

                Texas has for decades been targeted by creationists and social conservatives to influence the textbook process due to their nationwide influence.

                So history and biological sciences are hugely at risk thanks to Texas’s ‘local’ control. I wish what happened in texas only affected Texas…Report

              • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

                Maybe a good way to improve education standards is if a HS diploma was not universally accepted as sufficient. Maybe Universities should start publicly saying, if you apply here with a (for the sake of argument) diploma from a Texas Public School, you will have to take an entrance exam to demonstrate you know the minimum required.

                Maybe if parents realized that a diploma from a Texas PS hurts their kids chances for getting into a college that is not funded by Texas taxes, or affiliated with an Evangelical Cult, they’ll start to apply pressure to make changes.Report

            • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

              Agreed times 1000.

              NCLB is bad news.

              And local school control is a net good (problems with creationism-teaching, etc., but variety is good).Report

            • Avatar Barry says:

              “Instead of having multiple models to compare and learn from, …”

              We’re comparing and learning?Report

            • Avatar Morat20 says:

              The “national plan” was a Texas export. It started here, and went national when George Bush was elected and chose Paige as his Secretary of Education. (Paige, author of the “Houston miracle” which, like all the others, seems to have shown how high-stakes testing turns schools around by cheating like mad on high-stakes testing).

              The big testing mantra stuff got it’s start here. And there’s quite a backlash brewing over it.

              High stakes testing isn’t really a liberal idea, although it’s hard to find many liberals who disagree with the notion of ‘objective tests measuring progress and knowledge’ — I mean, it seems a pretty simple way of measuring students, districts, and schools and whether, you know, Johnny is Learning.

              It’s the high-stakes part that’s a GOP innovation, and fits into the GOP rhetoric as basically an audit or waste/fraud sort of idea. It slides right into the niche idea that if government is running schools, they’re making a hash of it and have to be watched like hawks and constantly tested. And, well, Texas being Texas — scan-trons are cheap and you can hire consultants to make the tests.

              There’s a growing backlash in Texas over the whole concept.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Who ever said the testing was a liberal idea? My point, in response to the praise by a liberal for the ideal of national education policy was to point out that we got ourselves one, and it’s anything but liberal. Getting a national education policy in no way ensures a good education policy, so folks ought to be careful what they wish for.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                You didn’t. I’m pointing out that there is liberal support for national standards and testing in general (liberals being fond of public education and believers in functional government) but that the current hash of NCLB has it’s roots in Texas and conservative notions on education.

                Worst of both worlds, really.Report

              • Avatar Barry says:

                “It’s the high-stakes part that’s a GOP innovation, and fits into the GOP rhetoric as basically an audit or waste/fraud sort of idea. It slides right into the niche idea that if government is running schools, they’re making a hash of it and have to be watched like hawks and constantly tested. ”

                In more ways than one. It was pointed out that the NCLB standard divide a school into many, many demographic cells, and penalize for problems in *any* cell. If your school slips in performance of [age]*[gender]*[ethnicity], then you’re in trouble, even if that was a few students (and possibly the change in mean was due to one or two students in that cell entering/leaving that school).Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          In what way does public ed need to be put under a microscope? We do a pretty good job of educating most children based on test scores. We have an issue with educating poor kids for sure.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        “Americans cannot seem to agree on what the point and purpose of education is.”


        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          To get a good job. after you graduate (I wasn’t aware there was a question.)Report

          • Avatar NewDealer says:

            Are you being sarcastic or serious?

            There is more too education than getting a good job after you graduate. I think most people who study arts and humanities do not regret it despite all the jokes.

            We can also ask why don’t employers value a smart English major for the marketing department or any department that does not require a specialized degree? I am not that convinced that a major in marketing/business is necessary for indicative of understanding business.Report

            • Avatar Alan Scott says:

              I’d say that
              A) a business degree is necessary to understand modern business
              B) and that’s why modern businesses are so horrible.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              I’m saying it’s what Americans agree on. And, to answer Kazzy below. a good job is one where you make a lot of money, but not working with your hands.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                By that definition, won’t the American education system necessarily fail a majority of us? Or, perhaps not a majority, but at least a very large percentage?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                As does the economic system, because hard work so rarely leads to wealth. And the health care system, because we all end up dead.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                But do we say that the purpose of work is to acquire vast wealth? And that the purpose of a health care system is to prevent death?

                I think that mindset exacerbates the flaws in our system. Fair or not, a number of students reach high school with little to no chance of getting a “good job”. Yet in the vast majority of these cases, we continue to teach them as if that is the goal. They take American history and English literature and art classes that get them no closer to a “good job” AND leave them unprepared for the jobs they might be better suited for and which they are far more likely to undertake. Let those kids take vocational classes if they like, help them to graduate with an education and skills that will actually benefit them and which might entice them to finish school.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I don’t disagree personally. I’m saying that if you asked 10 people what the value of education was, at least 8 of them would say “to get a better job.”Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Mike, I agree with what you’re saying. “Getting a job” is the rationale behind going to school. And if that’s the case, then most of the public education curriculum and structure is irrelevant for most people. Not all of it, of course. But most.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                What good jobs do American history, English history, and art classes get you closer to? These classes are usually justified under the “well-rounded”/”good citizen” model, not the “good jobs” model.

                Proponents of education-as-job training are usually keener on STEM, technical writing, and yes, vocational classes. Nonacademic vocational classes arguably lead to better jobs, on average, than pure academic classes like literature and history.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Art classes ought to teach a substantial portion of folks how to make art. Ditto music classes. 😉Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                I’m going to do you a personal favor and not mention the Giants right here.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                They’ve won two of the last three years. This is the first time since the 1920s it doesn’t make sense to mention them.Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                You’ve defended them well.
                The uptick is noted.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:

                I’m not sure I agree here but I come from an arts background. I know a lot of people who take jobs with mediocre pay but get a lot of flex time and freedom because of said jobs. They use their free time to work on their art, go on auditions, rehearse, paint, etc.

                A few of the paralegals at my firm are like this. I know other paralegals at other firms that do the same. Also lots of theatre and film people that are bartenders, baristas, waiters, nannys/babysitters, tutors, etc. All very smart, all not working to their true economic potential but they want the time.

                I also see careers as a long game. It takes decades to build a career. Most of a lifetime. I am not too concerned about 20-somethings living semi-Bohemian existences. Not everyone needs to join the office park world.

                Also many 20-somethings seem to be rejecting white-collar work for more crafty/skilled work. I will admit that I don’t know how many of the cool crafty people I see working have college educations or not.Report

              • Avatar LWA says:

                I think the fixation on “STEM” majors is silly, and destructive.

                There is a benefit- a tangible economic benefit- to liberal arts, to humanities.

                Within the business world, the lowest rung is manual labor, the middle rung is technocratic mastery, and the highest level is strategy and political mastery.

                STEM only is of benefit to the middle rung.

                A CEO doesn’t do spreadsheet regression analysis of sales- he has people to do that.

                What he does need is to understand culture- the culture of his customers, the culture of his company, and he needs to master the political skill of persuasion and insight into character in order to create an effective organization out of wildly disparate people all driven with conflicting agendas.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I have a math degree, which IMHO is the ideal degree for a compter scientist, because it teaches the right mental discipline for analyzing problems and designing solutions. And since the technology is always changing, the value of expertise in the current hot new thing is ephemeral. When I started working, decades ago, many employers understood that. Nowadays they’re all looking for people with five year’s experience in the hot new thing that was invented last year.

                A CEO needs to understand the business he’s in as well as having general skills. (That is, the myth of the MBA as a general-purpose expert has been exploded.) There’s no economic value in a degree that would be useful at the top if it doesn’t first get you to the middle.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                A CEO is only as good as his immediate subordinates. I’ve seen CEOs do well who didn’t understand anything when they began: they only knew how to pick people. Conversely, I’ve seen people, I suppose we all have — who were promoted beyond their ability to lead a firm in a good direction.

                Much as I scoff at them generally, there is a place for the MBA in middle management, especially when a firm is growing. It’s wise to have someone around who knows the business of business itself, much as MD programs put people through various aspects of medicine before they specialise.

                Some MBA programs are manifestly better than others and some are outright worthless. But I’ve often wished I had an MBA: I once came to rely on one guy who did have an MBA to act as a proxy between my team of contractors and senior management for this firm. He knew how to talk to these guys. We were doing a scope and impact statement so we could see how much of the pea patch we were about to tear up. The MBA gave us loads of insight into how to frame the statement.

                Math and logic, I’d add philosophy to that list as well, make for solid thinkers. Strengthen the muscles in the sensory organs which detect bullshit and weak thinking. He who can think abstractly without getting lost in the weeds of untested (and usually contestable) assertions will do well in any discipline.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

                You know, the more and more I think about it, I think math is sort of the original liberal art.

                Maybe we can put the liberal arts degree bashing and stem degree worship to bed by agreeing to one proposal: All liberal arts degree majors will become in a second language (not necessarily fluency), analytic writing, research, giving professional presentations, working together on projects professionally with others, and some high-level mathematics.

                I mean most liberal arts degrees do that already, but maybe we can make it a nationwide requirement or something just to shut the debate up. (Conversely, all STEM majors should have to show proficiency in analytic writing, knowledge about the arts and design, understanding political and ethical debates, etc.)

                And all the small degree programs that have names that right wing people don’t like, e.g. “LGBT Studies” can change their name to sound like busines-friendly buzzwords. LGBTQ Studies can become “Corporate Diversity and Tolerance Analytics” and “Comparative Literature” can become “Nontraditional Business-Paradigm Solutions.” And “Philosophy” can become “Strategy and Assumption Analysis.”Report

              • Avatar Barry says:

                “I have a math degree, which IMHO is the ideal degree for a compter scientist, because it teaches the right mental discipline for analyzing problems and designing solutions. ”

                I think that the operative term is ‘computer scientist’; if a company is looking for ‘programmers’,………..Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                CS is just such a catch-all term, though. And the graduates of it are all over the map.

                A BS in CS basically says “Um, this guy showed the minimum ability to adapt to new languages and programming concepts, and enough basic math to show he can think logically, and enough of the theory so that he sorta might understand how people do things in the real world. Maybe”.

                I’ve got a CS degree — a bachelor’s and a Master’s. I’m not ragging on CS majors. But the people I’ve seen earn them range from unimaginative grunts who could probably work from a detailed enough work document to people who would have been great coders without the theory to people who shouldn’t be allowed to code, ever. EVER.

                I found the theory side to be eh…mostly useless with a few exceptions (data structures, algorithm analysis, that sort of thing). The Master’s level stuff was a lot more useful, insofar as you deal with concepts that tend to be at least as complex as most multi-programmer applications.

                Except, even then, I think I had a hugely unfair advantage compared to some of my classmates because I’d actually coded for a living. Their work was often…uninspired. Which is part talent and part experience. (I’m about middling as far as coders go. I’m no super-star, but if it can be done I’ll eventually manage it. Probably a bit early. But I’m not the guy doing four people’s work and coming up with outside-the-box awesome solutions over lunch).

                The bext example I can think of was a simple distributed memory problem — every other program took a very complicated, centralized approach to handing out shared memory. None of that was necessary. I solved the same problem with a quarter the code without needing a central server to farm out the pages.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                STEM only is of benefit to the middle rung.

                That’s very short-sighted. STEM is valuable to the lower rungs because of the technological advances it creates–not just in ever cooler techie gadgets, but in medical advances, advances in energy efficiency, etc.

                Right now the U.S. imports a huge number of its STEM folks. I’m fine with letting in as many as are willing to come, but competition for them is increasing. If we lose an increasing number to other countries, we’d damn we’ll start better producing more local ones.

                That’s not a screed against the humanities and social sciences, but a screed in favor of continuing our emphasis on STEM.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:

                My personal theory is that in a nation with 300 million people, we have an over supply of almost everyone. Also lots of companies are still snobby about educational credentialism and school branding.

                A lot of Silicon Valley companies would rather be able to say all their techies/engineers come from elite schools than take someone from a perfectly good but less brand-name school.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I’ve not heard about school snobbery, but Google brags about their corporate GPA.

                “Yes, you do have some amazing accomplishments in the past 20 years, but we can’t hire someone who only had a 3.3.”Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                STEM is not the answer. STEM people with no humanities in their background are lousy around ordinary people. I can work with them: I keep them away from clients, though.

                Classic case in point: back in the days of the Space Race, NASA was chock full of STEM types. Superior intellects, yes. But their marriages all failed. Furthermore, they never produced cost-effective solutions. STEM types don’t know how to lead.

                Yes, NASA produced a great many useful techie gadgets and overcame many difficult hurdles. But story after story comes out of those times, of creative people who were crushed down under Wernher von Braun’s autocratic style. The LEM, the vehicle which landed on the moon, was almost never built. One poor engineer had the guts to go behind von Braun’s back to convince the administrators of the necessity of the LEM.

                MIT, the organisation which built the inertial guidance system for Apollo, started off well enough with one interesting gadget, a really good gyroscope. Software was a new discipline at the time: MIT, for all its STEM thinking, was never able to software control development effectively, though they were masters at hardware. The routine which managed guidance to the Moon’s surface — was almost an afterthought. MIT continued to dither until NASA finally intervened and put in effective management.

                STEM is not the answer. I’d rather have someone who knows how to think than someone who knows how to do. Both skills are necessary, I suppose. Just don’t say technology solves problems. Technology creates as many problems as it solves. People solve problems.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                But their marriages all failed. Furthermore, they never produced cost-effective solutions. STEM types don’t know how to lead.

                For one thing, they were prone to making wild generalizations.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I dunno. There’s a wonderful story told by a NASA engineer whose wife asked the kids “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” The children all replied excitedly “Daddy!”Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

                Also, I think international competition for science and engineering graduate schools here in the US is a great thing, truly great. We have a lot of the world’s elite schools, so the world’s best talent (not just America’s) is going to graduate from MIT, Berkeley, Harvard, UT Austin, etc., etc.

                Pushing US kids who aren’t as talented as the worlds best or the U.S.’s best STEM talent is just going to reault in a flood of crappy researchers and engineers (as with the law school bubble) and might even retard scientific innovation and eonomic growth.

                More reserachers isn’t better, necessarily. Could be too many cooks in the kitchen. And more American-born researchers and engineers coming out of top schools could be counterproductive.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Somehow, STEM seems to eliminate all the creative people. The usual minefields are Organic Chemistry or DiffEq. It’s a real problem for the Chinese, who’ve put a great deal of emphasis on producing STEM talent. None of them seem to be very creative. Well, all those equations of equilibrium taught them the fundamentals of efficiency: it’s more profitable to steal than invent.Report

              • Avatar Barry says:

                “Right now the U.S. imports a huge number of its STEM folks. I’m fine with letting in as many as are willing to come, but competition for them is increasing. If we lose an increasing number to other countries, we’d damn we’ll start better producing more local ones.”

                We are producing more local ones that we can hire.

                The thing is that companies want a long line outside their doors of MIT grads delighted to work for ‘three hots and a cot’. That’s what the ‘shortage’ is.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                The thing is that companies want a long line outside their doors of MIT grads delighted to work for ‘three hots and a cot’. That’s what the ‘shortage’ is.

                The other thing the companies want is workers who can’t easily be wooed away to another company later.

                That’s where much of the push for the H1-B visas is. Not only will many of them do (substandard but barely-passable) work for “three hots and a cot”, the visa’s tied to company employment so they can’t be hired away easily. It’s indentured servitude dressed up to look pretty, but it’s still indentured servitude.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                Right now the U.S. imports a huge number of its STEM folks. I’m fine with letting in as many as are willing to come, but competition for them is increasing. If we lose an increasing number to other countries, we’d damn we’ll start better producing more local ones.

                The thing about STEM folks is that we mostly produce information, so in the long run it really doesn’t matter where it’s created. It doesn’t really matter all that much whether a new drug or computer program is created in China or the US.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Jesus, folks, talk about needing education…

                ND, there’s a recession on, you might have heard about it, I’m talking about the long term trend and you give me today’s news? You shoud go look at the academic job searches in mathematics over the past 20 years.

                Blaise, who ever said STEM people should only know STEM? Nobody here, but you wrote as though you were correcting someone who had.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                What he does need is to understand culture- the culture of his customers, the culture of his company, and he needs to master the political skill of persuasion and insight into character in order to create an effective organization out of wildly disparate people all driven with conflicting agendas.

                Sure, but what’s the evidence that a liberal arts education teaches this? I wouldn’t be surprised if these skills were negatively correlated with having a STEM education, but due more to self-selection than to the actual content of education.Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                That’s always bugged me too. After all, the liberal arts education rests principally on an appeal to antiquity. I’d like to see some research.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                How do you test for content of education and exclude individual initiative, prerogative and desire?

                At best it’s gonna be correlation and all the rigmarole that entails.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                I think psychology and “dark” psychology fall under STEM. I’d throw logistics and strategy under there, if I could find anyone outside of the military teaching it worth a damn.Report

              • Avatar Dennis says:

                so a good job is not working with your hands? then please, tell that to my Union electrician who pulls in close to 6 figures a year. or Mailmen that make 50,000 a year. not everyone is destined for a traditional 4 year College, nor should they. Money doesn’t buy happiness, it buys stuff.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Shhh…. Mike codes with his feet. Special set of foot pedals.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Funny thing, I knew a guy who had carpal tunnel, and while he was recovering he really did code with foot pedals. Though nowadays speech recognition software is far better.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Heh… I can just see trying to code in Perl with a speech synthesiser.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                What about APL? Do those things even have names?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:


                I’m coding up a web service handler this afternoon… and this is its nesting…

                errorlistresponse -> allerrors -> errormodelcollection -> errors -> errorinfo -> message

                With enforced xmlns

                I can’t do this for much longer.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Try using your feet.

                Actually, use JAXB or something else that’ll do the marshalling/unmarshalling for you. If it’s a REST service that doesn’t have a schema (because (whiny voice) schemas are so complicated) all I can recommend is a few stiff bourbons.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                If only this were Java, I’d be in high cotton. It’s a wretched bit of PHP. I solved it neatly within the recursion.

                // children
                $objChildren = $obj -> children($ns, true);
                foreach ($objChildren as $childName => $child) {
                $childName = strtolower((string)$childName);
                // ************
                if ($childName == ‘message’) {
                array_push($messageArray, $child);


              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Good stuff.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                “Satan is our buddy… Satan is our pal!” When all else fails, brute-force recursion will solve our problems…. after all, XML can’t be infinitely deep… the stack won’t blow up…. mwahaha…Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                What about APL? Do those things even have names?

                Yes, they all have names. It was a long time ago, but I did a number of… interesting things with APL. Self-modifying programs almost always fall into that category.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I knew a consulting firm, a rather good one, now bought out, named for an IBM mainframe assembly instruction used to branch to a subroutine: BALR.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                BALR… I’m sure it says something bad about me that I simply read it as “branch and load register” rather than BALR. Damn, am I feeling old this evening.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                BALR is a gang even worse than the Crips or the Bloods. Do not mess with a BALR OG.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                It’s all good until your self-modifying program starts asking the internet questions…Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:

                I think those are good jobs. Many people think we should be training more people to be electricians and plumbers.

                My issue is that I don’t want a tracking education system. It seems awfully damning to tell an 11 or 12 year old that they are not university material. I went to a very good school for undergrad. One of the hardest to get into. The 11 or 12 year old me would probably have been tracked into the non-university path.

                Obviously college is not for everyone. The issue is when we make this decision.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:


            There are a number of theories, both historical and contemporary, on the purpose of public education.

            Private educational institutions technically craft their own purpose (via a mission statement), but are largely influenced by these broader philosophies. Also, most suffer from a huge disconnect between their stated mission and their on-the-ground efforts.

            Even your suggestion comes with its own questions: What is a “good job”? Does that mean the same thing for everyone? If not, how and when do we determine the types of “good jobs” individuals should be prepared for? How do we ensure society has people ready, willing, and able to work the necessary “bad jobs”? These don’t necessarily reject it, but they are the sorts of questions that need to be answered. So even if everyone agreed that education was intended to help people get good jobs, they wouldn’t agree on much more than that.Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        “I am not accusing you of being a Michelle Rhee sympathizer.”

        Them’s fightin’ words, mister!

        Actually I agree with the above, that we don’t have a clear national consensus on what we want from education. Further, I think most articles on the subject tend to absolve parents and community of their involvement in schools, and view schools like an auto repair shop for childrens brains- we drop them off, they get filled up with “education” and we pick them up, ready for admission to an Ivy League college.

        At the risk of ruining my liberal street cred, I think there is a valid point about the effect of family structure on children’s ability to learn, or more exactly, the effect of parental role models on children’s desire to learn.

        Which is what underlies my communitarian impulses- what happens to my neighbor’s family has an external effect on the level of education in my son’s school.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          I don’t think anyone would disagree with this.

          I am a bit skeptical of the End of Men argument and the panic about how men are not going to college. The real thing is that it is the End of SOME Men but accurate copy does not sell well or generate page-clicks. Which men are not going to college? I suspect that if a boy comes from a household where one or both parents have a college education*, that boy will probably go on and graduate from college just fine.

          The parents tend to be very involved in white-collar school districts. This is why many education proponents like the idea of mixed-income school districts. The middle class and above parents put pressure on the teachers and hold them accountable and this raises test scores for everyone.

          *It would be interesting to see what happens to boys in houses where the mother has a college degree but the father does not as compared to houses where the dad has a college degree and the mom does not or both parents are university-educated. I suspect that once both parents have university degrees or higher that becomes the educational achievement norm. Both my parents have advanced degrees and I just sort of took it as natural that I would also get an advanced degree in something without much thought. It wasn’t until I was in grad school that my parent’s even mentioned they expected me to get an advanced degree. They considered it important to show academic mastery of a subject.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      The higher income demographic simply uses private schools.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      Here is another area where public schools are failing. When my son gets ready for school, I’ll be looking not only at how well a given school educates, but also how it handles incidents like this:

      7 Year Old Suspended For Gun Shaped Pastry

      Every time I hear about incidents like this, where schools seem to severely over-react to kids being kids, I worry. I wonder, are their hands so utterly tied by law, or are they so incapable of thought as to be unable to find a better way of dealing with incidents like this?Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        If this is an issue then you need to look at the culture in general not just public schools. Private schools do this kind of thing and overreact in odd ways. Or they just refuse to take anybody who doesn’t fit their cookie cutter model.Report

        • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

          I’m sure they do, they just don’t seem to make the news very often.Report

        • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

          Usually school officials have room to make choices. They just choose to cover their asses.

          They take the easy way out.

          If that is cultural, it’s the culture of school administrators.Report

  8. Avatar George Turner says:

    If Portland has three times the population of Vancouver but only added twice as many new citizens, isn’t it actually growing at a slower relative rate?Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      “If Portland has three times the population of Vancouver but only added twice as many new citizens, isn’t it actually growing at a slower relative rate?”

      Yes, but Vancouver will still continue to fall farther behind.

      If you have 100 marbles and I have 10 marbles, and every day you are given two new marbles and I am given one, my rate of growth will always be higher than yours – but the disparity between our marble collections will grow. I won’t be able to catch up until I am able to regularly get more new marbles than you do, percentages be damned.Report

    • Avatar George Turner says:

      In the example, your rate of growth, though initially faster, drops to half of mine. But growth rates are a function of existing population and don’t usually adjust like that (with some exceptions for cities that are geographically limited and by ordinance have trouble adding new housing, so they just fill up).

      Going by the Google numbers linked in the OP, Vancouver has a growth rate of 2.545 percent per year and Portland has a growth rate of 1.275 percent per year, almost exactly a 2:1 difference. If continued Vancouver will start adding more people than Portland in the year 2059 (when it’s population reaches half of Portlands) and will pass Portland in total population in the year 2115, when each city is about to surpass 2.2 million people.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        A big chunk of the growth in that Google graph is from 1997, when Vancouver annexed outlying non-incorporated communities. If you assume that annual annexation is not a realistic growth strategy and focus on the non-annex years, I think you’ll find the math doesn’t pencil out.Report

      • Avatar George Turner says:

        Well, prior to the step change of Vancouver’s annexations (1990-1999), Vancouver’s growth rate was 1.3% and Portland’s was 0.35%, and after the step-change (2000-2009) Vancouver’s growth rate was 1.37% and Portland’s was 0.737%. Portland had a step change from annexation the same year that Vancouver did, and it’s probably that the increase in its growth rate after that was due to further annexations on the eastern side.

        Portland map of historical annexations.

        However, to a conservative comparing Portland to Vancouver is like arguing over the optimal form of socialism. From 2000 to 2009 Portland added an average of eleven people a day. Dallas-Fort Worth is adding 345 people a day, growing over 30 times faster in absolute terms. Even with the step changes from Portland and Vancouver’s annexations, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington grew more last year than those two cities have in the last 20 years.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          After going to such lengths to make your point about expressing growth as a rate, why when you wanted to highlight a (conservative?) city’s greater growth, did you immediately switch to expressing it in absolute terms? Yikes!Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          It’s certainly valid to point to DFW’s growth, but I do have some reservations about whether comparing sun belt growth to rain belt growth tells us more about ideological preferences or climate preferences.Report

  9. Avatar M.A. says:

    Quick question:

    How often is a property for sale in Vancouver listed that states it is “minutes’ drive from Portland”?

    I suspect most of them will be. Vancouver, for all its “yay libertopia” nonsensical structures, clearly would not exist if it were not a suburb of Portland.Report

  10. Avatar Kazzy says:

    You had me on the verge of packing a bag and moving to Portland for the first 2/3 of the article.

    Then the latter third had me hating every hipster liberal in your fair city.

    Then I got to this almost-throw-away line: “…while the Portland-metropolitan area has the highest per-capita strip club ratio in the country.”

    I’m in.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      Maybe TMI, and I don’t want to paint myself as some sort of strip-club connoisseur; I’ve been to what I assume is an average number of clubs for a man my age – usually with a drunken bachelor party – and have found them to be ludicrous at best, downright depressing at worst, and always, always a cynical exercise in maximum money extraction in which NOBODY comes off looking good.

      But – Portland has the single best strip club I have ever been to. A thoroughly-pleasant experience. My gal and I wandered into one while barhopping. There was:

      1.) No cover charge (!) I can’t remember, it might have been a weeknight. You’re not going to start the whole experience with some cash-extraction right at the door?! Insanity!

      2.) No crowd; just a few people (see #1), including couples. We were seated right at the bar.

      3.) A bar!! Where I am from, you can drink, or you can look at naked people dancing; but you cannot be trusted to do both in the same establishment. Being able to get a drink (reasonably-priced, no less) is nice – esp. in an establishment that is a bit disconcerting by its very nature.

      4.) The raven-haired young lady onstage was stunning, with a beautifully intricate neck-to-toe tattoo running down the entire left side of her body; the tat was a work of art in itself, well-deserving of display and appreciation.

      5.) The clincher for us – she wasn’t dancing to Motley Crue, or DJ Assault, or typical bump & grind fare; no, she was dancing (“swaying” is maybe better) to Scots post-rock band Mogwai!!! (link SFW, it’s just a lovely, lovely song, not club video footage or anything).

      I guess what I’m trying to say is, even Portland’s sleaze is nicer than your town’s.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Heh… I was mostly joking about strip clubs. For a long time I abhorred them, as they attracted the type of behavior from men that I just find really obnoxious and they were a really easy way to blow money needlessly. Recently, I’ve come to enjoy them a bit more as a novelty during bachelor parties and the like. If crewing up with the guys and we can find a place similar to what you describe here (no cover, an actual bar, professionals with a bit more taste and class), we’ll sometimes stop in because a bar with beautiful women is generally better than a bar without.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Ever been to Saint Catherine Street in Montreal? Wow, and I mean wow.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        I don’t think one strip club is a representative sample. There could be plenty of really depressing and creepy ones as well.

        But Portland does strike me as the city that would have some kind of alternative, semi-hip, semi-bohemian strip club and see it as a kind of liberation/alt thing to do.

        I’ve only been to Portland once but it strikes me as a very odd city. A woman I know grew up in the suburbs of Portland during the late 80s and 90s. She said she is not used to Portland being a cool city but a city with an “inferiority complex.” Portland as a cool city is a relatively recent trend.

        Portland is still cheap in many ways compared to much of the United States. Or my perceptions of real estate are just skewed by living near or in NYC and the Bay Area for my entire life. Tod might write about people getting priced out of Portland but the real estate still looks like a steal to me. A high school friend lives in Portland and she once put a post on FB asking if anyone wanted a 3-bedroom apartment in SE Portland for 1400 dollars. That is really cheap to me. Other people I know have confirmed that if you are single and childless, it is possible to live a semi-Bohemian existence in Portland and not be too uncomfortable.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        That being said I know some people with white-collar jobs who fled Portland because they said they were required to work just as long as people in NYC or San Francisco but for much less pay because of the lower cost of living. These people decided it was better to get paid NYC or SF wages if required to work those kind of hours.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          That seems to show a fundamental misunderstanding of cost-of-living, no?Report

          • Avatar Glyph says:

            When “long hours” is the primary differentiator I think it depends…If you are working really long hours, and are never home anyway, why not get a shoebox apt. in NYC for the same price that you could get a larger apt. in Portland, and pocket the difference in higher NYC pay (assuming it’s sufficiently higher to compensate for the *other* increases in NYC COL like food etc.)?

            (Of course, you could also get a cheap shoebox in Portland. It all depends on what the pay differential is, and what the range of apt. rents is).Report

          • Avatar NewDealer says:

            There is more to cost-of-living than rent:

            I have noticed that a lot of Tier I/Tier II cities have similar prices for things especially since this is the age of the Standard Retail Price.

            Clyde Common is a very popular restaurant in Oregon and very of the age. You can find similar establishments in any major US City.

            The prices are the same as they would be in San Francisco or New York. Appetizers cost around 9-12 dollars. Entrees: 24-26 dollars. Glasses of wine are 8-10 dollars, Cocktails 8-12, etc.

            These are standard upmarket restaurant prices across the US.

            Other things are also equal cost: Books, Sneakers, Clothing, etc.

            Context Clothing is an upmarket men’s clothing store in Madison, WI. The prices are only slightly cheaper than a similar store in San Francisco.

            Hence, it might make more sense to make 125,000 in NY or SF than 70,000 in Portland.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              Well put. A $55K salary difference almost assuredly outpaces damn near any cost-of-living adjustment.

              But I think the “there is more to cost-of-living than rent” argument goes both ways. Groceries are much more expensive in Manhattan than anywhere else I’ve lived. If you live in an area where you are limited to the Food Emporiums or D’Agostinos of the world (a truly terrible prison, indeed), price tags look like telephone numbers. This is slowly changing, with Fairway expanding and Whole Foods and Trader Joes moving in, but I think that is one area that is different and which a lot of people are wholly ignorant of. It all comes down to how much someone educates themselves on the particulars of their situation. A $5K bump probably doesn’t justify a switch to Manhattan, unless you prefer Manhattan over Portland otherwise. A $55K jump almost certainly does. Where exactly that line falls will be based on a number of factors.

              I dated a girl who was earning, I believe, in the mid- to high-50s fresh out of college working for a big accounting firm. She lived in Murray Hill but had gone to high school in the San Antonio suburbs. She used to complain that she was stuck in a tiny apartment (note: her apartment was large by Manhattan standards; she was just a brat) in Manhattan when she could have had a house and a BMW on her salary in Texas. When I explained that she wouldn’t be earning that same salary in Texas, she insisted I just didn’t understand. Alas…Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

            That seems to show a fundamental misunderstanding of cost-of-living, no?

            Depends on how cheap you are. If you’re the kind of person who spends what you need to and saves the rest, you’ll probably come out ahead in an area with high wages and high cost of living. If you’re the type who saves a fixed amount (possibly zero) and spends the rest, you might be better off in an area with low wages and low cost of living.

            I had a recruiter trying to sell me on a job in Guangzhou once, talking about how the low cost of living more than makes up for the lower wages. If I were the latter type of person, that might have been true. But since I’m not, the total salary he was offering was less than what I save in my current job.

            Note that progressive taxation and variation in local taxes (New York City, especially, has positively European tax rates) can skew this decision. If your pre-tax salary goes up 30% when you move from Seattle to NYC, your after-tax income may only go up 20% or so.Report

  11. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    An extraordinarily well-written piece. Easily one of the top ten posts I’ve read since I’ve gotten here.

    For me, a city is its neighbourhoods. It seems to me a newer neighbourhood always has some advantages, however temporary they might be. Neighbourhoods and their infrastructures must be recycled. At turns, rebuilding is more expensive than repairs but that’s what must be done to bring a neighbourhood back online.

    I used to play keyboards with a municipal planner. A city tells a story, he told me, a play, with props and actors. All those little figures you see on the architecture models, they’re the actors. But new acts are always being written and added to the book: planners are playwrights. New endings can be written at any time. It’s a matter of editing. And night after night, the show goes on. But without asses in chairs, without all those little yellow lights coming out of people’s kitchen windows, living there in town, it’s a waste of time and money and the show will close. Each city exists for its own reasons. When that reason is gone, the town winks out.

    Portland and Vancouver have their own reasons for existence, a point you’ve made very well. But without a fuller understanding of its neighbourhoods, it’s hard to get a better picture of why people choose Portland.Report

  12. Avatar Roger says:

    Question…. Wikipedia shows totally different demographic trends. It shows Vancouver has tripled in population, while Portland has grown by about a third since 1990. Did Vancouver redefine their city borders or something?Report

  13. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    Yes. Since 1990 Vancouver has had very substantial growth through annexation.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      What’s the conservative view on annexation? Savvy business-like move by government? Jackbooted greedy government thuggery?Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        I wonder what would happen if NYC tried to annex Westchester or the Inner-Ring Long Island suburbs?

        Same if SF tried to annex the nearby working class suburbs of Daley City and San Bruno.Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain says:

          Many states have either statutory or state constitutional prohibitions on annexation across county lines unless both sides agree to it, or prohibitions on annexing other incorporated municipalities above a certain size without consent.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer says:

            People are still mad and sore about the annexing of Brooklyn in the late 1800s!Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              As witness the newly named Brooklyn Nets. Most teams try to embrace a larger area (Golden State Warriors, Colorado Rockies), not a smaller one.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:

                Brooklyn has always been a place of pride.

                But good point on newer teams naming themselves after the larger areas. Golden State Warriors is the odd duck because they are not the only professional Basketball team in California and I doubt that they get much love in Southern California. Bay Area Warriors might have been better.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Likewise the California Angels, though they later changed their name to Anaheim (where they play) and Los Angeles (where they don’t).Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              And Allegheny around here.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:


          Annexation most often happens by municipalities bringing in unincorporated territory that has developed on their outskirts. Municipalities annexing other municipalities would be very unusual (although given 50 states and 50 sets of rules, I always hesitate to make absolute statements about state and local politics). This is why you will find some smaller municipalities that are enclaves, independent towns/cities completely surrounded by larger cities that have annexed all around them.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer says:

            This would be Piedmont being surrounded by Oakland.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Exactly, although being a Hoosier and a racing fan, I usually think of Speeedway being surrounded by Indianapolis. (The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is within the boundaries of Indianapolis, but is not in Indianapolis.)Report

  14. Avatar Roger says:

    This really was an enjoyable and informative read. Five stars.  Let me play my usual devils advocate…

    Before starting though, I basically agree the Republicans don’t have a coherent strategy or message. This isn’t a defense of anything GOP, just a push back on Tod’s narrative.

    First, though I know zero about Vancouver (heck, I thought it was in Canada:^)) this piece amounts to argument via an anecdote.  Tod is highlighting an exception to a general rule, which is that lower tax states tend to have substantially higher net growth rates than their opposites.

    Second, he is doing it by oddly enough comparing the metropolis with a bedroom community which is actually growing at a faster rate. On the other hand, it isn’t unusual to have emerging suburbs grow faster than their anchor cities.  

    Third, the main argument ends up going against a caricature of conservatives more than a reality of what conservatives actually seem to pursue.  My experience is that they are big fans of museums, schools, parks, fire departments, police forces, freeways and such.  They like government supplied stuff and when given an opportunity vote for it and pay for just like those on the other side of the aisle. Republicans love high property tax school districts with good schools.

    Now let me shift voices and answer a few of Tod’s hypotheticals not as a conservative, but as a classical liberal. 

    “So why not focus on a way to make living in Portland better, more effective and more efficient?”

    Great advice, but my warning is that a morass of monopoly services are going to resist restraint. They will become congested with special interest groups, rent seekers, inefficiency and bureaucratic and regulatory bloat. Absent competition and reinvention, sclerosis and rent seeking via internal exploitation are virtually guaranteed. The problem isn’t Portland today, it is Portland as it becomes Detroit.  And to be clear, I think Detroit-like is the destiny of complex monopolies. Western and Eastern history provide thousands of examples supporting this contention. 

    Long way to say that if the republicans fall for the recommendation to change the nature of monopoly they will have lost the game before it starts.  I suspect they will do so.

    “Saying Taxes + Government = Bad!  Freedom = Good! over and over is pretty cheap and takes little in the way of specifics; coming up with a plan to make the system better would be comparatively hard and expensive.  It would, however, give the public an alternative it might actually want.”

    Freedom isn’t the key word.  The key word is competition.  Freedom supports constructive competition by providing voluntary choice and reducing the risk of involuntary exploitation, rent seeking and inefficiency. But this isn’t a defense of conservatives, as they don’t recognize this much better than liberals.  

    My two cents.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Capital is far more mobile than labor, and Detroit is what happens when capital goes away and leaves labor behind. The real argument against taxation is that capital seeks low-taxation, low-regulation regimes, and will eventually abandon places like Portland. It also seeks high-subsidy regimes, of course, so the end result of competition for capital is regressive tax systems, with labor bribing capital to provide jobs. You see this frequently, with localities granting tax exemptions to large new employers who move on when those exemptions expire.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        Capital is far more mobile than labor

        That depends on the kind of capital. Financial assets are mobile, factories not so much. If you want to move production to a different city, you either have to:

        1. Sell the factory to someone in the same business, in which case most of your employees will still have jobs.
        2. Sell it to someone in a different business and take a hit on all the industry-specific features of your factory.
        3. In the case of places like Detroit, just abandon it and take an even bigger hit.

        It also seeks high-subsidy regimes, of course, so the end result of competition for capital is regressive tax systems, with labor bribing capital to provide jobs. You see this frequently, with localities granting tax exemptions to large new employers who move on when those exemptions expire.

        There shouldn’t be any business taxes at all. Business taxes are good politics, because most voters see them as a free lunch, but lousy economics.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          Busnisses require services: roads, police, fire, water, sewage, etc. Exempting them from paying for these services is a subsidy.Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

            Do businesses not have employees, who pay income taxes? Do they not have consumers, who pay consumption taxes?

            Charging use fees for government services makes sense. That way businesses which make heavy use of government services pay proportionately more, and overconsumption of government services is not encouraged. But levying taxes on business income without respect to consumption of government services solves no such problem, and has the obvious drawback of encouraging people to invest elsewhere—or perhaps not at all, and instead choose to consume.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              Local tax exemptions are almost always for property taxes, which is the local tax base intended to pay for local services. Not levying them on selected property owners (because it’s not all businesses, jut the ones large enough to cut special deals) is, as I said, a subsidy.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Jesus. you’ve never been to Atlanta, I take it?
          They Unbolted the factories, and drove them to the next state. (By they we mean the Japanese, who were expecting the tax break revocation from the start).Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        Isn’t saying capital is more mobile partially just another way to say that capital is more dynamic? That entry, exit and competition are just more significant for capital?

        I agree that capital, like labor, will seek rents if it can find them, and fight for them once attained. That is one reason I lobby for competition, to free citizens of this exploitation.

        What do you recommend, Mike?

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          I wish I had a recommendation. The fact is that finance capitalism has a logic of its own, in which the only value of people is that they’re currently required for the reproductive cycle of money; it’s sort of the way nurseries value bees, a necessary evil to create flowers.Report

    • Avatar LWA says:

      This is again the “Everything Is A Toaster” theory- that the delivery of toasters, medical care, cable TV service, roads, sewer systems, legal advice…these all are markets, and all should be delivered via free market competition.

      Toothpaste is highly efficient, since we have 40 different types to choose from (90% made by only 2 different entities, but ignore that!);

      Would our streets be better if there were Acme Roads competing against Smith Bros. roads? AAA Police Services versus Blackwater Security?

      Are there certain products and services that can be delivered efficiently via regulated monopoly?
      Are there methods of controlling these monopolies other than competition?
      Is price efficiency always a desireable?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        AAA Police Services versus Blackwater Security?

        There are places (cities, even) where this would be preferable.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          A little separation between the District Attorney’s office and the Police Chief’s office might improve things. Break up that cozy relationship…Report

        • Avatar LWA says:

          OK, I’ll take the bait re:AAA Police Services V Blackwater Security-

          Preferable why? And what empirical data do we have to suggest that?Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            Here’s my answer…

            Separating police forces from direct involvement with the political (as opposed to policy) process is a good thing in areas where police abuses are both rampant and protected by other local political institutions. If police forces were contracted out, they’d be subject to review by an institution (probably two!) that was tasked with enforcing the public interest without conflicts of interest directly entering into decision-making, not to mention the indirect influences of wedding the DA’s office to the police.

            I’m not sure that’s enough to justify privatizing police forces, but it’s an argument!Report

            • Avatar Morat20 says:

              I’m thinking that the core problem with privitization of core government concerns (defense, policing, roads, firefighters — wherever you draw the line) is the concept of ‘profit motive’ as it relates to these things.

              And the distortions this can add. Which of course can be countered by heavy regulation, to ensure that your private police aren’t cutting corners in training, or performance, or any other metric. Which may or may not, in the end, cost more than simply doing it through the government.

              I don’t necessarily believe the government can do any given job better than the private market. OTOH, I don’t necessarily believe the private market is going to perform better than the government at a given task. It kinds depends on the task.

              Prison’s are a good example — there’s some nasty stories about private prisons and the push to fill them (including judges being involved). OTOH, you have the California Prison Guard’s union. And, well, any state prison in the south.

              All things being equal, I’d suspect well run government is probably a better source for handling prisons. Perhaps not building them, but certainly running the dang things. But again, you’ve got, oh, Mississippi’s jails. *shudder*Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I’m right there with ya. I think profit motive is the problem, but it’s a problem you encounter in both directions. So the defects – and merits – of both approaches are pretty apparent.

                If we could design political institutions which excluded individual self-interest from the equation we’d be more than half way to a solution.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Part of it is, well, how government is perceived as a job itself. I mean, pride in your job and your work is important in pretty much any field, but government’s a bit different in that you take an AWFUL lot of crap (or at least hear it on the TV) about your job that you wouldn’t if you were doing the same job for a private company.

                The best functioning governments tend to be the ones where, if not a prestige, there is at least a value assigned to public service. Wherein the ‘servant’ part of ‘civil servant’ is important and given a lot of weight.

                And given the nature of governments, that sort of thing is set at the top for the most part. Now entrenched bureaucrats can be a power base all on their own, and mass voter views can wield a great deal of weight — but it seems government often lives and dies a lot by who is placed on top.

                I mean, does anyone think the career folks at FEMA became utterly incompetent during both Bush presidencies (Bush the Elder had his own issues there) and magically became massively competent during the Clinton and Obama presidencies?

                Of course not. It’s like 98% the same people. But under both Bushs, FEMA wasn’t considered a real job — it was pure bit of patronage, a cushy little organization for donors and not something expected to work. It’s not like they were subtle about it (Clinton and Obama nominated disaster management experts. The Bushes..did not).

                We glorify doctors and lawyers (despite the lawsuits and jokes) and bankers, and even police and firefighters and soldiers — but generally we do NOT regard the guy at the DMV, or the lady handling billing for some branch of FEMA, the same way.

                (That’s the nice way of putting it. The GOP in general views every government worker who ISN’T a soldier, firefighter or police officer as a leech).Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Looking at how they attempted to mess with the amendment that made it easier for women who’d been raped in the military to sue, you should adjust that to male soldiers, firemen, and police officers.Report

            • Avatar LWA says:

              “If police forces were contracted out, they’d be subject to review by an institution (probably two!) that was tasked with enforcing the public interest without conflicts of interest directly entering into decision-making, ”

              Has this been true with military contractors?

              Separating the political from police force seems eminently reasonable; how this translates into private versus public is what I don’t grasp.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Yes, good point. My suggestion is that if we trust our state and lower level government officials to govern with respect for the law, then we should see an uptick in prosecutions of cops and a downtick in the use of excessive force if the overt political connections between cops and other institutional players is severed.

                If we don’t see those things – or if you think we wouldn’t see those things – then the problem isn’t with privatizing cops, it’s with the folks who play roles in other institutions.Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                For example, the New Zealand police are heavily insulated from political concerns, while still definitely being part of government.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            It seems to me that there is a significant segment of the society that sees the police as, if not fundamentally corrupt, interested in protecting and serving the interests of the police above and beyond protecting and serving the citizenry. Above and beyond the difference between “keeping the peace” and “law enforcement”, there is a huge segment that sees the cops as being interested in crimes that could result in forfeiture (drugs, prostitution) and uninterested in violent or property crimes.

            As for empirical data, I’ll just point to Dorner’s recent murder spree and the response from (what struck me as, anyway) a surprisingly large segment of the population that said #GoDornerGo, #WeAreAllChrisDorner and so on.

            The general feeling is that the likely outcome to an upset citizenry is that they will demand an inquiry, hear that the officers in question have been put on paid leave, hear that the inquiry has found that the officers did nothing wrong (“procedures were followed”) and, in the next year or so, the officers will get a commendation or two.

            The ability to say “you know what, I’d rather be able to pick between AAA and Blackwater” is preferable to hearing that the inquiry determined that since the police officers had not been trained to not violate the rights of the citizens, the fundamental problem was with the training, which has since been addressed, take our word for it, and people who wish to file further complaints must do so in person at the police station.Report

            • Avatar Morat20 says:

              Yeah, but also consider the concept of a ‘ticket quota’ and how infuriated that makes people.

              I don’t think hiding behind limited liability corporations or contracts is going to make either police brutality or running up the fines as a profit-motive any more palatable — or easy for a citizen to address.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              And after you pick Blackwater, who (you should excuse the expression) polices them? The record of private law enforcement like the Pinkertons is not encouraging, anymore than that of Xyzzy (or whatever name Blackwater is hiding out under these days)Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I think that begs the question at the first level, tho maybe not at the second.

                At the first level, the Pinkertons would be policed by the institutional structures we have in place to do policing: legislatures (via funding), the executive, and the courts. If we trust those institutions to act in the public interest at all – and for whatever reasons! – then they should be able to police a private firm acting as the police.

                At the second level, well, that’s politics, no?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                What do we conclude from the fact that it hasn’t worked in the past?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                What hasn’t worked?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Privatizing the use of government force as a reform measure. The Pinkertons and Blackwater are not a recommendation, nor are the various private prisons.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                But hiring the Pinkertons wasn’t used as a reform measure. It was used as a first order measure, at least with respect to governance. And primarily by private entities and not government.

                Blackwater is also a different thing. It was hired to achieve goals that were +/- unilaterally determined by the executive to be worth pursuing, evidence and public opinion be damned.

                The point I’m trying to make here is that if normal democratic processes governing check and balances are in place – that is, if we have a functioning democracy – then hiring private firms to perform police work in accordance with the law ought to be easy. The folks tasked with governing them do so.

                If the argument is that our political institutions can’t govern private police forces – for whatever reasons – then that’s an indictment of our governance and not the privatizing of cops.

                I’m not advocating for privatizing cops, mind. But if we think they shouldn’t be privatized because our political institutions are so corrupt as to be incapable of governing them effectively, then that falls on our political institutions and not the cops themselves.Report

              • Avatar Gaelen says:


                That seems like a strange way to look at the problem. I think it would be better stated that the privatization of our police forces (the same as for prisons) introduce some negative incentives* which make governance of those actors much more difficult (for a variety of reasons). So it’s not that our institutions are too corrupt, that our institutions are not (or perhaps given recent SCOTUS precedent, cannot) be designed to effectively handle privatized police forces.

                * It’s worth noting that in house police forces have their own incentives that (in my subjective opinion) have a negative effect on policy, but privatization adds in a whole new array of issues, namely lobbying for more criminal laws etc., which it is hard for any political system (let alone ours) to deal with. The Director of a Bureau of Prisons and the CEO of a prison company have different values and goals driving their decision making, and institutions designed to channel the former into useful social policy may not be suited to dealing with the latter.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:


                Yes, you’re right that the incentives in a private police firm could run counter to the public good. I don’t disagree with that. But I’m not sure what you meant by this:

                our institutions are not (or perhaps given recent SCOTUS precedent, cannot) be designed to effectively handle privatized police forces.

                Could you elaborate a bit?Report

              • Avatar Gaelen says:

                That was just a reference to Citizens United, and probably (I don’t actually know) precedent dealing with regulation of lobbying more generally. For me the analogy of privatization of police to the private prison industry (and prison guards unions) presents a useful guide to how hard (or impossible) it would be to regulate the donations and lobbying which would seek to advance the interests of the private firms.

                It just seems like the private rent seeking (as opposed the bureaucratic kind) is rightly constitutionally protected (making it harder to control). And the rent they are extracting is not just taxpayer money, but the ‘lives’ of citizens.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I’d like to think that the ability to fire Blackwater would, in theory, make it somewhat easier to get rid of bad apples.

                Of course, it’d probably end up that whether we hired AAA or Blackwater, all we’d change is management. They’d hire the same sub-contractors to work the streets no matter who was in charge.Report

            • Avatar LWA says:

              Speakingof empirical data-
              More than a few defense contractors have been convicted of outright fraud, and have been held responsible for the deaths of servicemen via shoddy workmanship and negligence; I would have thought the reference to Blackwater was obvious enough, but google KBR electrocution, or Dyncorp child brothels.

              After that, lets decide- did the Defense Department use the magic of competition to say “you know what, I’d rather be able to pick between AAA and Blackwater and avoid the fraud and ugly scandals”?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                So, wait. The fact that the defense industry is corrupt is evidence for… what? Police not being corrupt?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                As corrupt as police officers might be, a private militia is even less accountable. Christ (shakes head) — you are advocating for death squads. And don’t say you’re not. That’s what private militias become. Patrullos civiles, I’ve seen what they do.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Why would they be private militias? They’re hired by government to perform tasks specified by government in accordance with laws determined by government.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                So instead of government enforcing its laws with oversight, we farm out law enforcement to private parties — then see if they enforce them in accordance with the laws. What’s wrong with this picture?

                Once again, let’s all sing the Libertarian Song. The Free Market Shall Solve Our Every Problem. C’mon, kids, you know how it goes. Key of G. (puffs on pitch pipe)Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                They would not be private militias. That language is pure fear-mongering.

                Government contracts out lots of its services. More important than government actually producing those services is that it provides for them–it makes sure they are available for the public. Whether it is “better” for government to produce the services itself or to contact out for them is the question (with “better” in square quotes because there are competing understandings of what counts as better).

                Of course some services will be more appropriate to contract out than others. For example, nearly everyone believes government should ensure trash pickup, but few people argue that there’s any problem with government contracting out for that service.

                Private prisons, on the other hand, don’t seem to be proving desirable. It may be that the essential “force” activities of government are not well-suited for contracting out. So even though “private militias” is overwrought, contracting our police services seems a pretty dubious policy.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I’m all about efficiencies, James. Your points are sound enough: when it comes to cost basis, I want the best value for money. There’s nothing disputable in your comment.

                But when it comes to law enforcement and the justice system, it’s a terrible idea to outsource these aspects of government. There’s no accountability. It leads to death squads. I’ve seen it happen. I do not want Hessians in our military and I do not want privateers enforcing our laws.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                I’m generally in agreement with your point, but not your language. If you can’t make an argument without fear-mongering language, you need to step back and start over.

                And it’s not as though public law enforcement is immune to the problems you describe. The sister of an LAPD officer once explained the Rodney King beating to my wife and me this way–the police know who some of these drug dealers are, so they stop them on any pretext, and if they don’t find drugs/weapons on them they beat them so they’ll at least be off be streets for a few days.

                I once had a resident of a western Nebraska town tell me about the mysterious disappearances of those who conflicted with the police.

                Look at my link below about Mexican police torturing suspects. And google “death squads Mexican police.”

                Or google “police death squads New Orleans.”

                Police are necessary, but inherently dangerous. Making them true public servants may very well constrain the danger better than making them contractors–I certainly think it does so–but even so it doesn’t ensure we’ll have no police death squads, torture chambers and vigilante justice, and no guarantee we’ll have accountability.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Law Enforcement has been captured. We can’t prosecute them for crimes. We can’t fire them.

                So the choice before us is seeing this as either something that should change or something that shouldn’t.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I suspect that most of this is a question of which hill you want to die on, distrusting government or distrusting corporations.

                FWIW, I find the possibility of corruption, incompetence, or people simply working against the public good in the name of self-interest to be inherent in either choice. But I’d still probably opt for government run police, since I’d rather be able to “fire” the screw up than fire the guy that hired the screw up and cross my fingers that the new guy didn’t hire a screw up as well.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I am not fearmongering. I’m pointing to the historical track record of private militias such as the Pinkertons and Blackwater and the Regulators and the patrullos civiles.

                We can prosecute police for crimes. There’s an oversight mechanism. No such mechanism exists for a private militia. Nor could it: “whatcha gonna do when they come for you” — without a warrant ? Without probable cause? Gonna take that to the DA — or to civil court?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                We can prosecute police for crimes. There’s an oversight mechanism. No such mechanism exists for a private militia. Nor could it: “whatcha gonna do when they come for you” — without a warrant ? Without probable cause? Gonna take that to the DA — or to civil court?

                No such mechanism exists? Look, I’m on your side on the issue of contracting out police services, but you’re making weak arguments.

                If my city contracted out its policing services it could very easily institute such mechanisms in the contract. Plus those mechanisms already effectively exist as a matter of constitutional law. We’re talking about municipally contracted police services in an American city, not federally contracted police services in a subjugated land. The contract and the courts are the oversight mechanism.

                Again, I am not for contracting out police services, but it is fundamentally wrong to think that they would somehow have greater protection of law than municipally employed police. I think they might very well act worse, creating even more problems than we currently have with police, but in no way would they have greater protection for their and behaviors.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                If my city contracted out its policing services it could very easily institute such mechanisms in the contract. Plus those mechanisms already effectively exist as a matter of constitutional law.

                Very easily? As with Blackwater’s rampant abuses in Iraq? Where was the accountability there? What about CCA’s problems with substandard guards to tolerate abuse of prisoners?

                It’s just wrong to farm out law enforcement to anyone but government. Now if your viewpoint says Government == Monopoly Corporation, then sure, I can see your point. A rent-a-cop is just as good as a sworn officer. A rent-a-judge would be just as good as any elected official. A rent-a-soldier just as good as a regular soldier. Hell, why not just privatise all of government and let the corporations run the world? United States of CHOAM, complete with an Emperor Padishah.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                There you go again, comparing what happens in a U.S. municipality with what happened in a country we were militarily occupying.

                It’s hard to know where to begin to rectify such a ridiculous comparison.

                First, the general rule has always been that the Constitution applies less strictly in wartime/war zones. Iraq was a war zone, my municipality isn’t (not even when people use that term to describe places like Detroit or L.A.)

                Second, Blackwater had a no-bid contract. Municipalities cannot generally do that, and certainly not for a project of that scope.

                Third, Blackwater was responsible to an administration that actively and publicly did not care about abuses.

                Fourth, the chain of accountability for Blackwater was very meager. Any private police service a municipality hires has at least three levels of government it is accountable to, municipal, state, federal, and with increasing numbers of different bodies within those levels as they increase (e.g, civil rights commissions and DOJ, in addition to courts).

                Now, why don’t you tell me how Blackwater could escape the boundaries of state and federal law if it was a contractor for police services in, say, Omaha, Nebraska?Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                *eyeroll* people die in America every year, killed by “private militias”. Some of them gang related… some of them significantly more corporate.

                (leaving out assassins, as those are operating under different principles).Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                So who has been held accountable for the slaying of the DA in Centre County, PA?


              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Let’s get this straight, James. You seem to want to recreate the existing police force structure. Just with more bureaucracy. That’s not efficient.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                1. I’ve repeatedly and explicitly said that I don’t want to contract out police services, yet this is the third time you’ve implied that I do.

                2. You did not actually respond to my rebuttal of your fallacious militarily-occupied-Iraq/U.S. municipality comparison.

                3. I’d still like to see you answer the question of how Blackwater could avoid oversight if it contracted its policing services to Omaha, Nebraska.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Now, why don’t you tell me how Blackwater could escape the boundaries of state and federal law if it was a contractor for police services in, say, Omaha, Nebraska?

                Let’s just start with the money. I’m a government contractor. I submit time sheets and invoices. What’s to prevent Omaha Rent-a-Cop from filing false time sheets and invoices? Let’s just start there.

                Remember, James, we’ve privatised this, given Omaha Rent-a-Cop a contract. Who’s going to sign the time sheet? Who’s going to pay the invoice?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                What’s to prevent Omaha Rent-a-Cop from filing false time sheets and invoices?
                Only the same thing that stops any other government contractor from filing false time sheets and invoices. The potential penalties they face. This isn’t a serious argument, because it doesn’t distinguish between the contracting we both oppose–policing–and the types of contracting out we both would support (e.g., road building, construction of court houses, etc.)

                <emRemember, James, we’ve privatised this, given Omaha Rent-a-Cop a contract. Who’s going to sign the time sheet?
                Presumably the Rent-a-Cop Corp.’s relevant supervisor. Same as with my brother, when he worked for Rent-a-Road-Builder Corp.

                Who’s going to pay the invoice?
                Government, same as when they contract out to build a road or courthouse.

                You haven’t provided an argument that Blackwater would be unaccountable. And I don’t think the real question of interest to either of us is invoices and time sheets. Hell, if they actually provided better policing but cheated on their time sheets, it would probably be a good trade-off; but neither of us believe that better policing is the likely outcome, do we?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                No. The client signs the time sheet. The client pays the invoice. Not the Omaha Rent-a-Cop supervisor. I’ve done a lot of government contracting. Trust me, you do NOT want anyone on the Omaha Rent-a-Cop payroll signing the time sheet. They aren’t paying the invoice.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Eh, I’ve seen it both ways, but it still doesn’t matter, because you’re still talking about contracting generally, which is not the issue of concern. (And that’s setting aside the fact that government employees can falsify time sheets and invoices, too.)

                I’m somewhat afraid your next criticism will be that contract employees might sometimes sleep on the job, and how will we ever control for that?

                I repeat, these issues are not your main area of concern. You are concerned about contract policemen being able to abuse citizens without there being any effective oversight to prevent and punish that abuse. That is indeed a worthy concern.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If it’s possible to fire them (or, at least, hire someone else to do the job) that seems a significant difference from Death Squads.

                Indeed, that’s one of the things that our police as they exist now seems to have in common with patrullos civiles.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Fire them? Gosh. Now there’s a well thought out solution. Who’s going to arrest them for crimes they commit? The police-police?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If no one is arresting them now, wouldn’t it be nice to at least take away the color of law for the crimes they commit?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Get with the plan, Jaybird. Nobody prosecuted Blackwater’s crimes in Fallujah — right up to the point where private militias took them out and burned their bodies and hung them up on a bridge.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Unless, of course, you think we should take those cops involved in that tragic shooting in Torrance and burn their bodies and hang them from the nearest overpass. Police officers have oversight. Their actions are a matter of public record. We have due process.

                What you seem to want, Jaybird, is delegation without mandate. That’s bad management practice in every situation, public and private. Rent-a-cops running around — and your solution is to fire them — when they commit crimes?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                So does that mean that I should support Blackwater at least being accountable enough that they can be fired or that I shouldn’t?

                What does getting with the program mean in this case? “Learn to live with it”?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Firing people, for committing crimes?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                You know, Jaybird, that’s why Christopher Dorner was fired: for lying. LAPD got rid of Dorner before he could do any more harm in uniform.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I don’t know that having show trials where they’re acquitted to the cheers of their fellow officers is better than just firing them.

                I’m kinda of the opinion that it’s worse.Report

              • Avatar LWA says:

                This subthread encapsulates a lot of what goes on in these threads, where there is an assertion:
                “governmental corruption can be solved by privatisation”.

                The assertion is entirely a hypothetical, along the lines of “IF we had a freed market/ competition/ outsourcing/ whatever, THEN such and such a thing would happen”.

                Where has any of this been shown to occur?

                Where have we seen examples of a corrupt governmental entity that was made less corrupt by privatizing?

                What- other than dreamy imagining- causes people to so fervently believe this would happen?Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:


                I am responding to all your points here:

                1. I don’t think that privitization will lead to an increased ability in firing police/law enforcement officers. I can’t imagine any company agreeing to do it without a strong dose of being liability-free in their contracts. We know this from Blackwater’s actions during the Iraq War and the travails of the woman who says she was rapped by various Blackwater types and then took a while to get to court because of Blackwater’s contract with the government. At the very least they will demand mandatory arbitration and I am very suspicious of arbitration:


                The jury eventually found in the defendants favor but the whole thing does not speak well of privitization.

                2. Everything I’ve read makes me believe that Blackwater type companies hire really unsavory characters. This is not saying that everyone who applies to the police is a saint. But the guy who founded Blackwater is a really political far-right wing almost fascist and acts accordingly.

                3. There have been police officers who have used their positions to commit crimes and gotten caught and prosecuted. The most recent examples I can think of are the Cannibal Cop, a police officer in NYC plead guilty or was convicted of sexual assault, and a cop in the East Bay was convicted or plead guilty to various corruption offences in Federal Court.

                4. Police and Prosecutor’s need some immunity from lawsuits but it has gotten too far out of hand. Here I agree with you. In my ideal world, any prosecutor found to violate the Brady rule would face immediate and speedy disbarment proceedings. Same for police for tamper or plant evidence. I might even combine this with a rule that they cannot work in private security either.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                LWA writes…”The assertion is entirely a hypothetical, along the lines of “IF we had a freed market/ competition/ outsourcing/ whatever, THEN such and such a thing would happen”. Where has any of this been shown to occur? ….What- other than dreamy imagining- causes people to so fervently believe this would happen?”

                The only example I can think of is the entire history of the human race. I suggest you read Douglas North, Joel Mokyr and/or Eric Jones. There are several dozen othe writers I could recommend, but these are good places to start.

                I could give internet article recommendations for each. In brief, the narrative is that monopolistic, closed access empires and bureaucracies inevitably stifle change and progress in pursuit of exploitation of the masses by those in power. Decentralized, open access, entities thrive via a process of constructive cultural competition and cooperation.

                This model can be used to explain scientific progress, technological progress, political progress and economic progress. To oversimplify, it involves nested hierarchies of institutional competition.

                It is a big topic though, bigger than a subthread.Report

              • Avatar LWA says:

                “It is a big topic though, bigger than a subthread.”

                No. It is not.

                Honestly, “entire history of the human race.”? You’re handwaving.

                Show us an example- it shouldn’t be hard!Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:



                Competition: Automobiles. Compare U.S. and European innovation in automobiles to Soviet innovation in automobiles.

                Outsourcing: Yellowstone National Park used to operate its own campgrounds. Funding was based on federal budgeting, so cuts to the Park Service’s budget had to be base on need–policing and trash pickup were top of the list (for good reason–no snark here, the NPS generally made good decisions on where to allocate their money) and campgrounds were very low on the list. Instead of diverting money from more important needs to maintain campgrounds (particularly such things as the bathrooms), the Park Service would sometimes have to close the campground (or at least a loop of it). So in ~1993 the NPs turned over campground management to its hotel concessionaire. The concession contract required, iirc, 20% of revenues to be plowed back into property upkeep. The bathrooms got fixed, the closed campground loops got re-opened.

                Again, I’m not arguing for contracting out police services. Nor am I arguing that market competition and/or contracting out will inevitably do better than direct government production of the good/service in all cases. But examples of markets and contracting providing better results are trivially easy to find.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:


                I sometimes don’t know if you are being serious or not. I’m not trying to argue by anecdote, which is my primary disagreement with the OP (Tod writes an eloquent piece on a notable exception to the general trend).

                But if you want examples, let me add to James’:

                Personal experience: I spent three decades in corporate America. When I retired, I was the officer in charge of innovation and product development at one of the largest insurers in the country. In other words, my livelihood depended upon understanding how large organizations work. My experience is that they naturally bloat and become sclerotic by adding levels of staffing, red tape, useless overhead, inefficiency, free tiding and administrative BS as executives and administrators carve up the organization into personal fiefdoms. They not only resist change and efficiency, as both are existential threats to their power, they actively pursue both.

                For more examples and details, look up Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy, or the Seven Rules of Bureaucracy by Pettegrew and Vance, or Charlton’s Cancer of Bureaucracy, or Parkinson’s law.

                The point is that anyone who has actually worked in a large organization knows about this bureacratic attractor. There must be forces within an organization which counteract this tendency, or it will become worse and worse over time. The major force resisting this tendency is external competition. If a company becomes too inefficient, it risks losing market share to more competitive and less inefficient, less sclerotic upstarts. In insurance, an example is the growth of GEICO and various lower cost direct marketing companies to the old bloated agency models. Absent competition and consumer selection, there would be no reason for companies to fight this tendency.

                LWA, are you not familiar with this organizational tendency? Have you never worked in a bureaucracy?

                HIstoric examples:

                I would suggest starting with David Landes summary of why Europe flourished as China stagnated.


                Choice quote:

                “..the intrigue of a palace milieu where innovations were judged by their consequences for the balance of power and influence. No proposals were made that did not incite resistance; no novelties offered that did not frighten vested interests. At all levels, moreover, fear of reprimand (or worse) outweighed the prospect of reward. A good idea brought credit to one’s superior; a mistake was invariably the fault of subordinates.

                One consequence was a prudent, almost instinctive, resistance to change.

                Another consequence was a plague of lies and misinformation: officials wrote and told their superiors what they wanted to hear; or what the subordinate thought the superior would want to hear. The smothering of incentive and the cultivation of mendacity are characteristic weaknesses of large bureaucracies, whether public or private (business corporations). These are composed of nominal colleagues, who are supposedly pulling together but in fact are adversarial players. What is more, they compete within the organization, not in a free market of ideas, but in a closed world of guile and maneuver. Here the advantage lies with those in place. Reformers and subversives beware.”

                End quote.

                China, had a monopolistic empire while Europe was divided into hundreds of competing states. China was able to squash innovation and change and experimentation and freedom and economic improvement, and basically did. In Europe, as Douglas North has written in detail, no single prince was able to stamp out experimentation and change, because when they did so the people found someplace else.

                For another take on the same dynamic, see this summary of Eric Jones:


                The best antidote to bureaucracy and exploitation are competition and freedom. See the hundreds of competing city states of classical Greece. The flourishing of culture in the Northern Italian city states. The independent states of the miracle of the Netherlands. The competing states of Western Europe. The cantons of Switzerland. the United but fragmented States of America.

                For another take on the issue, look up Jared Diamond’s thoughts on intermediate fragmentation on the Edge web page.

                I could provide hundreds of personal samples, I could supply dozens of historians and even philosophers pointing out the same process of the role that competition and variation play.

                Heck, read Darwin, read Donald Cambell, read Kant, read Shumpeter, read Acemoglu. The problem isn’t providing examples, it is knowing when to stop.

                Note also that as my comment at the bottom of this thread states, competition is NOT the only way to manage monopoly.Report

              • Avatar LWA says:

                James provided a concrete example, which gets us somewhere.
                We can look at it, measure it, evaluate it.

                Did the outsourcing cost less, and give better results? Is it truly competitive, or is it a rat’s nest of cronyism and patronage?
                I don’t know, and will yield to either possibility.

                But can we use this to conclude that privatized services always provide superior results for less cost?
                I don’t think so. Pentagon contracting is one counterexample, and we could find an array of others, from cable tv to municipal towing.
                And from previous threads, we know that USPS and FedEx provide essentially the same service for the same cost, head to head.

                So what can we conclude?

                I would assert that there is nothing intrinsic to governmental or private services that leads to one or the other being universally preferable- corruption and price fixing can just as easily be accomplished in either sector.
                Moreover, I assert that there are many services where price efficiency should not be the primary driver- other factors like universal access or uninterrupted service are worth a lower standard of efficiency.

                Which ties this back to the original post- Portland’s municipal services are probably less cost efficient than if they were private- but they provide universal access which the taxpayers value more.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                You asked for an anecdotal example in support of competition. I refused because an anecdote won’t prove anything. James provided one and surprise, you conclude an example proves nothing.

                Some parting remarks…
                1) you continue to ignore the disease that we are treating. This is what most of my comments have tried to address.
                2) you continue to confuse competition with a prescription for privatization. Privatization is just one path. I have provided others and they seem to make no impact on you.
                3) you asked if there were other solutions to the problem other than competition. I answered to the affirmative and provided several. Again, this clarification seems to have made no impact on your position.
                4) We never argued that efficiency is the only value or that market solutions are universally better. Nor would I. I seriously doubt James would either.

                My thesis which I supported extensively:
                Complex organizations are strongly attracted to inefficiency and sclerotic bloat and rent seeking. Competition is one of the most successful proven ways to combat this tendency. It is not the only way, nor always the best way. Monopolies escape this disciplining process and are thus much more prone to the disease. There are multiple ways to address this, only one of which is privatization.

                Feel free to disagree, but please do so with what I am actually saying.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Roger wins the sub-thread. Hands down. Why? He provides a better description!

                Those were some very excellent comments Roger. With a little tweaking, they could be a useful and informative front page post.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                LWA: “can we use this to conclude that privatized services always provide superior results for less cost?” (emphasis added)
                Aargh. No, no, the example cannot be used to support an absolutist claim that nobody here has made. Why is that even a question?

                Roger: “We never argued that efficiency is the only value or that market solutions are universally better. Nor would I. I seriously doubt James would either. “
                Amen, brother. Amen.

                Stillwater: “Roger wins the sub-thread”
                Amen, brother. Amen.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Hey Blaise, I’m sure it’s just the “culture” of South America and Africa that lead to death squads when PMC’s get involved.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Compare that particular culture to what the police in North America are evolving into.

                Do you like the idea of PMCs? How much more the idea of PMCs with a friggin’ union???Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Yes, I’m well aware police officers with union benefits are histories greatest monsters, with teachers and other government employees with union benefits.

                You change the current problem with police brutality by voting in politicians who will actually work to reform things, not by saying, “screw it, let’s give up and hand over things to a corporation who’s overriding motive by law has to be acquiring the greatest profit.”

                I mean, you do realize you’re basically arguing for the plot of Robocop as a positive thing, only without the cyborg cop, right?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                So let’s say that there’s a politician that comes in and actually wants to reform things.

                What do you think that Police Union would say about this politician? What do you think that the politician would say about the Police Union?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Did I ever say it was going to be easy? Or that the police union would roll over and die?

                I guess what it comes down too, is that the only possible thing I could think of that would probably make American law enforcement worse than it already is in many parts of the country would be handing it over to private contractors.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                1. I don’t know what union benefits have to do with the fact he was acquitted. I’d doubt that would change with or without a union. Being a white guy versus a non-white person in a courtroom is still a nice advantage to have in America.

                2. Yes, the union has to attempt for him to get his job back. Because that is likely in his contract. Perhaps the mayor (or whoever negotiated the contract) could’ve removed that clause in favor of a slight pay bump or something else.

                Again, considering we went through a whole rigamarole over in Iraq with PMC’s covering up rapes by their employees despite no unions being involved, I don’t get how replacing evil union employees with at-will employees will be a major shift when in both cases, the same macho culture is at its core.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Jonathan Josey is an African-American, Jesse.

                You should look at the picture of the guy assaulting the woman, not the picture of the guy who wrote the story about the guy who was acquitted of assaulting the woman.

                With that in mind, would you like to re-write your comment?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                OK. Regardless, police offices, union or no union, white or black, are always going to get the benefit of the doubt in the public eye, especially when it involves a person who isn’t part of mainstream society.

                My major point is that as long as police officers are lauded in mainstream society as perfect warriors who must not be questioned, you can remove all the benefits and union rights you want and it’ll still be hard to fire the vast majority of bad cops.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I guess what it comes down too, is that the only possible thing I could think of that would probably make American law enforcement worse than it already is in many parts of the country would be handing it over to private contractors.

                I’m beginning to suspect that the problem we have is one that firing bad police officers would solve. Just firing them. Telling them to get another job. Sorry, YOU CAN’T POLICE ANYMORE.

                That sort of thing.

                If the courts won’t do their job, and the unions see their job as protecting police rather than protecting the citizenry, and if the liberals see a politician who threatens police unions as a threat in and of themselves, what’s left?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                I’d happily vote for a politican who’d work on reforming the police when they go against the citizenry without also trying to destroy the benefits and wages of the other 95% of decent cops.

                Unfortunately, there are no politicians like that.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                the other 95% of decent cops

                From the article:

                There was immediate cheering in the courtroom, where the gallery was packed with police officers. The judge demanded order, and the celebration by Josey’s supporters moved outside the courtroom.

                I’m guessing that your percentage is a hair high.

                The folks who see stuff like this going on and say that it’s no big deal?

                They’re part of the problem.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Are all the African-Americans who cheered when OJ got acquitted bad people as well?

                I have no doubt every single one of those cops truly believe that their buddy was being railroaded. Probably because they only chose to hear their buddies side of the story. I don’t think that necessarily means they’re bad cops.

                Again, none of what you would’ve described would’ve changed without a union. Groups, especially groups largely made up of males involved in dangerous situations close ranks and protect each other from the outside. Look at what is happening with rape in the military. No unions there, but plenty of cover ups.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If you could somehow replace those people in the military:

                Would you?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Sure, but I also wouldn’t eliminate veterans benefits or cut military salaries along with getting rid of the bad soldiers.

                Again, find me a politician who wants to deal with the “too many cops are assholes problems” who also doesn’t believe “government workers are parasites because they still have pensions and shit” and I’ll happily support that politician.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                You change the current problem with police brutality by voting in politicians who will actually work to reform things,

                Wishful thinking is not a plan.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Wishful thinking is not a plan.

                No, we need a solution that’s guaranteed, like privatizing the police and letting the market do its magic.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                And such magic. Protection rackets would become the law of the land and woe unto those who cannot pay. And of course, the free market would provide for competition in this new area of the marketplace. The Turf War would become Corporate Acquisition, that’s always a good thing.

                And think of the efficiency advantages: the markets always bring efficiencies. Criminals would simply be hauled out and shot, and pronto. Due process, who needs it? That’s just not Free Market Thinking. The very idea, that we tolerate this sort of egregious restraint on the Free Trade in Justice. And what’s more, anyone could simply could pay for justice. Clearly, the free markets demonstrate advantages over the current wasteful regime and its attendant parasitic lawyer class.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                “No, we need a solution that’s guaranteed, like privatizing the police and letting the market do its magic.”

                Nothing is guaranteed, but I will put up something which has countless successes against hope and best wishes any day. We can give an unlimited number of examples of how competition offsets the problems of monopoly.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                and half the examples you cite will in fact be production monopolies/oligopolies.

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Nice way to argue, Kim. Assume I will answer the way you want before we start.

                Let me try it…

                After I counter you will agree with me completely and become a crusader for my cause.

                Cool! This works great.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Sorry, sorry. apparently my “cynic” tag wasn’t enough to make it clear that i wasn’t /really/ trying to put words in your mouth.

                a useful reference:

                The same goes for a ton of other consumer products.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I will await the reports of successful privatization of police forces before I make up my mind.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Is there a number of Bell, California kinda scandals required before you’ll say “okay, maybe we should try something else”?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                How many Enrons before we simply abolish corporations? Limited liability is full of perverse incentives.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I’d like to point out that after Enron failed, IT WENT AWAY.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Local governments can go away too, in several ways: annexation, de-chartering, or somewhat less drastically, being taken over by their state government with a special master put in charge. I’ve only herd the last being done in case of bankruptcy, but malfeasance should be another cause. Likewise, Enron only went away because it was bankrupt; mere corruption would have resulted in maybe some jail time for some of the culprits.Report

              • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

                From Jaybird, buried the thread:
                “So let’s say that there’s a politician that comes in and actually wants to reform things.

                What do you think that Police Union would say about this politician? What do you think that the politician would say about the Police Union?”

                I’d say “Ramparts”; I’d say Los Angeles Civilian Review Board; I’d say Bill Bratton. Anyone who doesn’t think that the LAPD has changed DRASTICLY since the Rodney King beating doesn’t know LA. I’ve said before that there is still racism and excessive violence in the LAPD, but it’s much less since those days, in spite of the Union.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The recent Dorner incidents notwithstanding?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Here’s something measurable for us to watch in the coming weeks:

                Will a California DA bring charges against the police officers who shot up the trucks?

                Will these charges result in a trial? Will the officers in question lose their jobs for doing what they did?Report

              • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

                “The recent Dorner incidents notwithstanding?”

                Short answer, yes.

                Long answer: this thread is too long, too convoluted, and I don’t have the time that I’d like to discuss this in the depth it deserves. You deserve better, but I’m going to have to leave it at the short answer for now.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                So, Jaybird, does Government == Monopoly Corporation in your book?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                We haven’t given guns to Monopoly Corporations yet… so no.

                But we’re getting there.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                250 does Government == Monopoly Corporation in your book?

                That’s actually a pretty interesting question. A while back we had some discussion here about whether neighborhood associations were purely voluntary contractual organizations or effectively governments. It was a good issue that deserves more discussion than we gave it (I think we were all too unsure to really develop the discussion). They do, after all, have powers normally associated with government, but are–in most cases, at least, to the best of my very uncertain knowledge–legal corporations (albeit generally non-profit).

                We can tie this back into Max Weber’s definition of government as that entity successfully claiming a monopoly on the legitimate use of force over a given territory. And building on that, Weber claims that government has to be defined by its means (legitimate force), not its ends, since there’s nothing government does that non-government organizations don’t also do (which isn’t to say they do it as effectively as gov’t does).

                From these perspectives, it’s not unreasonable to see gov’t as a monopoly corporation. But Jaybird hits on what distinguishes government as a special type of monopoly corporation-guns (or to go back to Weber, legitimate force.)Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                @James: afaics it’s the only question. You’re correct to bring up Max Weber in this context. It’s my suspicion / contention / nagging fear that we are headed for a United States of CHOAM. The nation state is increasingly losing relevance: the corporation gaining relevance. The idea that a thinking man such as yourself can bring yourself to entertain the notion of contracting out law enforcement on any terms is proof of this growing irrelevance.

                A state is a fiction, patriotism an article of faith: a state ceases to exist when people stop believing in it. It’s no longer our government. It’s the government. Government, when it is not of the people, is nothing. It might as well be a monopoly corporation and the Constitution a corporate charter. The law becomes irrelevant: the government becomes a troop of whores, pimped out by a plutocratic oligarchy.

                Plutocracy is the worst form of government, far worse than dictatorship or monarchy. A dictator, Hobbes tells us, considers the fate of his nation congruent with his own and acts accordingly, attempting to better the entire nation that his power might increase, his wealth also. There are exceptions of course, DPRK comes to mind, but I strongly suspect DPRK is really a military junta. I’ve seen them too. Very ugly. But a junta does benefit the entire military class and its hangers-on. A plutocracy only encourages class warfare, the better to hold onto power.

                These are, of course, glib generalisations but there’s a disturbing trend afoot when a professor of political science, someone who by rights has a far better grasp of these things than I do, can consider this government so irrelevant as to propose delegating its police powers to private contractors. Yes, even with all your entirely reasonable caveats, you still think it’s possible to deputise corporations.

                But a plutocracy is the Company Town writ large, the Company State.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                The idea that a thinking man such as yourself can bring yourself to entertain the notion of contracting out law enforcement on any terms is proof of this growing irrelevance.

                It seems to me that a thinking person must be willing to entertain such notions–remaining open to new evidence is the quintessential characteristic of a thinking person.

                ‘ve looked very seriously at the issue of government provision and production of goods/services. As a marginal libertarian, it’s one of the two most crucial questions for me (the other being protection of civil rights and liberties; and obviously sometimes those two questions overlap, as they do in this case).

                There is indisputable evidence that contracting out for certain government activities can provide better outcomes–defined as an increase in net benefit, based on benefit-cost calculations. There is also indisputable evidence that it does not necessarily provide better outcomes. Some of that is because municipalities sometimes do a lousy job of contract-writing or soliciting bids (although, as with most organizations, they do tend to learn from experience and get better over time). But some of it–at least so I currently think–is that certain government activities just don’t seem to contract out well.

                In consequence of looking at this issue, I’ve come to think that the list of activities that don’t contract out well seems to coincide with those activities that rely on government’s core characteristic–force. Think of the old days of contracted out tax collection, and the abuses it fostered. Think of the frequent problems with mercenary armies (including Blackwater). Think of how our experiment with private prisons is working out (for the record, I’m supportive of having experimented with it, but am persuaded by the experiment that it is a bad practice).

                But I am open to further argument and evidence, should any be provided. This is particularly true because contracting out has worked so well in other areas that it may be at least theoretically possible to satisfactorily contract out policing and prisons, and that we just haven’t yet developed the proper techniques for doing so well. (I’m skeptical that it’s possible, but a person can legitimately look at our experiment with privatized prisons and say, “OK, the first attempt failed, but what if we changed some of the elements of the experiment?” After all, cities that bungle contracting out of street-light repair services the first time out shouldn’t necessarily give up.)

                So in that sense, I do remain open to consideration of contracting out police services, despite my vast skepticism about it. Because I always remain open to new evidence, and because I don’t see government as something that’s peculiarly special, noble, or effective. It’s a tool, just like markets and corporations are tools. Sometimes one tool is appropriate, sometimes another is. And while we learn from experience what tasks each tool is particularly suited to, we can continue to experiment with redesigning our tools to see what else we can do with them.

                But allow me to end on a clear point–because of my skepticism about contracting out those activities uniquely concerned with the use of force, I have far higher standards of evidence for persuading me that contracting out police services is a good idea than for persuading me that contracting out for school lunches is a good idea. (And to get really thoughtful, we’d need to break down the types of police services and distinguish between them, but that’s farther than I need to go here.)Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                The arguments of history and tyranny have been provided. These you reject as irrelevant. There is really no discussing this with you, the lessons of history and the manifest evidence of the mechanics of oppression beyond you.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                when a professor of political science,.. can …propose delegating its police powers to private contractors

                You know, on second reading, I think my response above was more cordial than you deserve. This is the fourth time you’ve implied or explicitly claimed I was proposing or advocating contracting out policing, even though I’ve said repeatedly that I am not, and that I oppose it.

                So how many times are you going to repeat this falsehood? Once or twice and it might been seen as an error, but by the fourth time–after repeated correction–it takes on the appearance of exceptionally careless reading at best, or even a purposeful lie.

                You and I are making efforts to be civil to one another–repeatedly mis-stating my position is not civil.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                The arguments of history and tyranny have been provided. These you reject as irrelevant. There is really no discussing this with you, the lessons of history and the manifest evidence of the mechanics of oppression beyond you.

                If one didn’t take time to read my comment, one might almost believe you’d made a telling blow.

                But you skip over the fact that I did talk about the lessons of history, from mercenaries to private tax collectors to private prisons.

                You also skip over the fact that I use those lessons as the explicit reason for why I am so very skeptical about contracting out police services that I have repeatedly said I am against it.

                And apparently you cannot grasp the distinction between being open to arguments (with a very high standard for evidence) about something, and actually being in favor of that something.

                I could say more, but perhaps not with any semblance of gentlemanliness.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Awesome comments, James. The fact that the most prolific commenter is also the best is hard to fathom.

                Kudos, dude.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Yeah. You remain open to delegating the powers of arrest to private contractors, with all sorts of caveats attached. Just not quite enough to draw the line to at some contractor acting under colour of law.

                As for you, Roger, seconds out.Report

              • Avatar Rod says:

                Yeah, I think you’ve mostly nailed it, James.

                I would only add that we already have many decades of experience with many thousands of state, county, and municipal governments trying different things, running experiments. If we can’t get some grasp on what works and what doesn’t after all that it can only be for lack of paying attention.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                We know what the power of arrest is: Ultimo ratio regis. Various”experiments” on that front have been tried. Pirates operating under letters of marque, mercenaries, Regulators, vigilantes, lovely people all of them. Fine upstanding purveyors of the People’s Justice.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:


                Sorry, Blaise. I must say though that I just don’t get what you are trying to accomplish with your brand of argumentation. It is like you are playing a different game than the libertarians — where their objective is to come to a logical, systemetized conclusion and yours is to win rhetorical points.

                We’re you perhaps trained in debate or rhetoric? Like I said before, you are damn good at both.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Rod, I liked this comment..

                “I would only add that we already have many decades of experience with many thousands of state, county, and municipal governments trying different things, running experiments. If we can’t get some grasp on what works and what doesn’t after all that it can only be for lack of paying attention.”

                I would add that there is something else missing too. That is the incentive to study success and failure, learn from it, replicate it, build upon and improve it. Why not? Because local monopolies have very, very little incentive to do so. They can continue to rationalize everything without fear of being replaced.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Not really, Roger. I said something a few posts ago, something to the effect that Information is Power and Power is not shared. In a sane world, we would vest mandate upon our elected officials and thus legitimate their use of power.

                When it comes to issues surrounding the powers of detainment and arrest, we have Due Process, Habeas Corpus, all constructs worked out over time, forged out to protect us from tyranny. Miranda rights. I don’t want these powers delegated to rent-a-cops. I don’t want any prisoners disappearing into a sally port in someone’s corporate headquarters. No. We used to have that sort of thing, when landlords put people into the dungeons of their castles, their authority delegated to them by the King.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                Agreed, almost completely. I think contracting out has picked up steam just in the last few decades, so there may not be quite as much of a mass of information out there as you suggest.

                But, yes, there’s quite a bit, and I just don’t think anyone’s really tried to make sense of it all yet. It’s a messy task, finding the cases, figuring out how well they worked, then comparing them. I suppose what will happen is that over time lots of people will write about lots of individual cases, and eventually there will be enough of those to review that someone can do a sort of meta-analysis of them and pick out (at least at a first pass) a coherent and applicable set of principles, and then there’ll be others following suit and redefining and clarifying that set of principles, until something of a rough consensus appears.

                Two to three more decades at least, I’d guess. But to be fair, most of my reading on that comes from political economy literature, and I may be missing a shit-ton of work in state-and-local government because I don’t read that lit (although I mostly don’t read it because they generally don’t focus on questions that interest me–like this one–so perhaps I’m right about its absence).

                The League needs to recruit a decent state-and-local scholar (assuming there is such a being) to be a regular contributor (like on the masthead). So many of our discussions here would benefit from someone like that.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                One thing that seems to be happening is that Organized Crime has rediscovered the joys of organization. The Gangster Disciples and Latin Kings and other New And Improved Gangs have learned that stability is good for business.

                If they move beyond vice and into security/protection?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Outstanding stuff James. I’m in total agreement, not only with your views of privatizing the police but that intelligent people need to remain open to revising their views in light of new evidence and argument. Very well said.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Clearly, you’ve never seen a private militia at work.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Would you say that something like this would provide an inkling or would I be thinking about it incorrectly?Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              And then there’s this little squib: that boy would have been safer in police custody. A private militia seized a 13 year old boy, tortured and murdered him and left his body on the side of the road.

              I don’t want to hear anything about how the drug war led to that boy’s death. I want to push the point that the rule of law requires — erm — a concept somewhat foreign to you, that law enforcement ought to be the exclusive province of government. It’s more efficient and we all end up safer when police are subject to the oversight of the courts — unless you’d like to outsource that, too. You seem to think private law enforcement is a good idea, how about Courts Inc. ?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                that boy would have been safer in police custody


              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Yes, really. In the case of Jose Armando Moreno Leos, he was alive and unharmed when he was discharged from prison. He was tortured and dead-ified when he was found on the road to Morelos. Now you answer the evidence you were given: Mexican law discharged a minor child into the tender mercies of private militias. However corrupt the Mexican police might be, they didn’t torture that boy.

                Now stop flinging foo-foo dust about Police Brutality around. Private militias are not the answer. More oversight is needed, which we will not get with your Utopian scheme of privatising law enforcement.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                “Now stop flinging foo-foo dust about Police Brutality around. Private militias are not the answer”

                1) You’re incapable of making an argument that doesn’t rely on stupid little insults like “foo foo dust,”

                2) I can have no respect for anyone who is willing to dismiss police torture as “foo foo dust” (when did you become so authoritarian that torture doesn’t matter when done by police?),

                and 3) you knowfrom our other discussion going on simultaneously that I’m not advocating private militias.

                In short, go fish yourself. I’m not in the mood for your non-stop little idiocies today.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Alright, boys… to your corners. No more good is going to come meandering further down this road.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Once again, it’s all about me, never about the argument I make. When the evidence doesn’t suit your argument, evidence from the real world — well… we know where this always goes: down the “go fish yourself” route.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Oh, there’s also the little problem that you misrepresented the story you linked to. Police released him into the custody of a private militia? Not so.

                After his February arrest, the Federal Police released the boy into the custody of the Mexican Attorney General’s Office, which later set him free in compliance with the law. The Mexican constitution prohibits the incarceration of anybody under the age of 14. The constitutional ban also applies to correctional facilities.

                Nothing there about releasing him to a private militia, much less a government-contracted private police provider, which is the issue here.

                So in addition to childish insults substituting for serious response, you give us a false story you made up for your own argumentative convenience.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I am not misrepresenting anything. I said the boy would have been safer in jail than on the street. A private militia did torture and murder him. They’re springing up all over Mexico.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                What is the difference, in this case, between a private militia and a gang?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                No difference at all.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I am not misrepresenting anything

                Mexican law discharged a minor child into the tender mercies of private militias

                The militias (presumably) got him, but the law did not discharge him to a militia.

                And, again, someone who lightly dismisses torture by the police? You’ve got no moral high groundReport

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                And what does that have to do with the price of tea in China? A minor child was released, he was tortured and he was murdered. He would have been safer in jail. Now the subject at hand was the superiority of private militias to public safety officers. All I get are tales of Police Brutality, a phenomenon we know to be real and problematic.

                But in this specific case, the boy was released into the hands of the private militias, who did these things. The police did not. I have previously said, to the point of tiresomeness, the vacuum created by a government which cannot enforce its writ will be promptly filled by vigilante justice. Outsourcing justice is an exceedingly wicked idea. Corporations are not in the business of Justice but of Profit. Delegation of power is delegation of mandate.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                the boy was released into the hands of the private militias

                No, the article does not say that. “Released into the hands of” implies “given directly into the custody of,” like an abused child who is released into the custody of his (presumably abusive) father. The boy in the news story you linked to was set free, in accordance with the law. It says nothing about him being transferred to the custody of militias.

                This may seem like quibbling to you, but my stock-in-trade is careful use of the English language, so it does matter to me. When a person’s words are chosen and organized in a way that delivers a message that does not comport with the facts we know, reasoned discourse is hamstrung.

                (And taken from another angle, suppose the police had actually released the boy into the custody of a private militia that quickly killed him? Would that really imply that he was safe in police custody, or would it possibly imply that the police were using the militia to do their dirty work?)Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                So, despite the fact that the boy was tortured and murdered, that he was on the hoof out there where he would be a target for vigilantes — because he wasn’t handed over to the vigilantes, who defy everyone, law enforcement, the narcotraficantes and run their own justice system — you can say he wasn’t released into their custody. But that’s exactly where he ended up.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                but my stock-in-trade is careful use of the English language

                Well said. This is horse I like to ride too. If people were more careful in their language – and that includes refraining from saying things that they can’t articulate clearly as well as refraining from interpreting people’s plainly spoken words – the world would be … well … quieter, if nothing else.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        Odd, I didn’t even mention the toaster. I was campaigning against monopoly and the almost inevitable fate of monopolies. Granted markets are the most well known antidote for government monopoly, but they aren’t the only one.

        Asking if our streets would be better with competition is another way of asking whether the delivery of this service is susceptible to bureaucracy, red tape, rent seeking and sclerosis which infects all complex organizations. It’s is like asking if antibiotics would make a particular person better. Competition is the partial, imperfect antidote to monopolistic decay.

        “Are there certain products and services that can be delivered efficiently via regulated monopoly?”

        There are of course costs to competition, so yes, probably.

        “Are there methods of controlling these monopolies other than competition?”

        Yes, and not all competition needs to be market based. There can be competing government entities in some fields, citizen opt ins and opt outs, sunset rules, supermajorities, and Tiebout competition. And in some cases, we might just want to stickwith a monopoly.

        Portland seems fine now. I am pessimistic of what it will look like in fifty years.Report

  15. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    I think the real takeaway from this piece isn’t “Vancouver is better or worse than Portland”.

    The problem from the perspective of the GOP is that their message, as hammered away in the public eye, is that Vancouver (in theory) is always going to be better than Portland. Smaller government is always better. Lower taxes are always better. Less regulation is always better. Privatization of commons is always better.

    That’s the message, which therefore will never succeed in a place like Portland, where people are willing to vote themselves expanded services and higher taxes.

    But by focusing too much on the message, and not enough on the place, there’s nowhere in the national GOP for anybody who could successfully campaign in Portland. Because people in Portland will vote themselves higher taxes, and they will vote themselves more parks, and they will choose typically a larger government presence than a smaller one, and it works in Portland.

    See: all the recent posts about Christie. There’s no place for nuance in today’s GOP. There’s no place for someone who says, “Given the place that we’re trying to govern, and the willingness of the people there to pay for services via taxation (or not), we’re going to aim at this point. We’re going to focus on providing the government services that the people want more efficiently. We’re going to focus on generating revenue that the people are willing to pay with least impact on fiscal policies that we care about. We’re generally for things to be this way, but we’re a buffet of things and if the local constituents want A, C, and Q off of our buffet, will focus on A, C, and Q, and if we get A, C, and Q, we’ll call that a win, even if we don’t ever get B, D, etc.”

    It’s not enough to be *for* smaller government (given a choice of battles to fight), it’s required to be *against* bigger government, at all times and places. It’s not enough to be *for* lower taxes, it’s required to never, ever agree to a tax increase for anything. Indeed, even reforming existing obviously egregious holes in the tax code *can’t* come without lowering overall taxes.

    I don’t see how anybody who could be part of the national GOP could even come out of a place like Portland.

    While there are places like Portland and places like Vancouver, the places like Vancouver need a healthy GOP the least… and the places like Portland probably really could use a healthy dose of smart conservatives, but the best they can hope for nowadays is a somewhat fiscally conservative neoliberal.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Well said Patrick. Especially the part about nuance in the GOP. The type of distinctions that pass for nuance in the GOP anymore is whether forcible rape can or can’t lead to pregnancy.

      Pretty soon, that question will be included in the Conservative Purity Test.Report

    • Avatar Will H. says:

      I would say the big takeaway from the piece is that conservatism has a good opening by marketing itself as a management style rather than a design parameter; and that the GOP is stopped short of filling its nets with the little fish in chasing the great whale.

      That’s the way I call it.

      Of course, you raise some valid issues. I was only referring to the meaning of the piece as written.Report

    • Avatar M.A. says:

      The problem from the perspective of the GOP is that their message, as hammered away in the public eye, is that Vancouver (in theory) is always going to be better than Portland. Smaller government is always better. Lower taxes are always better. Less regulation is always better. Privatization of commons is always better.

      The issue here, though, is that what makes Vancouver “better” in the eyes of conservatives is primarily its access to Portland.

      Absent Portland, Vancouver shrivels and dies. The Vancouverites, whether willing to admit it or not, are a bunch of freeloaders (maybe free-riders) whose goal is to reap the benefits of living in a metro area while not paying in as much as everyone else does.

      I’ve been saving some thoughts on this, which I may offer up as a guest post in a few days if I can manage to put it down in coherent format.Report

      • Avatar Michelle says:

        Agreed. Without Portland, Vancouver would be little more than a backwater town. Its easy access to Portland and the attractions Portland offers is its main appeal. Plus, Vancouver residents can enjoy Washington’s lack of a state income tax while captitalizing on Oregon’s lack of a sales tax. Win win except for the taxpayers in both states who foot the bill.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        I don’t think it is fair to necessarily deride them as freeloaders. That seems unnecessarily tribalistic. The vast majority of Vancouverites are not sitting their, stroking their monocled kittens and thinking, “Yes… yes! Low taxes and parks! I’VE DONE IT!”

        First off, there are costs associated with living in Vancouver over Portland. They are farther from those amenities, sometimes prohibitively so. I’m not a huge park person, but went there at least a few dozen times during my two years living in Manhattan. During the other 20+ years spent living just outside Manhattan… I’m not sure I ever went in with the explicit intention of visiting the park.
        Second, they may very well pay tolls to access Portland throw the most readily available means. And, if they don’t currently pay tolls, Portland could soon require them to if free-ridership really becomes a problem.
        Third, I assume at least some percentage of Vancouverites are people who were priced out of Portland, either because of rising living costs or because of the higher tax burden. So rather than necessarily demonize these people as freeloaders, consider that they might actually be the very type of people you so often give lip service to speaking on behalf of, namely low- and middle-income families.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          1. Yes, freeloaders is a loaded term. M.A. Suggested free riders also–that would be a better term, although Kazzy’s point that not all Vancouverites actually will be such is well-taken.

          2. There are no tolls on the Columbia River (Interstate 5) bridge. Nor do I think Portland or the state of Oregon could impose them as it is an interstate bridge, rather than solely being Oregon’s bridge.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Duly noted on the toll issue. Is the I5 bridge the only major highway connecting the cities? Is there public transportation linking the two? If so, who manages and collects for that?

            I’d even be hesitant to label the folks as free-riders, because they aren’t wholly insulated from costs. They’ve simply traded one set of costs (higher taxes) for another (inconvenience). And that assumes they take advantage of Portland’s offerings.

            Other mechanisms to limit free-riding, if it is indeed a problem though I haven’t seen anyone yet substantiate that it is, is resident-specific pricing. When I used to live in Westchester County, NY, there were a variety of public, county-run golf courses. Residents paid a different fee than non-residents. Easy-peasy.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              “Is the I5 bridge the only major highway connecting the cities?”

              No, there is also the 205 Bridge, which is actually larger in terms of traffic capacity.

              “Is there public transportation linking the two?”

              Actually, there are currently plans to build a light rail track that would connect the two cities. In order to help it get through, Oregon is actually willing to flip for most of the bill. It is being held up and may end up being scrapped however, since it appears Vancouver will not be able to get votes to approve paying for their smaller portion of the tab.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                That would indicate that Portland does, or at least thinks it does, benefit from having ready access between Portland and Vancouver.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                It’s just liberals trying to force their lifestyle son conservatives.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Portland thinks that it would benefit from having less congested freeways.

                It’s not just near-impossible to commute back to Vancouver from downtown Portland, it’s pretty near-impossible to get to the northern parts of Portland. For most commuters, taking the 205 requires going 45-90 minutes out of your way to get to it, and the I-5 bridge bottlenecks and leaves a trail of standstill traffic going back for miles. The theory is that many or most commuters will opt for a 5-10 minutes light rail commute rather than an hour freeway commute each way and that as a result the highway congestion will loosen up.

                Which, when you think about it, is the psychographic of each city in a nutshell: Portland residents reflexively say, I don’t want to spend two hours a day in traffic, why can’t we build a new light rail track so I don’t have to? Vancouver residents reflexively say, why spend taxpayer money when there’s already a bridge I can use for free that only takes up two hours of my day?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                This is actually a pretty good microcosm of the general problem of the intersection between the liberal mindset and the conservative mindset.

                “I will live in Vancouver, for lower taxes, and pay opportunity cost rather than money for access to the things I want to access in Portland”


                “I want to live in Portland, I don’t mind paying the higher taxes, and I don’t want to pay the opportunity cost in addition to the tax burden because Vancouverites congest the freeways I need to travel on to get stuff done.”

                To some extent, Portland is going to benefit by the close relationship with Vancouver, because people who provide non-middle class jobs and services can live in Vancouver (where they can afford it) but still participate in the Portland economy (which needs lower income workers but has no lower-income housing to store ’em in).

                To the extent that Portland needs to subsidize Vancouver in order for Portland to be Portland, it’s justifiable for Vancouver to participate in that relationship without really deserving the tag “free rider”.

                To the extent that people in Vancouver take undo advantage of their willingness to pay the opportunity cost instead of the taxes, they deserve the tag “free rider”, because they’re effectively taxing Portlanders in opportunity cost.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              There are actually two bridges, I5 and I205, but that’s it for major connectors. It’s a big ol’ river, and there’s shipping, so bridges are going to be very expensive, limiting them.

              I would still call it free riding, since the cost they’ve chosen does not contribute to the amenities. But resident-specific pricing is indeed one way to ameliorate that, at least for things where prices are charged.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Isn’t everyone sort of free-riding then? Manhattan’s subway system allows Manhattan to be what it is, which benefits the entirety of the country. You don’t pay a dime towards that. Are you free riding?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                The hell I don’t help pay for NY’s subway system! But NYers also help pay for the lightly used roads in my area, which also benefits the entire country (agriculture, eh?), so I figure we’re about even.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                But Vancouverites, in no way, pay for Portland’s amenities? I don’t know if you can have it both ways like that…Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                I guess what I’m saying is that MY understanding of free-riding (which is wholly my own… you know I don’t actually know anything about this crap) is that someone enjoys equal or near-equal access to something as other people but do not pay as other people do.

                It doesn’t seem to me that Vancouverites enjoy equal or near-equal access to something than Portlanders do, especially given what Tod said about about time spent commuting. If there were a neighborhood of Portland, call it New Vancouver, that somehow positioned themselves to pay lower taxes than the rest of Portland but which did not give up access to parks and such… I would consider THAT free riding.

                Sure, Vancouverites benefit from Portland’s existence, but similarly, Portlanders benefit in some ways from Vancouver’s existence. It might not be a net wash, but there seem to be enough baked in costs to living in either community for accessing the other that I wouldn’t label it free-riding… again, based on my own definition that I made up.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                I didn’t say they in no way contribute. But if they’re using the amenities and I’m not, they ought to be contributing more than I, no?

                Re: free riding. You’re basically right, but the issue of cost is whether what you pay contributes to attaining the good/amenity. If everybody paid the cost of driving further, rather than paying money, the good/amenity wouldn’t be attained.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                That is a fair distinction. Presuming these folks do more than drive in, lay out in the park, and drive home, should the money they spend while in Portland (buying gas, food, coffee, etc.), money they probably wouldn’t otherwise spend in Portland were it not for visiting Portland’s amenities, be factored in? That drives Portland’s economy and contributes to the tax coffers.

                There may indeed be Vancouverites who are free-riding on Portlanders. But I don’t think it is fair, per MA’s suggestion, to say that Vancouver as a whole and all of its residents are free-riding on Portland as a whole and all of its residents. I’m not sure we disagree on that, though, as it is.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Yes, I’d say that money should be factored in. Their due proportion gets translated into taxes (no sales tax in OR, which makes the accounting of the value of their spending less straightforward, but ultimately into the business revenue and the property value, so through income and property taxes). So they are contributing some. Not as much as Portlanders, but at least for some Vancouverites perhaps as much as is their fair share. It’s really hard to pin down precisely, though, isn’t it? 😉Report

  16. Avatar Barry says:

    BlaiseP March 3, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    ” Heh… I can just see trying to code in Perl with a speech synthesiser.”

    The only reason that you’d survive is that the speech synthesizer just couldn’t do it;
    if you actually tried you’d be found in your office, having choked to death on a mangled, swollen larynx.

    71 Mike Schilling March 3, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    “What about APL? Do those things even have names?”

    I knew a guy who learned the names. It was horrible.
    I think that he’s still in a straitjacket, in the basement of the

    • Avatar Dan Miller says:

      This reminds me of Charlie Stross’ Laundry Novels, about the descendents of the Bletchley Park proto-hackers, who have discovered that computer science can be used to control the world that Lovecraft accurately described. Have you read them?Report

  17. Avatar b-psycho says:

    …how many times do right-wingers have to exempt police (locally) & military (nationally) from counting as part of Big Bad Government before they stop getting the benefit of the doubt on them being anti-government?Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      And let’s not forget the massive amount of government intervention they want on abortion, barring gay people from being in the military, not to mention wanting to empower schools to force students to pray.Report

  18. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    One big problem the GOP had in 2012 was spotty enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. That will be rectified in 2014 by replacing it with non-enforcement.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I hope this is one of the cases where it looks doomed but liberals end up being shocked.

      If any case needs a switch in time to save nine, it is this one.Report

  19. Avatar Damon says:

    Been a long time since I was out there, but frankly, any state that STILL makes it illegal to pump your own gas is just crazy. Back when i was out there, we (all us wash state residents who went into Oregon) thought the Oregonians were “off”. That’s probably still the case.

    Question though. Wash and Oregon got a lot of Cali residents feeing the high costs in Cali. Wonder if they all stopped in Portland……That might account for some of this….Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Yes, we still have the insanely insipid law about gas pumping. When I’m in a hurry, sitting in front of a pump for five minutes waiting for the guy to get around to coming over it makes me want to scream. (There’s a First World Problem if I ever heard one.)

      Actually, California transplants are most likely to choose neither; they tend to move into Portland suburbs – which have more of a a Cali aesthetic. A decade or two later when they go native, they often do move to Portland proper.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        There was interesting Matt Y column where he complained about gas pumping. It wasn’t about the laws but he saw an ad where a gas company promised old-fashioned service like pumping, washing your windows, etc.

        The ad prompted Matt Y’s clueless economist/technocrat and he wrote a column about how these kind of jobs reflect a poor economy.

        Everyone in the comments basically said “Sometimes service instead of DIY is nice and makes an experience pleasant.”

        Another favorite Matt Y moment was when he expressed amazement that his apartment lease required him to have rugs on his hardwood floors. Everyone in the comments had to tell him that this was a standard clause and the rugs work as a sound buffer for people in the apartment below yours.

        It is in joy and sorrow that the Internet seems to work on proving truth in the XKCD comic: “I can’t go to sleep. Something is wrong on the Internet!”Report

      • Avatar Annelid Gustator says:

        This is so odd, because I never once had this problem. Of course I only lived there for 20 years… and I always left in time to avoid a hurry… 😉Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      NJ still has laws about gas pumping. It can slow things down, but is nice in the winter. I’ve read (though not seen it confirmed) that NJ’s lower gas prices relative to neighboring states is partly due to these laws: the stations have lower insurance rates because only trained professionals are operating the pumps.

      Also, it creates jobs. WHY DO YOU HATE JOBS, HANLEY!?!?!Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Whuuu? How did I get into this?Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          I… don’t… know… ?

          Sorry, bro! I think I originally clicked on one of your comments and then scrolled to this one and wrongly assumed it was also you. Total brain fart.

          Also, it seemed like your type of petulant whining… :-pReport

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            Heh, that’s ok. Other than nobody in Oregon understanding a four-way stop, the gas pumping laws were my favorite beef when I lived there. 😉Report

  20. Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

    The preference for living in Portland has NOTHING to do with taxes, NOTHING to do with services, NOTHING to do with the [exteremely well-written and obviously provacative] artice. The pereference is due to one thing, and one thning only:

    [20 point letters, here please] POWELL’S[/20pl]Report

  21. Avatar Rod Engelsman says:

    Well, Tod, excellent writing as usual. Honestly, I sometimes have to look twice to make sure I’m not reading something from Rolling Stone.

    BUT (there’s always a “but” right?), this isn’t so much a tale of two cities as it is a tale of a city and a bedroom suburb across a river in a different state with a totally different tax structure. It’s just not a very good pairing to make the kind of comparison you’re striving for.

    Seems to me that what you need is something like a Dallas/Fort Worth , Minneapolis/St. Paul or even Phoenix/Tucson pairing where comparably sized and aged cities have local governments that have gone in radically different directions. I don’t know if such exists, frankly. And if it did it would likely be something smaller like the Kennewick/Pasco/Richland tri-cities area in Washington or the Davenport/Rockland/Moline/Bettendorf quad-cities in Iowa/Illinois.

    I understand the point you trying to make but I think it’s one that’s going to be very hard to make un-ambiguously.Report

  22. Avatar KatherineMW says:

    …For the entire post, I thought you were talking about Vancouver, BC, and was very confused by the description of it as “flat”, lacking parks, and a libertarian paradise.

    Everything makes so much more sense after figuring out that WA has a Vancouver as well. Suppose I should have picked that up from the map!Report

  23. Avatar jim says:

    Facts lie and people lie with facts. Oakland vs San Francisco. SF vs San Jose, not a better comparison.

    As others have mentioned, no income tax WA and No Sales tax OR pretty much dooms an consumption based economy in Vancouver. There is simply no way non-convenience type retail establishments can compete with a tax free zone a simple car ride away. Proof point, what lies just across the river from Vancouver on on the OR side, ALL the big box retail stores chock full of big ticket appliances and such.

    Then, there is the topography. People will pay lots of money for rolling terain and hills. The west side of PDX is the Knob Hill of Portland with multi million dollar homes built on stilts just waiting to come crashing down sled like in with the spring rains.

    Lets not forget, PDX and other OR cities have benefited tremendously from the exodus of people from CA. WA has also benefited but Seattle, with gorgeous and high demand topography, taking the lions share of influx.

    Portland has done a very good job but just because the cute girls gets more dances, it doesn”t mean she is better than her plain jane sister.Report