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The Beauty of Bending Rules in a Complex World: Why pool attendants are better than bureaucrats by Isaac M. Morehouse

“We’re not checking IDs today,” the pool attendant told me.

We have a nice pool for the neighborhood, maintained with HOA dues. The homeowners association has tried different methods of monitoring who comes in to keep nonresidents from filling up the pool and squeezing out dues-paying members. A few times last summer, this was a problem. This year, a new company was hired to issue IDs and ensure that only residents use the pool. But not today.

Today the water was a bit cold and the pool wasn’t busy. The attendant realized this and didn’t hassle swimmers and sunbathers with an ID check. When he uttered those words it hit me in a flash just how profound it was. The ease with which he used common sense to bend the rules was a beautiful moment. Maybe you think I’m being dramatic, but let me offer a contrast.

A few years, ago I was in the security line at the airport with my wife. She removed her plastic baggy of size-approved liquids and gels and placed it in the container. The TSA agent picked it up and grunted, “Uh-uh.” Bewildered, I asked what the problem was. She said my wife needed to remove an item from the bag. I objected that every item was within the approved size and the bag was a recommended part of the procedure. The agent said that, according to regulations, the items are supposed to fit “comfortably” in the bag. They were pushing against the sides, ever so slightly stretching the plastic. We had to remove one. I asked her which individual item was a threat to security. She told us it didn’t matter which item was removed. The absurdity of the situation was beyond parody. There is no conceivable world in which a too-snug plastic bag of harmless toiletries could pose any possible threat to security. But it was the rule. Every bureaucrat knows rules must be followed without question.

If you’ve ever gotten a speeding ticket, as I have, for going 10 over at 3:00 a.m. on a five-lane road with no traffic, or for running a red light in a sleepy town with no cars for miles, you’ve felt the same. It’s clear that the reason for the rule — to keep drivers and pedestrians safe — is no possible explanation for its enforcement in these situations. Indeed, enforcement itself makes roads less safe due to police vehicles sticking out into the road and blocking other potential drivers. Meter maids handing out tickets for 2 minutes over in a lot surrounded by empty spaces is just as crazy. Parking meters and tickets are there to ensure spaces are available in high-demand times. What’s the point of ticketing when ample parking is available? Carding geriatrics for buying alcohol and so very many other examples of this silliness abound.

I posted a complaint to Facebook after the TSA incident. One of the commenters said, “Sure, following the letter of arbitrary laws in bad contexts is a pain, but would you rather have those agents doing whatever they want and using their own discretion on the spot?” The question becomes more poignant when you consider not just the bureaucrats armed with bad attitudes like those at the DMV but the ones armed with guns on the police force. Rule following is paramount in a bureaucracy because the alternative is also frightening.

It’s easy in the public sphere to get caught up in such debates. Is it more practical and just for government agents to use discretion in the moment when applying regulations, or for across-the-board universal application? It seems vexing: a problem without a solution. Whatever side of the debate you take feels uncomfortable. The letter of the law is oppressive and in some cases downright crazy, certainly counterproductive with respect to the law’s intended purpose; but discretion is a scary proposition as well, as many cases of selectively enforced law attest.

Outside of government, however, this is a nonproblem. When something is moved from the private, voluntary sphere to the public, coercive sphere, debates and division arise where none previously existed. The real problem is not rule following or flexibility; it’s monopoly. The absence of competition in the government sphere and all the attendant incentive problems create this unnecessary quandary.

It’s not that the police officers and TSA agents are worse people than my pool attendant; it’s that they face worse incentives. There is no metric for them to determine customer satisfaction or the value of their actions, because there is no profit-and-loss signal and no fear of losing our business. We are legally obliged to pay for and receive their service (or disservice.)

The pool attendant can be flexible with the rules when applying them strictly would annoy customers. He can become stringent when things get busy and residents complain about freeloaders. His company knows that at any time, they could lose the contract, and the only reason they are hired is to make residents happy and solve a problem. It’s the outcome that matters, and all procedures, policies, and rules are measured against that. This leaves ample room for experimentation and adaptation, with immediate feedback and accountability.

The public sector has no such flexibility because it faces no competition. The political sphere can make social and economic problems that have already been solved with incredible nuance seem unsolvable. It offers only yes-or-no, either/or, once-and-for-all-and-everywhere solutions, applied and enforced by people with almost limitless job security. It is a blunt tool, and incredibly unresponsive. It is unconcerned with outcomes and measures effectiveness only by inputs, intentions, and actions — not results.

Whether the letter of the law or individual discretion is preferable is the wrong question. Both are to be feared with state monopolized services. Neither is to be feared in competition because the choice is no longer binary but an ongoing dance of pluralistic discovery.

We’re not checking IDs today. Those five simple words reveal the beauty, complexity, and humanity of the voluntary market order.

Isaac MorehouseIsaac M. Morehouse

Isaac Morehouse is the founder and CEO of Praxis.

Save Money with Adjunct Professors, Spend It on Bureaucrats

Jordan Schneider, like many part-time college instructors, teaches on two community college campuses in order to cobble together a living. He earns a paltry $21,000 per year with no benefits for teaching a larger-than-normal load of four courses per semester. Non-tenure track full-time professors earn $47,000. Established professors’ salaries have remained flat, at between $60,000 and $100,000. As a former instructor of English at Georgia Perimeter College and elsewhere, these figures, from the 2014 Delta Cost Project, sound right.

In “Letter to Full-Time Faculty Members,” in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Schneider deviates from the typical call for redress through unionization, and appeals to full-time colleagues’ self-interests by arguing that a class of “super adjuncts,” paid more than regular adjuncts but less than full-time faculty ($20,000 to $25,000 per term with benefits), with some of the duties and voting privileges of full-time faculty, would take away administrators’ “trump cards”: the threat of replacing full-timers with cheap adjuncts, who, along with teaching assistants, now account for half of instructional staff (up from one-third in 1987).

But the number of full-time professors on short-term contracts (like “super adjuncts”) has already increased, by 30 to 50 percent between 2004 and 2012.

Goodbye, Full-Time Faculty

In spite of increasing reliance on contingent faculty, higher education costs tripled between 1975 and 2005. Tuition at public four-year colleges and universities increased nearly 160 percent between 1990 and 2012. At private bachelor’s institutions it has almost doubled since 1987. Yet, the proportion of all employees who were full-time faculty has declined 5 to 7 percent at four-year colleges and 16 percent at community colleges between 2000 and 2012.

While students have less access to faculty members, especially full-time faculty members, they are paying for the services of administrators and their professional staffs. Since 1987, this number has more than doubled and increased at a rate twice as fast as the growth in the number of students.

The Delta report states that there is “no single smoking gun” to explain such growth in administration.

Why So Many Administrators?

Huffington Post’s Jon Marcus cannot pin down the reasons either, claiming more resources are being devoted to such things as marketing, diversity, sustainability, security, athletic programs, and conference centers. He quotes Dan King, president of the American Association of University Administrators, who claims that government regulations and demands for such services as remedial help and counseling are responsible. Yet, graduation rates of students at four-year bachelor’s institutions have barely inched up, from 55 percent to 58 percent since 2002.

Political science professor Benjamin Ginsberg seems to have a good diagnosis. In his 2011 Washington Monthly article, “Administrators Ate My Tuition” he noted that well-paid professional bureaucrats have taken over duties once handled by faculty members on a temporary, part-time basis. Unlike faculty members, their motivation is not academic improvement, but growing the bureaucracy, with make-work projects developed at far-away conferences and retreats.

Goodbye to Real Instruction

This is evidenced by the questionable academic value of many of the initiatives coming out of their offices. In fact, many of the programs substitute for real academic instruction. More and more money is spent on diversity, social justice, and sustainability initiatives at the expense of real teaching.

The students who can least afford such diversions, those attending community colleges, are seeing the largest shift from funding for teaching to administrative programs.

I saw this happening at Georgia Perimeter College where I was a part-time instructor from 2007 to 2010. As we were being asked to squeeze several more students into our classes (that were maxed out at 22) for the same $2100 per class, college president Anthony Tricoli was rallying faculty to embrace civic learning.

Around the same time, 2009, the federal government put out the 136-page report, A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future, for which Tricoli served as a roundtable member. The college’s Atlanta Center for Civic Engagement & Learning was one of about 100 participating organizations that included campuses, non-profits, and government agencies. However, real “civic learning” is the farthest from the report’s objectives.

Model centers, such as at the University of Maryland and Salt Lake Community College, show students working in soup kitchens, reading to school children, and cleaning up nature trails. Organizations such as Campus Compact (which GPC joined) and the Association of American Colleges & Universities (the lead writer of A Crucible Moment) provide direction. One instructional ASC&U video shows a statistics professor “collaborating” with an “anti-poverty” representative on a lesson publicizing free tax preparation services in target zip codes for Earned Income Tax Credits. (If there is any doubt about the agenda, a “social justice” sign appears prominently.) Instead of formal essays or research papers, students write “reflection papers.”

At my college, the associate vice president for civic engagement and service learning, attorney Deborah Gonzalez, made $104,000 for offering “infrastructure and resources, to share best practices and technical assistance . . . , to [help faculty] implement initiatives to help their students engage in their communities, both locally and globally”—all while presumably helping students strengthen their “academic goals and objectives.” In response to her call for courses with a “Civic-engagement or Service-learning component,” a colleague shared having students serve as docents at the Margaret Mitchell House. I failed to see how such activities, whether “global” or ushering at a local historic site, would help students struggling with grammar.

The grand new Center for Civic Engagement and Service-Learning opened in 2010 with much fanfare and a keynote address by former President Jimmy Carter. The program listed a good number of individuals drawing salaries or partial salaries for their efforts: the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, the Executive Director, the Service-Learning Coordinator, the Administrative Secretary, and eleven faculty members.

In 2012, however, Tricoli was forced to resign over a $25 million budget deficit; he is now suing, charging conspiracy to ruin his reputation. I don’t know what percentage the civic engagement initiative represented, but such programs are not cheap.

Rather than pleading for part of the increasingly smaller portion of budgets allocated to academic instruction, it seems that Schneider and others ought to be demanding the ouster of bureaucrats and the restoration of higher education to its rightful purpose.

The new anti-home school attack is use of “Badman Rules”

The Badman Rules are intended to give government agents control over homeschooling families. Will Americans fight for the well being of our children?

The goal of the progressive left is to dominate the training of every youngster in America.  Home School families are being targeted once again and I say we should all stand up for home school freedom.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/umhESpSVlxk[/youtube]

The decline and fall of America’s unions

“Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned.” – Milton Friedman

Many blame the decline of union membership on Republicans and big business. But is that what history tells us? The answer is: No!

As political power becomes more centralized there is an irreversible decline in the power of unions. It is a cause and effect that cannot be denied or stopped.

American unions began forming in the mid-19th century in response to the social and economic impact of the industrial revolution. National labor unions began to form in the post-Civil War Era. The Knights of Labor emerged as a major force in the late 1880s, but it collapsed because of poor organization, lack of effective leadership, disagreement over goals, and strong opposition from employers and government forces.

Government forces are accelerating the collapse of unions. But how?

Oleg Atbashian in his book Shakedown Socialism writes, “Union perks mean nothing when there is nothing left to redistribute. The Soviets learned it the hard way. The American unions don’t seem to be able to learn from the mistakes of others.”

A recent example is how the unions first supported the Affordable Care Act and are now opposing it.

Townhall.com reported in July 2013, “The leaders of three major U.S. unions, including the highly influential Teamsters, have sent a scathing open letter to Democratic leaders in Congress, warning that unless changes are made, President Obama’s health care reform plan will “destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.”

If that’s not bad enough, the Affordable Care Act, if not modified, will “destroy the very health and wellbeing of our members along with millions of other hardworking Americans,” the letter says.

Atbashian uses the example of Poland’s Solidarnosc, an independent union that spearheaded the overthrow of the oppressive Communist regime in 1989.  Why? Because, “…Current [union] perks can only exist in a free and competitive economy that ensures growth and generates wealth – known as ‘capitalist exploitation’ in the lingo of the champions of ‘redistributive justice’.”

Unions are only relevant if they retain their control to collectively bargain for wages and benefits. If the government takes over this role, as it did workplace safety with OSHA, then unions are doomed.

When government becomes the sole arbiter of the social and economic impact of industry, then unions are forced to submit.

Atbashian notes, “The workers are not herd animals, nor are they a separate biological species with a different set of interests. They are as human as anyone else who possesses a mind and free will, and therefore their long-term interests are not different than the rest of humanity. And since the interests of humanity lie with liberty, property rights and the rule of law, this is what the unions should stand for.”

Milton Friedman, in Free to Choose: A Personal Statement, wrote, “The ICC [Interstate Commerce Commission] illustrates what might be called the natural history of government intervention. A real or fancied evil leads to demands to do something about it. A political coalition forms consisting of sincere, high-minded reformers and equally sincere interested parties. The incompatible objectives of the members of the coalition (e.g., low prices to consumers and high prices to producers) are glossed over by fine rhetoric about ‘the public interest,’ ‘fair competition,’ and the like. The coalition succeeds in getting Congress (or a state legislature) to pass a law. The preamble to the law pays lip service to the rhetoric and the body of the law grants power to government officials to ‘do something.’ The high-minded reformers experience a glow of triumph and turn their attention to new causes. The interested parties go to work to make sure that the power is used for their benefit. They generally succeed. Success breeds its problems, which are met by broadening the scope of intervention.”

Friedman noted, “Bureaucracy takes its toll so that even the initial special interests [e.g. unions] no longer benefit. In the end the effects are precisely the opposite of the objectives of the reformers and generally do not even achieve the objectives of the special interests. Yet the activity is so firmly established and so many vested interests are connected with it that repeal of the initial legislation is nearly inconceivable. Instead, new government legislation is called for to cope with the problems produced by the earlier legislation and a new cycle begins.”

The “angel of death” for unions is progressivism, its primary weapon is big government bureaucrats, the anti-union soldiers.

RELATED: 

Union membership declines in 2012 – US Department of Labor

Under Obama, black unemployment back to twice the white rate – PEW Research