Comment Rescue


Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.

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47 Responses

  1. Will H. says:

    Sounds like Glasser’s reality theory in management to me.

    I would have thought libertarianism was more gestalt or something.Report

  2. Rod says:

    What I would like to see is more effort toward using Public Choice theory to design effective public institutions and regulatory apparatuses instead of the current practice of deploying it as a cudgel against liberal aspirations.

    I mean… physics tells why things fall down* but it also provides the tools to design airplanes.

    * With the caveat that gravity is the least well understood force theoretically.Report

    • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Rod says:

      The social sciences are a lot less developed than physics.

      But to give public choice its due, its founder James Buchanan argues that it supports an essentially Madisonian system. And I’d argue that the shift toward tradeable permits systems owes some of its impetus to folks backgrounded in public choice. It’s coming, if slowly.Report

      • Rod in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        Well… good. I’m all for regulatory approaches that work with market dynamics rather than pretending you can just make the market work differently by fiat. I’m also for simple, clear rules that work at the structural level as opposed to a bureaucracy deciding that X is too small or large, high or low, cheap or expensive, etc.

        I was dismayed to learn that the Volker rule had finally been codified in 920 pages of what has to be nearly incomprehensible prose. How could that not have dozens of loopholes and be a compliance nightmare?

        The other thing I’d like to see (and perhaps I’m just unaware) is PC analysis applied to corporate governance. I think they’re very similar wrt internal structure.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        Ivers’ Rule of Loopholes (named after my friend Dave Ivers): For every rule, you create two loopholes.*

        Your last point is interesting. I imagine some of that’s been done, but if so
        I’m not familiar with it.
        * Dave also has a theory of systems, such that you cannot make a foolproof system because fools are do damned ingenious. And he should know–in less than one year as a student at the Air Force Academy he managed to be the cause of two new rules.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        Tradeable permits? Like a permit for a fisherman, or lumber company, to exploit a certain, limited resource, and it’s on them to make it profitable?Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:


        Yes, or emissions permits.Report

      • Kim in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        That happened because the Volker rule treads very close to “what we want banks to do” — defining what is, and what is not a violation was a real headache.

        In practice, I estimate 900 of those pages are just for the rules lawyers.Report

      • Patrick in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        It’s actually not all that hard to make foolproof systems, it’s just hard to make foolproof systems that can actually do anything.Report

      • Kim in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        totally true. Additionally, these are beancounters. They know the cost of each page of regulation (and it’s a lot). They don’t put in ones they don’t absolutely need.Report

  3. Kazzy says:


    I actually thought of you when I saw a friend post this on Facebook:

    • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Kazzy says:

      He’s not wrong to see game design as relevant, but he’s wrong to think government is the primary driver of our incomes, and he ignores the issue of competing values about what constitutes “the good of the people.” Games, in the sense he means, are childishly simple in comparison, because the outcomes are so much more easily agreed upon.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        Well, sure. I meant more about the ways in which we need to consider what behavior we incentivize through our actions. As it stands, our current system doesn’t incentivize better behavior in our elected officials. As such, we don’t get better behavior from them.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        I agree. I’d just warn that it’s very hard to incentivize good governance in elected officials, because the overriding incentive is to appeal to the public, so as to get elected and re-elected. Unless the public knows its collective ass from its collective elbow and collectively votes rationally, every other incentive is just nibbling around the edges. Electoral structures can make for better or worse outcomes, undoubtedly (and gerrymandered districts promote very bad outcomes, imo), but it doesn’t overcome the basic incentive of re-election, which has both a strong upside and a strong downside.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        New Rule! Term limits! Everyone gets 2 terms, & that is it.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    The law will likely remain on the books well past whatever goal it was intended to achieve will have either succeeded or failed, and it will continue to chug along.

    With its umpteen* brother and sister laws.

    (*I tried to look up how many laws there are, but, apparently, nobody knows and nobody knows how to figure it out.)Report

  5. Kazzy says:


    I have to quibble a bit with this. The focus should really be two-fold. You want to make sure that the incentives you create lead to accomplishing one’s goal. I think sometimes leaders go so far in attempting to properly incentivize intermediary behavior that ultimate goals fall by the wayside.Report

    • Patrick in reply to Kazzy says:

      That’s fair enough… but it seems to me the most common outcome is, “Shoot, now they’re doing this, why are… oh, because… dammit.”

      Unintended Incentives.Report

  6. LeeEsq says:

    Why do we need to rescue comments? Was James’ comment in danger of drowning in a sea of them?Report

  7. (That goes for micromanaging bosses, too.)

    I don’t like bosses who micromanage, but that doesn’t mean I try to micromanage them 🙂Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      You see this play out in the public education system. Teachers are increasingly micromanaged. Good teachers don’t like to be micromanaged. As such, many good teachers leave schools (particularly those which are micromanaged, which tend to be the weaker school systems to begin with). In their place, you get worse teachers. Teachers who require (or are perceived to require) additional micromanagement.

      Rinse and repeat.

      And since I’ve already done my food shopping for the week, I will say that at least part of the blame here lies with unions. When unions resist attempts to increase standards for teachers, school systems have to compensate in other ways; the most common way is to micromanage teachers so that the harm done by bad ones can (theoretically) be mitigated. For what it’s worth, I don’t think unions are wrong in this regard: their primary responsibility is to their employees, not to the students. The problem is… who does look out for the students’ interests?Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:

        Not much for me to disagree with here. One advantage of micromanaging, if it’s documented, is that it can provide a putatively objective basis to discipline someone who can be fired only for cause. Not that it’s a bad thing to have “for cause” as a reason to fire people, but in the spirit of Hanley’s second law, it creates the incentive for bosses (perhaps in this case in collaboration with the unions themselves) to create potentially arbitrary standards for what constitutes cause.

        I’m very ambivalent about teachers unions themselves. However, I agree with you that they’re pretty much just doing what they’re supposed to do, that is, represent their members’ interests. What I dislike is their (sometimes) practice of stating that a refusal to grant them their demanded pay raises is equivalent to taking money “from the children.”

        I’m thinking of the recent unpleasantness in the Chicago Public Schools. Other things were at issue, of course, and pay in some ways was a proxy for those other things, but we still had the union president state the “you’re stealing from the children” argument. That, however, is just a rhetorical tactic and not necessarily the pith and substance of what teachers unions are about, and I suppose the school boards use the “for the children” argument in ways that are just as unpalatable.

        Now, the faculty at a local public university are trying to organize with the same teachers union. If things come to a head with a strike, it will be interesting to see the type of rhetoric it uses. By “interesting,” I suppose I mean both “something that’d be informative to watch play out” and the more snarky “something I’d be apt to criticize but will just call ‘interesting.'”Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        I can imagine scenarios where the union’s demands align with those of students such that rejecting them is, in essence, “taking from the children.” However, the exact same thing can be said about the district’s demands. And you still have a large swath where either side’s demands are immaterial to or in opposition to the interests of the students. So, it’s tricky.

        What frustrates me about the debates that often surround teachers unions (full disclosure: I have never been in, had opportunity to join, or directly benefited from a teachers union) is that teachers are often posited such that advocating for their rights as employees and individuals is seen as going against their professional ethics. “I thought you do what you do because you love children; why are you haggling over a 1% raise?” Well, yes, most teachers love their students. But that love doesn’t put food on the table… it doesn’t help account for inflation… it doesn’t secure their retirement. I even see this in the private school world. It is generally seen as unseemly to attempt to negotiate salary. “Oh, are you just in this for the money?” I think school leaders — public and private — often help cultivate this mentality to use against their employees. Because it jives with a broader public sentiment about the profession, it is easy for them to get away with.

        Ultimately, teachers unions shouldn’t be seen as any different than auto workers unions. Yes, it is theoretically in the auto workers best interests collectively and long-term that they put out a good product (because it supports the overall health of the company they work for), but no one calls them greedy bastards* who don’t give a lick about cars when they make demands. Yet teachers who engage in the same self-advocacy are often painted as uniquely derelict in their duties.

        Yes, yes, I know… a child is not a car. But the teachers are just one cog in the machine. To say that their interests and their interests alone ought to be subservient to the students is unfair.

        And this sort of brings us full circle: besides the students themselves, who benefits most from a quality, robust public education system? How do we get these people to understand this benefit such that they are properly incentivized to invest (via money, time, voting for the right leaders) in its outcomes? And how do we empower students to self-advocate?

        * They might be called greedy bastards for other reasons, but it is never because they don’t care about the final product.Report

      • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

        So you assume high labor and retirement costs had nothing at all to do with the relative deterioration in Detroit’s car quality (compared to other non union dominated makes and models of the same year)?

        I don’t want to exaggerate the effect, but surely you recognize there are actual tradeoffs? When a labor cartel within a local government run semi monopoly seeks rents over the competitive market rate, tradeoffs are going to come into play. And some of those at least contribute to the extremely high cost and mediocre quality education of American kids.


      • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        I’m willing to bet that Japan and Germany’s labor costs for autos are more than GMs… at current time. And they’ve got pretty strong unions there, too.
        Big Auto pushed for Obamacare for a reason, ya know?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        I’m pretty sure I addressed that when I said:
        “And you still have a large swath where either side’s demands are immaterial to or in opposition to the interests of the students.”

        But you know what can compensate for higher labor and retirement costs? Higher taxes. Or lower administrative salaries (who sometimes, but not always, have their own unions). But those are never discussed. It is always about greedy teachers who are robbing from children.

        The union’s job is not to ensure a quality education. It is to get the best possible deal for its members. Is it arguably in the members’ best interest that they think about the long term viability and the system? I suppose. But for teachers who are looking at time horizons measured in months instead of years or decades, it is probably a tough sell.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Kazzy says:

        Perhaps I am just ignorant of the details, but it seems to me that most often, when schools push for higher taxes in the name of teacher raises, what I most often see is teacher salaries go up, the number of teachers goes down, and the number of non-union employees at a school goes up (staff that takes on certain non-teaching duties from teachers, new administrative positions that seem to be “make work” positions, etc.).

        I’ve always wondered if/why school districts are not required to have a certain percentage of their budget go to teacher salary. Say 60% must pay teachers, either pay more teachers, or pay the ones you have more.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        I don’t have any inside info, but I would venture to guess that raising teacher salaries is a fairly safe way to push for increased taxes. The funds may never have been intended for such.

        As for designating a certain percentage of the budget going towards teacher salaries, I’d venture to guess that there are too many variables to ensure it.

        Believe it or not, but the public system is actually far more efficient (at least in terms of per pupil system) than the private system. This is primarily because the teacher-to-administrator ratio is much higher. Of course, this has an impact on the quality of programing. One reason we look to standardized assessments to evaluate teachers is because administrators are stretched too thin. When you factor in special education funding (which privates do not have a legal obligation to provide), the difference is even more stark.Report

      • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

        My concern is with using coercion or threats of coercion to achieve higher than fair market wages. I am not calling anyone greedy… I assume teachers are good folks who are normally self interested.

        I am not anti sex, I am anti rape. I am not anti food, I am anti theft to get food. I am not anti teacher wages, I am against using threat of coercion backed by government in a cartel within a local monopoly where taxpayers are required to pony up or leave.

        This is a zero sum game which destroys value… I believe the economics term is that it lowers consumer surplus. Teacher salaries should be set based upon voluntary supply and demand. International studies reveal that freer market education is more cost effective and better on every qualitative dimension measured.

        Coercion as a rule of thumb is bad. Coercion tends to destroy value. Teacher coercion is not an exception to the rule.Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:


        Thanks for your comments (I’ve been gone all day so I haven’t been able to respond ’til now). I agree with much of what you say, but there is a counterpoint to this:

        It is always about greedy teachers who are robbing from children.

        My counterpoint is that in my circle of friends/acquaintances/colleagues, even to say, “well, maybe the city doesn’t have enough money to pay the raises the union demands, so maybe the teachers shouldn’t have a raise or should have a much lower one,” elicits a very stern response on the order of “why do you hate teachers.” They don’t seem to acknowledge that collective bargaining is bargaining and that sometimes means that you don’t get what you want.

        It’s not always about greedy administrators who should have their salaries reduced, although maybe they don’t necessarily deserve as much as they’re getting, and their refusal to lower their salaries or accept pay freezes suggests a certain tone deafness.

        Of course, this is *my* circle of friends, and given the large number of school teachers in that circle, they’re obviously biased and probably not very representative of the wider discourse. And I say this all here in part because I feel that I cannot say it to them. But that’s a counterpoint in my (admittedly narrowed) circumstances I hear quite a lot.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        Do you view all collective bargaining and associated strategies (e.g., strikes) as coercion? If so, I feel you’ve gone far, far too far afield with the very idea of coercion.

        Now, if you are referring specifically to public sector unions who have laws that uniquely protect them, I’m more sympathetic to your arguments. That said, teachers are legally barred from striking in most (all?) districts. The strongest tactic they typically employ is “work to contract”, which means no one in more than a minute before the start of the school day and everyone out within a minute of the end of the school day. Yes, yes, the children lose in this. But it is not nearly as drastic as what you might see in other industries. What happens most often is that teachers work without a contract and hope to make up for it in the eventual agreement.

        I understand there are valid counter arguments to public sector unions (Radley Balko laid these out to me in a comments section at his old blog about effectively as anyone ever has). But I think you have a long road to walk if you insist that any and all union efforts are de facto coercion.

        I totally hear what you’re saying. I’ve long said that teachers are often their own worst enemy. The profession gets a lot of criticism — probably too much — but a good amount of it is deserved, at least collectively. Countering criticism with “Why do you hate teachers?” is the sort of thoughtless response that engenders ill will.Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:


        To be fair, the “why do you hate teachers?” is more of an attitude I infer than a phrase I hear from my friends. When the CPS strike happened c. 1 year ago, I made sure not to opine to them about what I thought. This wasn’t solely from fear for their reaction, but also a recognition that it’s their livelihood and interests on the line and not mine, except as a taxpayer.

        I didn’t realize that most districts forbid strikes. In Chicago, apparently, strikes aren’t outlawed.

        As for the point about coercion, I agree with you mostly that simply calling it coercion is probably a bridge too far, at least if one doesn’t follow with an explanation of what is meant. But perhaps, in addition to the public sector “privileges” you allude to in your comment, there’s another way in which unions, at least post-New Deal, are “coercive”: the federal and state laws as I understand it sets certain thresholds (for example, a majority vote of employees, or a majority registration with a “card check” provision in some states and some sectors), and once those thresholds are met, the employer is required by the state to recognize and negotiate “in good faith” with the union, and in non-right to work states, one of the things unions often start negotiating for is compulsory union membership. There is, I think, some element of coercion there.

        All that said, we live in a world awash with coercion, much of which redounds to my personal benefit. I know people don’t like privilege-calling, but in my case, I’ll indulge in some reverse privilege calling and suggest that I, personally, benefit from so many ensconced forms of coercion that it would probably rather rich of me to criticize others for using a standardized mechanism (labor legislation) that because it’s backed by the state is “coercive” when the cards are often stacked against those very workers in so many other ways.

        The “cards stacked against” comment is a generalization, and may or may not apply to teachers in any given district. I also know of some people at the university I referenced above who have numerous advantages and are trying to preserve what they see as coming to them by their unionization drive. Having some insight into their grievances and their broader situation, I can say they have some beefs I consider legitimate, but on the whole I’m unsympathetic.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        I just put up a post about unions in general. It doesn’t apply to public sector unions directly, but sketches out my broader idea on the topic. As a general rule, I am opposed to many of the types of laws you discuss.

        Generally speaking, I oppose the idea (which is not unique to teachers) that criticism = hate. You see this in sports… “You picked the Seahawks over the Broncos? Why do you hate my team and everyone in my city?” Grow up.Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:


        I look forward to reading your post, but it might be a while before I can comment on it because today is going to be kind of busy.Report