In many policy discussions about the “achievement gap” between whites and minorities in public schools, racism and insufficient public funding of schools are frequently given as the primary reason for the gap. But is blaming race or schools getting to the heart of the achievement gaps that exist today? Or, are social factors related to the motivation and preparation of students more important than either of these policy-driven reasons?
Most Public Schools are not Consciously Racist
While some individuals employed by public schools may be racist, and some subconscious racial practices may still exist, racist laws related to segregation and civil rights are largely a thing of the past. Further, the increased diversity and intermarriage in urban American melting pots has tempered old racial stereotypes. Especially government laws and inner-city school policies have consciously strived to eliminate racism from schools over the last 50 years, and often extra programs are funded to help failing students catch up to others.
Yet, newspapers continue to report that inner city public schools experience greater delinquency and lower performance among racial minorities. And, for at least the last thirty years, legislators have tried to address the achievement gap by earmarking extra funding for public schools in inner cities. However, performance disparities have not improved; if anything the “achievement gap” is widening. Are minorities failing because of their race, or are other reasons like socialization of children more important?
Government Statistical Practices Promote Racial Stereotypes
Social scientists can study whether race, or racism, is the strongest correlate to student failure or whether there are other factors. Because of the tragic history of slavery in the United States, statistics are often promoted racially. When schools are asked to report to governments on student achievement, they are asked to report them by race. So charts based on statistics from departments of education get generated like this:
It is a common public practice to compare people by race
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Oppression is Bad, but Anarchy is Worse
“Were people given a choice between a functioning dictatorship and a failing or failed state, the dictatorship would often be seen as the lesser evil.”
The Nobel Peace Prize for 2015 was given to the Tunisian Quartet who brought about a successful transformation of the society to a less oppressive regime in Tunisia. Yet the other places to which the Arab Spring spread have either become more dictatorial or have turned into failed states causing hundreds of thousands of refugees are flee, because it is not impossible to survive where the anarchy exists. Thus, we must not take the Nobel Committee’s praise for the Quartet in Tunisia as an endorsement of the Arab Spring in general.
The uprising in Tunisia was spontaneous, with a domestic citizen so frustrated with his ability to live there that he publicly immolated himself. The masses in Tunisia could identify with his suffering and undertook a revolution, followed by a transformation of the Tunisian government led by the Tunisian Quartet, a coalition of civil society groups that came together in the summer of 2013 when Tunisia was at a crossroads between democracy and violence. Today, while there have been several violent incidents aimed at political leaders and tourists (tourism is the backbone of the economy) perpetrated by Islamists, the Tunisian state is relatively stable. The Tunisian transformation required a great deal of courage and compromise among established leaders in the country, and observers are cautiously pleased with the outcome. Continue reading →
A government shielded from the people
The United States was established to be “a government of the people” and, in Abraham Lincoln’s day, that was still largely true. However, today individual citizens have very little influence over legislation or government expenditures in the United States. Political power has shifted to the political parties and the government bureaucrats. This shift of power occurred gradually with the passage of laws, constitutional amendments, and legislative processes over the last 200 years.
These laws and processes eliminated checks and balances on power and enabled the largest political party contributors, through their elected representatives, to control legislation and the appointments of bureaucratic leadership. Individual citizens, local citizens groups, and unbiased independent policy analysts have very little influence over state and federal governance.
The 2015 legislative session in Minnesota can illustrate some of these problems. After the session, I published a synopsis in a “Spotlight Letter” in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Of 80 bills passed by the legislature, 54 were unanimously passed or passed with fewer than 5 “No” votes between the two houses after they emerged from committee. Of the 26 bills with dissension, 10 bills were omnibus bills that contained all the spending measures, good and bad, Democrat and Republican, with so many provisions that all legislators could justify their votes either way based on highlighting selected provisions. This left a total of 16 rather innocuous bills that citizens can evaluate the performance of legislators on, pretty much removing them from public scrutiny.
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A new report by the US Census Bureau shows that the middle class has shrunk since the recession and the income gap has widened under the current recovery efforts. Image source
Quotation marks are put around “middle class” because it is a concept variously defined by politicians who mean very different things. When a Democrat refers to “middle class,” it tends to refer to wage or income level. If you listen carefully to President Obama’s rhetoric about protecting the “middle class,” he is referring to raising minimum wages and increasing the jobs provided to people by government. If you listen to the rhetoric of Wall Street brokers, like Mitt Romney who ran for President on the Republican ticket, you hear that large corporations, with lots of capital are required to provide jobs for a vibrant middle class, and reducing taxes on Wall street will make that happen.
Neither of these approaches will create a genuine middle class, and both are leading to a modern form of serfdom. This is one reason the Tea Party opposes both Wall Street and big government. A genuine middle class refers to the people who can live on their own without the help of government or large businesses. It is this type of middle class, self-sufficient people, not people who earn between $25,000 and $100,000 per year, that are the backbone of a democracy. This is why you can find subsistence farmers in rural America, who might earn less than $25,000 per year, supporting the Tea Party movement to get back to founding principles, and why both establishment Democrats and Republicans are threatened by this movement.
It is a self-sufficient people, not people who earn between $25,000 and $100,000 per year, that is the backbone of a democracy.
The idea that a middle class is defined by earnings provided by someone else is a major sociological myth of our time for, if that “someone else,” be they government or corporate elite, are in charge of the lives of the people, they will eventually maximize their own wealth at the expense of those in their charge. This is the nature of both monopolies and governments (which have a monopoly on force).
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Neither Party Wants Immigration Reform that is Good for the Nation
Many people did not like President Obama’s executive order on immigration, but in his speech he stated that if Congress did not like his solution they could pass their own bill and present it to him. The failure of the U.S. Congress to pass an immigration bill reflects a larger problem in the U.S. political system, and that is our current two party system. Political parties, almost by definition, do not serve the nation. Rather, they serve the interests of their financial contributors, who do not contribute for the nation but contribute to get something from the government for themselves. With our current two-party system, no one is minding the store. The U.S. Government can be compared to a Wal-Mart store in which people pay bribes to a security guard get in, but they can walk out with what they want from the shelves without stopping at a cash register. Our elected representatives are those security guards.
The parties have become the factions that so worried the U.S. Founders, particularly James Madison:
By a faction I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.—James Madison, Federalist 10
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Many people take political parties for granted and assume they are an important part of the democratic process. However, political parties inherently subvert and hijack government and are anti-democratic at their core. Today we hear lots of people from both the left and right saying “Washington is broken,” but we hear them blaming the president, congress, or the courts. This blame is misplaced, not getting to the core of the problem, which is the fact that today these people largely represent political parties, not citizens. Gridlock is caused by partisan bickering that the Founders sought to avoid. But, over the last 200 years political parties have gradually hijacked the federal government.
Political Parties are Divisive Factions
This sample ballot shows party affiliation for federal and state candidates, but no party for county positions.
Political parties are factions, groups of people that combine themselves for some common purpose. By combining their power, they can have more influence over lawmakers than individual citizens. However, this influence focuses legislators on the wants of these interest groups rather than the general citizen or the needs of the nation as a whole. Founding Father James Madison saw factions as the primary means by the American government could be subverted and destroyed. In the opening lines of Federalist 10
Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice.
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Stage 1 Consciousness: Physical Violence
Physical violence is a biological impulse related to threats to survival. Killing others who are a threat to oneself and taking their food and property are often associated with animal behavior, or called primitive behavior. Physical violence is a method of satisfying personal needs and desires without regard or concern to the other.
Babies and young children naturally exhibit stage one behavior: screaming, waving their arms, and kicking, to get their needs met. Then, until nurturing takes hold, totally self-focused children push, hit, and bully to get what they want. With the guidance of loving parents and teachers children can be taught to respect each other and control their violent impulses, eventually learning methods of cooperation and respect, or stage 2 behavior.
Lacking the nurture that raises a child to Stage 2, and eventually Stage 3, consciousness, Stage 1 behavior will continue, even as an adult. Beating, rape, and theft are evidence that the perpetrator, even though a physical adult, who has reached 18 years of age, is only at a Stage 1 level of social consciousness, and thus an infant in terms of social development.
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The 2014 MN Legislature will be taking up legislation on Sunday Liquor Sales. After a comment on that I made on the Facebook page, I was invited by Walter Hudson to speak about unproductive government and the government’s role in promoting cultural decline and the erosion of the middle class at the Republican Liberty Caucus on January 16. This has implications for tax policy generally, including principles to keep in mind when producing legislation on alcohol sales.
Three Types of Entrepreneurship
In my Facebook comment, one of the main points I mentioned was our shift from a productive to an unproductive economy in the United States. Economists refer to three types of entrepreneurship: productive, destructive, and unproductive.
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The Glass-Steagall Act, also known as the Banking Act of 1933 (48 Stat. 162), was passed by Congress in 1933 and prohibits commercial banks from engaging in the investment business. This act is an example of principled regulation of business because it (1) protects private property of citizens, (2) encourages efficient banking practices, (3) eliminates exorbitant Wall Street profits which is the basis of much government and banking system collusion and cronyism, and (3) eliminates the cost of much government oversight and unproductive legal costs.
It was enacted as an emergency response to the failure of nearly 5,000 banks during the Great Depression. The act was originally part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program and became a permanent measure in 1945. It gave tighter regulation of national banks to the Federal Reserve System; prohibited bank sales of Securities; and created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which insures bank deposits with a pool of money appropriated from banks.
As it turned out, this was very sound legislation that significantly stabilized the U.S. banking system until its repeal in 1999. This was immediately followed by a wave of corporate scandals in 2001, unsound government home loan guarantee legislation that subsidized banks with taxpayer money in 2005 leading to the housing bubble of 2007, and an explosion in fraudulent financial securities and derivatives that led to Treasury Secretary Paulson’s extortion of a $700 million bailout from taxpayers for irresponsible behavior of his Wall Street colleagues.
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“The Blind Leading the Blind” by Sebastian Vrancx (1573-1647)
The metaphor “the blind leading the blind” comes from ancient wisdom and is an apt metaphor for Western politics and higher education today. Not that there aren’t very smart and shrewd politicians or many new discoveries in the sciences. But, when it comes to knowledge of where we want to go and how to get there, our culture is full of statements and policies that reflect the ancient metaphor taught in the Bible, the Upanishads, and Roman Classics that complain of the blind leading the blind. Sextus Empiricus (160-210 a.d.) wrote in Outlines of Scepticism: “Nor does the non-expert teach the non-expert—any more than the blind can lead the blind.”
This saying is just one example of pertinent ancient wisdom discarded in the twentieth century by a rejection of conventional wisdom that followed the rise in faith in modern science and the nation state. This modern faith in science and the state became a basis for the rejection of religion as superstition and an opiate, and the idea that the principles informing the U.S. Constitution could be rejected on the basis that it was “the philosophy of dead white men,” and in this age of pluralism, everyone’s cultural views were as valid as everyone else’s. Continue reading →