Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Elite Education: Propagating Economic Class and Producing Excellent Sheep

William Deresiewicz wrote an article on the highest of our higher education facilities back in 2008.  It was excellent then and seems even more relevant today.  It appeared in the The American Scholar with the title The Disadvantages of an Elite Education.  It opened with this lede:

“Our best universities have forgotten that the reason they exist is to make minds, not careers”

Deresiewicz contends that elite universities (read Ivy League) have become factories for producing economic success and are actually guilty of a form of anti-intellectualism.

Consider who attends elite universities:

“Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race. With respect to class, these schools are largely—indeed increasingly—homogeneous. Visit any elite campus in our great nation and you can thrill to the heartwarming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals.”

Acceptance to an elite school is smugly viewed as the culmination of a rigorous meritocratic process, but it is actually merely a filter through which only the advantaged can pass.

“I’m talking about the whole system in which these skirmishes play out. Not just the Ivy League and its peer institutions, but also the mechanisms that get you there in the first place: the private and affluent public “feeder” schools, the ever-growing parastructure of tutors and test-prep courses and enrichment programs, the whole admissions frenzy and everything that leads up to and away from it. The message, as always, is the medium. Before, after, and around the elite college classroom, a constellation of values is ceaselessly inculcated. As globalization sharpens economic insecurity, we are increasingly committing ourselves—as students, as parents, as a society—to a vast apparatus of educational advantage.”

Arrival at an elite school also produces a misleading sense of entitlement and self-worth.

“There is nothing wrong with taking pride in one’s intellect or knowledge. There is something wrong with the smugness and self-congratulation that elite schools connive at from the moment the fat envelopes come in the mail. From orientation to graduation, the message is implicit in every tone of voice and tilt of the head, every old-school tradition, every article in the student paper, every speech from the dean. The message is: You have arrived. Welcome to the club. And the corollary is equally clear: You deserve everything your presence here is going to enable you to get. When people say that students at elite schools have a strong sense of entitlement, they mean that those students think they deserve more than other people because their SAT scores are higher.”
“The elite like to think of themselves as belonging to a meritocracy, but that’s true only up to a point. Getting through the gate is very difficult, but once you’re in, there’s almost nothing you can do to get kicked out. Not the most abject academic failure, not the most heinous act of plagiarism, not even threatening a fellow student with bodily harm—I’ve heard of all three—will get you expelled. The feeling is that, by gosh, it just wouldn’t be fair—in other words, the self-protectiveness of the old-boy network, even if it now includes girls. Elite schools nurture excellence, but they also nurture what a former Yale graduate student I know calls “entitled mediocrity.” A is the mark of excellence; A- is the mark of entitled mediocrity. It’s another one of those metaphors, not so much a grade as a promise. It means, don’t worry, we’ll take care of you. You may not be all that good, but you’re good enough.”

The elite schools are corporations with a business plan that requires the propagation of class and wealth.

“There’s a reason elite schools speak of training leaders, not thinkers—holders of power, not its critics. An independent mind is independent of all allegiances, and elite schools, which get a large percentage of their budget from alumni giving, are strongly invested in fostering institutional loyalty. As another friend, a third-generation Yalie, says, the purpose of Yale College is to manufacture Yale alumni. Of course, for the system to work, those alumni need money. At Yale, the long-term drift of students away from majors in the humanities and basic sciences toward more practical ones like computer science and economics has been abetted by administrative indifference. The college career office has little to say to students not interested in law, medicine, or business, and elite universities are not going to do anything to discourage the large percentage of their graduates who take their degrees to Wall Street. In fact, they’re showing them the way. The liberal arts university is becoming the corporate university, its center of gravity shifting to technical fields where scholarly expertise can be parlayed into lucrative business opportunities.”

 The need to produce those “destined for success” results in a narrow focus on specific skill and knowledge attainment at the cost of eliminating any possibility for intellectual adventure.  Rather than creating an environment in which a student can “find himself,” elite universities expect incoming students to show signs that they have already defined a path forward for themselves.

“So when students get to college, they hear a couple of speeches telling them to ask the big questions, and when they graduate, they hear a couple more speeches telling them to ask the big questions. And in between, they spend four years taking courses that train them to ask the little questions—specialized courses, taught by specialized professors, aimed at specialized students. Although the notion of breadth is implicit in the very idea of a liberal arts education, the admissions process increasingly selects for kids who have already begun to think of themselves in specialized terms—the junior journalist, the budding astronomer, the language prodigy. We are slouching, even at elite schools, toward a glorified form of vocational training.”

The elite schools intend to train leaders as opposed to thinkers.  Or, as Deresiewicz puts it: ‘holders of power, not its critics.  And what characteristics can one expect from these future leaders?

“Being an intellectual begins with thinking your way outside of your assumptions and the system that enforces them. But students who get into elite schools are precisely the ones who have best learned to work within the system, so it’s almost impossible for them to see outside it, to see that it’s even there. Long before they got to college, they turned themselves into world-class hoop-jumpers and teacher-pleasers, getting A’s in every class no matter how boring they found the teacher or how pointless the subject, racking up eight or 10 extracurricular activities no matter what else they wanted to do with their time.”

Deresiewicz worries that the narrowness of focus required to reach an elite school, coupled with the narrowness of focus provided by the elite school, creates professionals who have difficulty relating to people and subjects that reside outside of their cone of knowledge.  In his words, elite education can create “smart people who aren’t ‘smart’.”

“The existence of multiple forms of intelligence has become a commonplace, but however much elite universities like to sprinkle their incoming classes with a few actors or violinists, they select for and develop one form of intelligence: the analytic. While this is broadly true of all universities, elite schools, precisely because their students (and faculty, and administrators) possess this one form of intelligence to such a high degree, are more apt to ignore the value of others. One naturally prizes what one most possesses and what most makes for one’s advantages. But social intelligence and emotional intelligence and creative ability, to name just three other forms, are not distributed preferentially among the educational elite. The “best” are the brightest only in one narrow sense. One needs to wander away from the educational elite to begin to discover this.”

Deresiewicz’s article must have been sufficiently popular to encourage him to expand the topic into a book.  He was discussing his views on intellectual development with his class one day and a perceptive student offered this comment:

“So are you saying that we’re all just, like, really excellent sheep?”

The phrase suggested the title: Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life.  It is due to be released in August, 2014.  If it is as well-written and as interesting as this article, it should be a success.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Plutocratic Insurgency

There seems to be general agreement that somewhere in the 1970s-1980s there was a fundamental change in attitude towards the role of government in society, and that this was accompanied by a new economic order.  This was clearly the timeframe in which globalization began to have a major impact on societies and economies, but that, by itself, could not have caused a change in how a society viewed governance.  What were the causes of these changes and where are we headed?

Nils Gilman addresses these issues in an article in The American Interest: The Twin Insurgency.  Gilman begins with this intriguing lede:

“The postmodern state is under siege from plutocrats and criminals who unknowingly compound each other’s insidiousness.”

Both insurgencies depend on a weakened but still functional government that can be utilized to further their economic and social interests.  Both are active political players.

“From above comes the plutocratic insurgency, in which globalized elites seek to disengage from traditional national obligations and responsibilities. From libertarian activists to tax-haven lawyers to currency speculators to mineral-extraction magnates, the new global super-rich and their hired help are waging a broad-based campaign to limit the reach and capacity of government tax-collectors and regulators, or to manipulate these functions as a tool in their own cut-throat business competition.”

“From below comes a series of interconnected criminal insurgencies in which the global disenfranchised resist, coopt, and route around states as they seek ways to empower and enrich themselves in the shadows of the global economy. Drug cartels, human traffickers, computer hackers, counterfeiters, arms dealers, and others exploit the loopholes, exceptions, and failures of governance institutions to build global commercial empires. These empires then deploy their resources to corrupt, coopt, or challenge incumbent political actors.”

Of interest here is the plutocratic insurgency.

“….plutocratic insurgents do not seek to take over the state. Nor do they wish to destroy the state, since they rely parasitically on it to provide the legacy goods of social welfare: health, education, infrastructure, and so on. Rather, their aim is simpler: to carve out de facto zones of autonomy for themselves by crippling the state’s ability to constrain their freedom of (economic) action.”

The philosophical underpinnings of plutocrats must provide justification for their wealth and power.  They have come to see themselves as deserving winners in a meritocratic economic order.  If they are deserving of their status and think of themselves as “winners,” then everyone else must be a “loser” and also be deserving of their lower status.  In order to continue their “justified” winning ways they must convince or delude society into believing that what is good for the plutocrats is good for everyone.

“The defining feature of the plutocratic insurgency is its goal: to defund or de-provision public goods in order to defang a state that its adherents see as a threat to their prerogatives. (Note that, conceptually, plutocratic insurgencies differ from kleptocracies; the latter use the institutions of state to loot the population, whereas the former wish to neutralize those institutions in order to facilitate private-sector looting. In practice, these may overlap or co-mingle.) Practically speaking, plutocratic insurgency takes the form of efforts to lower taxes, which necessitates cutting spending on public goods; reducing regulations that restrict corporate action or protect workers; and defunding or privatizing public institutions such as schools, health care, infrastructure, and social space.”

The political strategy used by plutocrats is to demand austerity as the solution to all economic problems, of which budget deficits are among the worst.  A typical ploy is to demand a balanced budget in all situations.  Combining this with a demand that taxes can never be raised will inevitably lead to smaller and less effective government.

“….the ultimate effect being to de-collectivize social risks. As a palliative for the loss of public goods and state-backed programs to improve public welfare, plutocratic insurgents typically promote philanthropy (directed toward ends defined not democratically but, naturally, by themselves alone).”

Plutocrats will be able to conclude that state-provided services are not cost effective for them and are more of a burden than a benefit.

“….the hallmark of the arrival of plutocratic insurgency is when the rich begin to revolt against paying taxes for public services they never plan to use. As these public services deteriorate in quality, the result is a self-reinforcing cycle whereby plutocratic insurgents increasingly see no reason to contribute anything to their host societies and, indeed, actively contest the idea that citizenship comes with economic responsibilities.”

How did our society, in the United States, arrive at a period in which we are taken advantage of by the wealthy and yet we seem to be applauding them for their efforts?

Gilman is a bit vague in describing what generated the societal transition that occurred and made the world more welcoming to the wealthy.  He refers to the postwar period when Europe and the US expanded their governments to provide greater social and economic security to their populations as the “social modernist era.”  He concludes that, in some way, governments faltered in their promise to deliver economic security to their middle classes.

“By the 1970s, however, it was becoming clear that the social modernist states were increasingly failing to deliver on their promises. In the West, inflation eroded the technical foundations of the Bretton Woods financial order, and economic stagnation undermined the technocratic consensus in favor of Keynesian demand management and the political consensus in favor of sharing productivity gains between labor and capital.”

The fall of the Communist states was taken as confirmation that the aggressive form of capitalism practiced in the US and UK was the reason for Western victory.  Free-market capitalism was elevated to the level of economic dogma and governments retreated from attempts to place controls on it.

Gilman provides a description of what happened, but observations are not explanations.

It is interesting that he recognizes the rise of the “Washington Consensus” as global economic policy, but he does not directly tie it to his notion of a plutocratic insurgency even though it was clearly intended to propagate economic strategies favorable to plutocrats throughout the world.

“The Washington Consensus, in particular, promoted not just a dethroning of the state, but a wholesale challenge to the idea that technocratic leadership constituted the primary way to ensure collective social well-being. Pioneered as domestic policy in Margaret Thatcher’s Great Britain and Ronald Reagan’s United States, but continued thereafter in administrations controlled by their respective political opposites, the programs associated with the Washington Consensus—above all, the privatization of national industrial assets (especially of state-owned firms and utilities) and deregulation (especially of financial firms)—soon became the model London and Washington sought to export to the Global South and the post-Communist world under the rubric of ‘structural adjustment’ and ‘shock therapy’.”

Some have ascribed the decline in popularity of the social modernist state to a forgetting of the conditions that made such a state a necessity.  Others merely conclude that people have become more individualistic.  Perhaps the best rendering of the attitudes and intellectual debates in the US is provided by Daniel T. Rodgers in his book Age of Fracture.

Rodgers provides this description of the transformation in attitudes that occurred in the US.

“….in the last quarter of the [twentieth] century, through more and more domains of social thought and argument, the terms that had dominated post-World War II intellectual life began to fracture.  One heard less about society, history, and power and more about individuals, contingency, and choice.  The importance of economic institutions gave way to notions of flexible and instantly acting markets.  History was said to accelerate into a multitude of almost instantaneously accessible possibilities.  Identities became fluid and elective.  Ideas of power thinned out and receded.  In politics and institutional fact and in social imagination, the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s had been the era of consolidation.  In the last quarter of the century, the dominant tendency of the age was toward disaggregation.”

He attributes the fall from dominance of the modernist state to the disruptions caused by economic changes and globalization that shattered expectations in terms of economic security.  People began to see themselves more individuals with a need to take more responsibility for their own futures as old guarantees of economic well-being dissipated.  New conceptions of reality had to be developed.

“What crossed between these widely flung fronts of thought and argument was not a single, dominant idea—postmodern, new right, or neoliberal—but a contagion of metaphors.  Intellectual models slipped across the normal divisions of intellectual life.  Market ideas moved out of economics departments to become the new standard currency of the social sciences….Fluid, partial notions of identity, worked out in painful debates among African American and women’s movement intellectuals slipped into universal usage.  Protean, spill-over words like ‘choice’ were called upon to do more and more work in more and more circumstances.  In the process some words and phrases began to seem more natural than the rest—not similes or approximations but reality itself.”

Rodgers wishes to believe that these developments were a natural development given the evolution of circumstances.  He does allow that there might have been conscious efforts to control the intellectual debates.  Rodgers does not use the phrase “plutocratic insurgency,” but what he describes as occurring during this period could well have been described as such.

“In this reading of late twentieth-century U.S. history, the key to the age was the conscious efforts of conservative intellectuals and their institutional sponsors to reshape not only the terms of political debate but the mechanics of intellectual production itself.  By the late 1970s, Nixon’s former secretary of the Treasury, the Wall Street investor William E. Simon, was urging that ‘the only thing that can save the republican Party….is a counterintelligentsia,’ created by funneling funds to writers, journalists, and social scientists whose ideas had been frozen out of general circulation by the ‘dominant socialist-statist-collectivist orthodoxy’ prevailing in the universities and the media.”

“Within a decade, Simon’s project had dramatically reshaped the production and dissemination of ideas.”

Rodgers warns against attributing too much influence to this effort, but in a subsequent article in The American Prospect he includes this statement:

“….the modern Republican Party’s embrace of an anti-statist agenda that would have dismayed its founders has been a feat of ideological struggle as conscious and successfully managed as any in American history.”

This seems to attribute quite a bit of influence by this conscious and premeditated campaign to propagate conservative/plutocratic concepts.  Rodgers also brings to our attention what is the critical accomplishment of the plutocratic insurgency: the takeover of the Republican Party.

Isaac William Martin has produced, in his book Rich People’s Movements: Grassroots Campaigns to Untax the One Percent, an illuminating study that suggests a plutocratic insurgency has been active since the implementation of the federal income tax.  The goals then were the same as the goals now: limit taxation and limit the government’s role in the economy.  These plutocratic efforts met with various degrees of success until finally culminating in the capture of the Republican Party.

During this period of transition in attitudes, there was another transition taking place: the migration of Southern Democrats to the Republican Party.  This development is usually discussed as an instance of pandering to the racial attitudes of the Southern whites.  However, the accommodation of Southerners in the Party had other, perhaps more significant ramifications.  Consider what was desired by Southern politicians in order to maintain the “Southern way of life.”  They wished to have single party states dominated by wealthy political and economic elites.  Politicians were dedicated to maintaining a low-wage society with as little interference as possible from the federal government in terms of regulation, worker safety, healthcare, and other benefits.  The gradual progression from slaves to sharecroppers to Walmart associates was not accidental.  The Southerners were the perfect allies for the resident Republican plutocrats.

Martin concludes:

“Rich people’s movements have been thoroughly institutionalized and thereby tamed.  Many former activists are now well entrenched in the Republican Party and its allied think tanks, and their tactics are now correspondingly oriented toward inside lobbying.  Some movement goals remain unrealized only because they are nigh unachievable.”

It is not unreasonable to conclude that plutocratic insurgency is not a recent phenomenon, but rather one that has always been active.  It is not a recent response to newfound wealth, but a fundamental response to wealth itself in which conservation and propagation are required.  What is new is the degree of success of the insurgency.

Martin’s final conclusion:

“Rich people’s movements have a permanent place in the American political bestiary.  As long as one of our great political parties is allied with the radical rich, it is safe to predict that rich people’s movements will continue to influence public policy in ways that preserve—and perhaps even increase—the extremes of inequality in America.”

Conspiracy theories are popular because, occasionally, one actually exists.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Privatization: Schemes for Taking Money from the Poor and Giving It to the Rich

One of the hallmarks of civilization has been the ability to organize into societies in which government and private enterprise coexist and provide goods and services to the population in an efficient manner.  Products consistent with a profit motive where provided by private entities; goods and services that were required to be universally available were often the responsibility of the government.  The conclusion as to which services were appropriate for government provenance has changed over time as situations and attitudes change.  The trauma of two world wars and the Great Depression resulted in an elevated role for government in which state ownership of production became more common and a series of social protections were put in place to protect people from severe disruption of their lives by misfortunes like unemployment or illness.  Both proponents and critics—one proudly and the other disdainfully—refer to this as a “welfare state.”

For the last half century, a counterrevolution has been taking place in which arguments have been forcefully made that private enterprise can always produce goods and services more efficiently than government.  Consequently, more and more responsibility for goods and services has been handed over to for-profit organizations.  Whether or not greater efficiency is attained is arguable and situation dependent; what is not arguable is that privatization increases income inequality, and it changes the terms of the contract between a society and its members.

Consider the need for a new road or bridge.  If the government takes responsibility for its building then it can assess taxes to cover the expense.  Taxes are generally progressive, meaning that the wealthier will pay a greater share of the cost than the non-wealthy.  There is the further advantage of being able spread the cost over the entire society, not just those who might need to use it.  If the bridge or road is built by a private company it must recover the costs of construction, maintenance, and profit from users.  It might seem that charging a toll to be paid by the users of the facility is a fair way to go, but the net result is that the wealthy receive access to the facility at a fee that is means nothing to them, while the less wealthy may end up with a cost they would consider rather exorbitant.

With privatization, we have essentially replaced a system where taxes fall most heavily on the rich with one in which taxes fall most heavily on the poor.  Since what is privatized is generally a critical service, the private operators can rest assured that if they run into trouble, the public sector will have to come to their rescue.  One might think of privatization as plutocracy’s greatest triumph.

The requirement that a profit must be made is an inherent inefficiency introduced by privatization.  To cover that cost and maintain the aura of efficiency, either payroll or services must be cut.  Not only have we instituted a regressive tax, we have given license to drive down wages.  Wage earners will generally suffer under privatization while managers will earn much more than government-employed managers.

Privatization is moving into areas in which it has no business.  This is plutocracy’s greatest danger.  For-profit colleges have been active at the college level for a number of years.  The business plan seems to be recruitment of economically and/or academically deficient students, convincing them to take out government loans to cover outrageous fees that are often many times higher than those at public schools, and, for the few that graduate, providing programs that rarely lead to jobs with sufficient income to pay off their debts.  The federal government is just now trying to fight back against these predatory practices, but is being stymied by the plutocrats.  For-profit schemes are now making inroads into the K-12 arena.  The scam is different, but the potential for harm is even greater.

The most incredible trend developing is the entry of for-profit companies into something called “offender-funded justice.”  For example, governments are beginning to offload responsibility for probation supervision and collection of fines to private companies rather than use taxes to cover the costs.  There is no efficiency argument to be made here; costs that once were covered by general taxation are being placed on those who fall into the hands of our justice system.  Those on probation must fulfill the terms of their probation plus pay a fee to the probation company.  The net result is that companies now make a profit from the most disadvantaged in our communities and they can use the threat of imprisonment to aid in collecting their fees.

More insidious in the long run is the unraveling of the social contract. This was what troubled Tony Judt the most as he wrote Ill Fares the Land just before his death.  If citizens receive their essential services not from the state, and the society it represents, of what value is society to the citizen?

“…a social service provided by a private company does not present itself as a collective good to which all citizens have a right.  Unsurprisingly, there has been a sharp falling off in the number of people claiming benefits and services to which they are legally entitled.”

“The result is an eviscerated society.  from the point of view of the person at the bottom—seeking unemployment pay, medical attention, social benefits or other officially mandated services—it is no longer to the state, the administration or the government that he or she instinctively turns.  The service or benefit in question is now often ‘delivered’ by a private intermediary.  As a consequence, the thick mesh of social interactions and public goods has been reduced to a minimum, with nothing except authority and obedience binding the citizen to the state.”

Judt provides an interesting historical analogy for our current policy.

“If your tax returns are audited in the US today, this is because the government has decided to investigate you; but the investigation itself will very likely be conducted by a private company.”

“Governments, in short, now increasingly farm out their responsibilities to private firms that offer to administer them better than the state and at a savings.  In the eighteenth century this was referred to as tax farming.”

In prerevolutionary France, the monarchy accepted a lower return in upfront funds and allowed the private company to keep whatever it could collect.  Its profit was the excess over the upfront payment to the king.

“After the fall of the monarchy in France, it was widely conceded that tax farming is absurdly inefficient.  In the first place it discredits the state, represented in the popular mind by a grasping private profiteer.  Secondly, it generates considerably less revenue than a well-administered system of government collection, if only because of the profit margin accruing to the private collector.  And thirdly, you get disgruntled taxpayers.”

“….the problem we have created for ourselves is essentially comparable to that which faced the ancien régime.”

Judt turns to Edmund Burke to bring his analogy to a conclusion.

“Any society, he wrote in Reflections on the Revolution in France, which destroys the fabric of its state, must soon be ‘disconnected into the dust and powder if individuality’.  By eviscerating public services and reducing them to a network of farmed-out private providers, we have begun to dismantle the fabric of the state.  As for the dust and powder of individuality: it resembles nothing so much as Hobbes’s war of all against all, in which life for many people has once again become solitary, poor and more than a little nasty.”

Those among us who occasionally predict our demise as a nation because they fear we are becoming like modern France have it all wrong.  Our current plutocracy more nearly resembles the soon-to-be-dead monarchy of the eighteenth century.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Assessing Teacher Performance: Certification, Merit Pay, and Tenure

Teachers believe they are under attack by a collection of would-be “reformers” who claim that our schools are failing their students and the teachers are to blame.  It is assumed that if we would only fire the bad teachers and replace them with good ones all our problems would go away.  The absurdity of such a simplistic argument does not prevent it from winning in the court of public opinion.  Many people have been convinced that teachers and their unions are protecting unworthy teachers.  The teachers have probably hurt themselves by resisting so strenuously the attempts to impose a mechanism for assessing their performance.

Diane Ravitch addresses this issue at length in her book Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools.  She claims over and over again that the “reformers” wish to judge teachers’ competence solely by the performance of their students on standardized tests.  Ravitch is correct in arguing against such a procedure.  Tests of students test student performance directly.  Teacher performance is a much more complicated issue that cannot be deduced from a simple comparison of year-to-year results.

One has to wonder if the teachers wouldn’t be in a much better position today if they had accepted the threat of externally imposed assessment as a challenge and devised a credible mechanism for assessment of their own in response.  Consider what Ravitch describes as the process teachers go through in order to obtain tenure.

“After a teacher has been on the job for three or four years, depending on state law, the principal decides whether he or she qualifies for tenure.  By that time, the principal and her assistants or department chairs are supposed to have observed the teacher repeatedly, seen the conduct of the classroom, reviewed the kinds of assignments the teacher’s classes were turning in.  By that time, the teacher should have gotten support and help to improve at the job.  Only after observation and positive evaluation by supervisors—and sometimes peers—do teachers receive tenure.  When the principal awards tenure, he or she has determined that the teacher is well qualified to teach and deserves the protection of due process.”

This is a reasonable approach to assessing the capabilities of a teacher.  Now consider a description of teacher evaluation provided by one of the reformers that who receives so much criticism from Ravitch: Bill Gates.

“A new system requires more than just taking the test scores of the students and seeing how they improve after a year with a teacher.  It involves things like feedback from students, parents and peer teachers and an investment of time in reviewing actual teaching.  Tools like video can be used so that a teacher can send peers a video showing him trying to do something hard, like keeping a class focused, and ask for advice.  Instead of people coming into the classroom, which is quite invasive, a webcam can be used to gather samples for evaluation.”

Is the process Gates describes much different than that which Ravitch described?  Gates makes the reasonable suggestion that feedback from students and parents be a formal part of the evaluation, but of most significance is that Gates describes a continual process while Ravitch describes a once-in-a-career evaluation.  Gates’ approach can be used to compare one teacher with another and can serve as the basis for paying one teacher more than another—merit pay.  Ravitch claims that merit pay does not provide a proper incentive to teachers and cannot be done fairly.  Why would this be true?

Ravitch provides this background:

“Merit pay is not an innovative idea.  It has been tried in school districts across the nation for the past century.  Richard J. Murnane and David K. Cohen surveyed the history of merit pay in the mid 1980s and concluded that it ‘does not provide a solution to the problem of how to motivate teachers’.”

Ravitch claims that two approaches were tried and both failed.

“One offered bonuses to teachers if their students got higher test scores.  The other offered bonuses to teachers who got superior evaluations from their principals.”

It is not surprising that such simple approaches would fail, but that is not the approach being suggested by sincere people like Bill Gates.  Ravitch wishes to associate the practice of merit pay with businesses who wish to hire and fire without any impediments.  She implies that such a practice is inconsistent with an organization of professionals such as a school staff.  Indiscriminate hiring and firing is inappropriate, but merit pay is the norm for professionals, not the exception.  Why would teachers be an exception?

Ravitch makes this claim about teachers:

“They don’t like merit pay, because they know it will destroy the collaboration that is necessary for a healthy school climate.”

So, professors, doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers, accountants, etc. can collaborate, but teachers can’t?

Ravitch provides this insight into the teaching profession.

“About 40 percent of those who enter teaching leave the profession within the first five years.  In some urban districts, where class sizes are larger and teaching conditions are more difficult than in suburban schools, the attrition rate is even higher.  Some leave because they are asked to leave.  Some leave for easier jobs in the suburbs; some quit because the job was too hard for them, they didn’t like their assignments, or they didn’t get the resources and help they needed.”

This certainly provides the image of teaching as being a difficult profession.  There is no argument there.  However, it also suggests schools that graduate students with an education degree and declare them ready to teach are doing a miserable job.  Ravitch’s data indicates that people are showing up at schools with little training and little knowledge about what it means to be a teacher.

Doesn’t this high attrition rate suggest that formal evaluation—and assistance—should begin immediately and that new teachers be regularly reevaluated?  The high early attrition rate also suggests that it is likely that some of those not destined to be successful teachers could make it past the tenure evaluation.  Wouldn’t it be valuable to have a mechanism whereby unsuccessful teachers can be identified at any point of service?

Ravitch admits there are problems with tenure for teachers.

“Traditionally teachers are laid off based on seniority: the teacher with the least seniority gets the first pink slip.  There should be a better way to do it, but it is not obvious what the better way is.”

She also admits that it is useful to continue to reevaluate tenured teachers.

“Even tenured teachers should be regularly evaluated by their supervisors.  The principal and the assistant principal should regularly observe teachers, not to judge them, but to provide them with useful feedback about how to improve their lessons.”

But not to judge them?  How can an evaluation not involve judgment?  How can such a process not arrive at the conclusion that some teachers are more effective than others?  And why shouldn’t these evaluations be recorded and be available when staff reduction becomes an issue? Is it because they are subjective?  All professionals receive subjective evaluations.  It goes with the territory.

Consider an engineering firm that assigns its staff to work for a variety of customers as analysts, designers, researchers, and consultants.  The engineers will have a wide variety of skills and experiences.  Some will be assigned easy tasks, some difficult tasks, and some impossible tasks.  Some will perform well on simple tasks, and some fail on difficult tasks.  The problem is to rank performance of all the engineers when a failure on a difficult project could be deemed higher performance than success on a simple project.  It can be done.  It is done all the time.  It is not easy, but it is important that it be done, both for salary determination and for drawing conclusions about future assignments.

Schools and teachers are in an analogous situation.  All classes provide unique sets of challenges to teachers.  Some subjects are more difficult to teach than others.  Some classes have students who are difficult to teach, others are an assembly of eager learners; this becomes a factor in assessing the teacher’s performance.  Feedback from test scores is equivalent to feedback from a customer—it should be noted and considered, but not depended upon entirely.  These are subjective evaluations; they can and should be performed.  Merit pay works when the differences are not too extreme and when the process is transparent.  Teachers must know what the ground rules are, and those ranking teachers must be able and willing to explain and defend all such decisions on the basis of those ground rules.

All of this suggests that teachers, and the teaching profession, would be better off if they had embraced regular assessment of performance rather than fighting against it.  Such a tactic would have provided them the opportunity to produce a viable approach rather than having a nonviable one imposed upon them.

Most professions demand a demonstration of competency from those who would enter the profession.  Teaching in the US apparently does not.  On the assumption that education schools cannot easily be upgraded, teachers could improve their standing as professionals by applying strict standards to beginning teachers: helping those who need and want help and eliminating those who do not belong in the profession.  The ground rules for performance assessment would make clear to new teachers what is expected of them and provide a mechanism for grading their performance as they acquire experience.

Performance evaluation should take place at regular intervals; preferably every year or every other year.  There are valid reasons for maintaining tenure, but it can become time consuming and effort intensive to terminate a tenured teacher for cause.  If performed with due diligence, these regular evaluations will have created a record of poor performance that can be helpful in justifying any termination.  Teachers must create the impression that they are capable of managing their profession.

The mechanism used for assessing teacher performance is also available for use in salary or bonus decisions and provides a basis for defending any decisions.  If staff reductions must be made, the assessments provide a better approach to deciding who should leave than last-in-first-out.

Teachers wish, and deserve, to be treated as professionals.  They can help their cause by assuming more of the trappings of professionalism.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Education: Diane Ravitch on International Test Scores

Diane Ravitch has been the loudest and most persistent defender of our traditional public school system.  She does not claim that improvement is not needed, but she does claim that many of the criticisms leveled against our schools and educators are unfounded, and that most proposals for “reform” will only make things worse.  Ravitch collects her facts and figures and lays them out in her latest book Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools.

Ravitch sees our school systems as being in a state of crisis—not because they are performing poorly, but because they are under attack by those who would end our system of public education and replace it.  A system originated in the belief that equality of educational opportunity was a requirement of a functional society would be replaced by a system in which inequality of opportunity is inevitable.

“….what is happening now is an astonishing development.  It is not meant to reform public education but is a deliberate effort to replace public education with a privately managed, free-market system of schooling….This essential institution, responsible for producing a democratic citizenry and tasked with providing equality of educational opportunity is at risk.  Under the cover of ‘choice’ and ‘freedom,’ we may lose one of our society’s greatest resources, our public school system….”

In 1983 a report was issued by a committee organized during the Reagan administration: A Nation at Risk.

“The commission warned that the nation was endangered by ‘a rising tide of mediocrity’ in the schools; it pointed to the poor standing of American students on international tests, a recurring phenomenon since the first international test was offered in the mid-1960s.  Its basic claim was that the American standard of living was threatened by the loss of major manufacturing industries—such as automobiles, machine tools, and steel mills—to other nations, which the commission attributed to the mediocre quality of our public educational system….”

Ravitch correctly points out:

“….this claim shifted the blame from shortsighted corporate leadership to the public schools.”

Ever since, this notion of a failing school system has persisted, even though the predictions of impending doom have not materialized.

“….A Nation at Risk warned that if we didn’t change course, our nation was in deep trouble.  We stood to lose our global leadership, our economy, and even our identity as a people.  A very stern warning.  But thirty years after that warning was issued, the American economy was the largest in the world, and the nation did not seem to be in danger of losing its identity or its standing in the world.  How could this be?”

Ravitch produced her book in order to explain “how this could be.”

“Critics may find this hard to believe, but students in American public schools today are studying and mastering far more difficult topics in science and mathematics than their peers forty and fifty years ago.”

Dozens of charts are provided to prove her point that schools and student performance have steadily improved over the years.  Where problems exist they can be attributed to the great American traditions of poverty and segregation of minority groups.

“Public education is not broken.  It is not failing or declining.  The diagnosis is wrong, and the solutions of the corporate reformers are wrong.  Our urban schools are in trouble because of concentrated poverty and racial segregation.  But public education as such is not ‘broken’.”

Much of the criticism of our schools arises from the performance of our students on international tests where they can be compared with peers from other countries.  The gold standard for such tests has become the one supported by the OECD, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).  This test is given every two years.

Generally, US students end up in the middle of the pack in PISA assessments.  This is deemed unacceptable. Ravitch dances around this reality and points to improved performance over the years in other international comparisons, and she points out that US students from schools that are not hindered by poverty or segregation score quite highly on PISA.  This approach is not entirely convincing.

A more enlightening analysis of student performance was provided by Paul E. Peterson, Ludger Woessmann, Eric A. Hanushek and Carlos Xabel Lastra-Anadón.  The US has a test that it has used for decades to evaluate the performance of its own students, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  These authors took results from NAEP and normalized them to PISA results in order to illustrate how the students from each US state might have performed on the PISA test.

“Since the United States participates in the PISA examinations, it is possible to make direct comparisons between the average performance of U.S. students and that of their peers elsewhere. But to compare the percentages of students deemed proficient in math or reading, one must ascertain the PISA equivalent of the NAEP standard of proficiency. To obtain that information, we perform a crosswalk between NAEP and PISA. The crosswalk is made possible by the fact that representative (but separate) samples of the high-school graduating Class of 2011 took the NAEP and PISA math and reading examinations. NAEP tests were taken in 2007 when the Class of 2011 was in 8th grade and PISA tested 15-year-olds in 2009, most of whom are members of the Class of 2011.”

Such cross comparisons may not be particularly accurate, but they are informative.  This chart was provided to assess competencies in mathematics:

Note that some states produce students who score among the best in the world and some states produce students who score among the worst in the world.  How can one refer to an “educational system” when it appears that we have 50 systems (51 with DC)?  Note also that states where teachers are heavily unionized tend to perform better than states that are fervently anti-union.  As Ravitch duly noted, poverty and segregation play a role, but regional culture and politics also contribute to performance.

Ravitch provides an interesting and compelling perspective on the issue of performance testing.  She wishes us to conclude that striving to be at the top of the testing ladder is not a healthy strategy for a nation.  She introduces us to a study performed by Keith Baker who was a long-time analyst in the Department of Education.

Baker looked at the results of an early international student comparison performed in 1964.

“Baker looked at the per capita gross domestic product of the nations whose students competed in 1964.  He found that ‘the higher a nation’s test score 40 years ago, the worse its economic performance on this measure of national health—the opposite of what the Chicken Littles raising the alarm over the poor test scores of U.S. children claimed would happen.’  The rate of economic growth improved, he held, as test scores dropped.  There was no relation between a nation’s productivity and its test scores.”

How might this make sense?  The goal of education is not just to provide a student with knowledge, it is to teach the student how to acquire knowledge on his/her own and to help them learn how to use knowledge effectively.  Neither of these two things shows up on tests.

“A certain level of educational achievement may be considered ‘a platform for launching national success, but once that platform is reached, it may be bad policy to pursue further gains in test scores because focusing on the scores diverts attention, effort, and resources away from other factors that are more important determinants of national success’.”

“The United States has been a successful nation, Baker argues, because its schools cultivate a certain ‘spirit’ which he defines as ‘ambition, inquisitiveness, independence, and perhaps most important, the absence of a fixation on testing and test scores’.”

Ravitch also provides the perspective of the China native educator Yong Zhao:

“….it is bizarre for the world’s leader in science and technology, the nation with the most powerful economy in the world, to be on the perpetual hunt for another nation to emulate.”

Ravitch delivers her final thought on the matter:

“More testing does not make children smarter.  More testing does not reduce achievement gaps.  More testing does nothing to reduce poverty and racial isolation, which are the root causes of low academic achievement.  More testing will, however, undermine the creative spirit, the innovative spirit, the entrepreneurial spirit that have made our economy and our society successful.”

Ravitch’s fears that traditional public education will be taken over by free market ideologues and predatory capitalists are real.  That is exactly what many would like to see happen.  Allowing for-profit private organizations to participate in college education has been a disaster.  Let’s not let it happen to our younger children.

Monday, July 7, 2014

For-Profit Education: The British Are Even Dumber Than We Are

Public education has been under attack in the United States for some time.  Free market ideologues and predatory capitalists are anxious to get a piece of the huge educational pie.  They have been rather successful in propagating the myth that our schools are failing to educate our children and our economy is suffering as a result.  Those who might be tempted to heed this siren song should consider the one example we have of free competition between for-profit and non-profit organizations in higher education.

Steve Eisman was one of those who became famous and wealthy by betting that the subprime mortgage industry and the associated financial instruments were going to crash back before the Great Recession.  In 2010, a few years after the financial debacle when the crimes and misdeeds responsible had been identified, he was moved to make this statement:

"I thought that there would never again be an opportunity to be involved with an industry as socially destructive and morally bankrupt as the subprime mortgage industry. I was wrong. The for-profit education industry has proven equal to the task."

As in any industry, there are good and bad actors.  What seems to have incensed Eisman was the common practice of maximizing profit at the expense of students and taxpayers.  For many for-profits the path to prosperity meant recruiting as many students as possible, whether they were capable of college-level work or not.  Once recruited, assistance was provided in obtaining student loans that guaranteed a profit for the schools even if the students failed.  Since the government would ultimately pay the bill, exorbitant tuitions could be charged even for worthless educational programs.

The profits from this scam were sufficient to purchase legislative and regulatory protection for many years, but all good things must come to an end.  The claims of enough people like Eisman eventually make it into the public consciousness, and things like false advertising eventually will get you into trouble.  The federal government also became weary of issuing loans that would never be repaid and began to threaten to withhold student loans for “subprime” academic programs.

An article by Kevin Carey in the New York Times provides an update.  Carey writes of one of the worst offenders among these educational organizations: Corinthian Colleges.

“Late last month, Corinthian Colleges, a publicly traded for-profit higher education company that enrolls 72,000 students at over 100 campuses nationwide, announced its imminent bankruptcy.”

“Facing declining enrollment and multiple investigations into its financial and educational practices from parties including the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a group of state attorneys general, Corinthian was also under pressure from Department of Education regulators demanding information about practices that, the department said, included “falsifying job placement data used in marketing claims to prospective students and allegations of altered grades and attendance.” The department announced that it was temporarily withholding some of the federal student aid money that makes up the vast majority of Corinthian’s $1.6 billion in annual revenues. The company said the cash delay would render it effectively insolvent.”

“Last week, Corinthian and the Education Department agreed to negotiate a settlement that will amount to an orderly dissolution of the company.”

The Obama administration has proposed that programs at schools whose students typically do not make enough on graduation to pay back their loans will not be eligible for student loans.  Since many schools depend on this revenue for their existence, this is a big deal.

“The industry sued to block the regulations, which remain tied up in lengthy judicial and federal rule-making procedures. But that didn’t prevent the administration from calculating which programs would have failed under the new regulations.”

Carey produced this chart detailing the results of the Department of Education in grading the various educational organizations.

Carey provides additional background.

“To end up in these categories, programs must have terrible results. At Corinthian-owned Everest College’s Newport News, Va., campus, for example, more than 500 students completed the medical assistant certificate program during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years. After hitting the job market, they earned an average of $12,553 per year in 2011. Since 90 percent of full-time medical assistants are paid at least $21,080 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this suggests that many of these students couldn’t get jobs in their field at all. The 10-month program costs ‘about $20,000,’ according to a telephone representative whom I spoke to this week only after an online representative refused to tell me the price, saying, “I don’t have access to that information.” It’s not surprising that a third of all the program’s borrowers defaulted on their loans.”

Note that Corinthian Colleges is only third on this list of bad actors.  It would not be surprising if others suffered the same fate.

The ethical and academic failings common in the for-profit industry have been know for many years.  It was with a mixture of amazement and amusement that an article was encountered bemoaning that the UK had decided to copy the system in place in the US.  It seems that once an idea invades the brain of a free-market ideologue, it is incapable of being altered.  A good idea in principle must be a good idea in practice.

The British seem to have noticed that many of the highest-rated US universities were private institutions, whereas the UK’s flagship schools were public.  They also seem to have assumed that private is always better than public.  Unfortunately, they also seemed to be unable to recognize a difference between non-profit private and for-profit private.

An article by Carol Matlack in Bloomberg Businessweek provides a look at how this is working out for the British: The British Have Their Own Student Loan Mess.

“When the British government opened up its student loan program to private institutions in 2011, Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said the goal was to unleash market forces in a system long dominated by stodgy public universities. Getting access to loans would help private colleges compete for students, he said, encouraging innovation and putting pressure on public institutions to hold down tuition increases.”

“The forces unleashed, however, weren’t exactly what Willetts had in mind. Reports of alleged abuses by private institutions are proliferating, including a recent investigation by the Guardian of a for-profit college in London that allegedly scooped up millions in loans as it tripled its enrollment with students who were recruited off the streets and rarely attended classes. Staff at additional for-profit schools have complained of similar practices and low educational standards. According to the Guardian, some 40 percent of student-loan recipients at private institutions are foreigners, including a large number of Bulgarians and Romanians.”

One of the practices employed in the US was for schools to pay people if they would just show up for class occasionally.  The tuition earned by the school was far more than the payment to the student making it lucrative to recruit the homeless, for example.  In their effort to outdo the US it seems that the British have taken this scam to another level by providing the “stipend” directly to the “student” with government funds.

“Recalling similar practices in the U.S. a few years ago, the Guardian reported last month that the for-profit London School of Science and Technology had tripled its enrollment since 2011, raking in some £6.5 million in loans for students who “blatantly” lacked qualifications to attend college. Class attendance rates are below 40 percent, the newspaper said, and students refer to the school as “the ATM” because they can receive government loans and grants for their living expenses in addition to the tuition aid provided directly to the school.”

The British were also exceptionally generous in setting the terms under which student loans must be repaid.

“Debts incurred by students at for-profit schools could weigh more heavily on British taxpayers than on borrowers because of the government’s generous repayment terms. After leaving school, borrowers don’t have to make loan payments as long as they earn less than about $35,000 a year. Those earning more make monthly payments that equal 9 percent of any income over $35,000.”

What could they have been thinking?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Age and Dependence: Overestimating the "Burden" of the Elderly

The large "baby boom" generation is now reaching age sixty-five and over the next few decades is expected to place unsustainable demands on our Social Security and Medicare programs. That is what economists, newspapers, and politicians have told us. Lincoln Caplan believes that we are being misled by naive analyses of the issue. He has written an article for The American Scholar titled The Fear Factor. Caplan opens with this lede:

"Long-held predictions of economic chaos as baby boomers grow old are based on formulas that are just plain wrong"

One commonly utilizes a dependency ratio to estimate the effect of an aging population. The elderly are gathered into a bin including everyone over age 65. The number in that bin is divided by the number of people of working age (15-64, as used by Caplan, although the UN uses 20 as the youngest working age and arrives at different numbers. Caplan’s numbers will be used here.) and multiplied by 100. It is assumed that those over 65 must be supported by those of working age. In 2010 this "old-age" dependency factor was about 12. By 2030 it is expected to increase to about 22. The net result is that by this measure the burden on the working population will increase by about 60 percent.

Caplan resents the notion that all people over 65 are a fiscal liability, and believes the utilization of this dependency factor to be grossly inaccurate as a predictor of the impact the generation of boomers will have.

"With an objective formula, it seems to document that those who make up the gray tsunami are a large and growing liability, undermining the country’s assets. The old-age dependency ratio appears to justify the view of alarmists like former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, who testified before the Senate that this outsized group of aging Americans ‘makes our Social Security and Medicare programs unsustainable in the long run’."

"A demographic tool has become an economic one, treating a demographic challenge as both an economic crisis and a basis for pessimism justifying drastic reductions in bedrock government programs, including those supporting children and the poor."

To begin with, not all the elderly are dependent on government provided assistance for survival. Only 40 percent of consumption by those receiving benefits from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid arises from government transfers. While some are highly dependent, many are much less so.

Medicare is the program most at risk due to the increase in the elderly. It is burdened by an outrageously expensive healthcare system, and the fact that people will eventually become sick and die. However, several analyses that include a more sophisticated approach have concluded that the surge in expenses to Medicare is being overestimated.

Caplan refers to work reported by demographers Warren C. Sanderson and Sergei Scherbov in Science magazine.

"They wrote that chronological age is less useful than life expectancies in predicting national health costs, because ‘most of those costs occur in the last few years of life.’ Sanderson and Scherbov developed a measure they called the adult disability dependency ratio, defined as the number of adults 20 and over with disabilities, divided by the number of adults 20 and over without them. In the United States, this measure will likely remain flat for the next generation, meaning that the cost of caring for the disabled is not likely to skyrocket as a result of a major increase in the number of disabled people."

Another approach taken by the Stanford economist John Shoven was presented by Caplan.

"’Consider two alternative definitions of who is elderly in the population,’ Shoven writes, ‘those who are currently 65 or older and those who have a mortality rate of 1.5 percent or worse.’ In 2007, when he wrote this paper, the two definitions were equal: the average mortality rate was 1.5 percent or worse for 65-year-olds. According to the U.S. Census, the population of those who are 65 or older will increase from about 12.5 percent of the population in 2035 to about 20.5 percent in 2050. But "the percent of the population with mortality risks higher than 1.5 percent (currently also 12.5 percent of the population) never gets above 16.5 percent," because of what James Fries of the Stanford School of Medicine called ‘the compression of morbidity’—the tendency of illnesses to occur during a short period before death if the first serious illness can be postponed. That number ‘is projected to be just slightly below 15 percent and declining by 2050’."

"By the conventional measure of years since birth, the population considered elderly is expected to grow by 64 percent. By Shoven’s measure, on the other hand, it is expected to grow by just 32 percent."

These approaches try to estimate how need for medical care will be distributed throughout the coming years. Another source of potential error is associated with projecting what the cost of that medical care might be. Currently, the rate of Medicare per capita expenditure growth is approaching zero. In each of the last three years the Congressional Budget Office has had to lower its projection of Medicare expenditures. The fact that most senior citizens have modest medical expenses until the near end-of-life period means that projections of costs depend greatly on how society decides to treat healthcare for the terminally ill. The current approach often involves spending large sums on treatments that may add just a few months to life expectancy—a few months that are often painful and unwelcome. A change in how we treat illness for those near death could have a large effect on the economics of Medicare.

Caplan also provides insight into why the Social Security Program is projected to run short of sufficient funds to provide full benefits to its recipients.

"In 2021, the trustees project, Social Security benefits will exceed tax revenues plus interest income and the program will start to draw down its reserves. In 2033, when the last boomers will be turning 69 and the number of Americans on Social Security is projected to double, the reserves are projected to be depleted and tax revenues are projected to cover only 77 percent of benefits due, unless there is a change in revenues or benefits."

This situation is often interpreted as "the nation has promised more than it can deliver." But that is not true. When the last major change to Social Security was made in 1983, the baby boomers were known to exist. The surge in senior citizens could hardly have been a surprise to the planners. Rather, what would have been a surprise was the stagnation of wages and the resultant fall in revenue.

Social Security is designed to provide a greater fraction of preretirement income to those at the lower incomes, and a lesser fraction to those at higher incomes. As incomes increase, there comes a point at which people pay into the system more than they get out of it. Stagnant wages have made it more difficult to support the lower income groups because more people than expected are in the low income groups.

"Robert M. Ball, who was commissioner of Social Security under Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, proposed that the program return to taxing 90 percent of American earnings, the level set in 1983 when Congress last significantly reformed Social Security."

Much of the income gains in recent decades have gone to very high wage earners and have escaped taxation. The 90 percent target has now been replaced by a reality where only 83.5 percent of earnings are taxed.

"….the government sets a cut-off point each year for taxation of earnings based on the amount of average American earnings. In 2014, that number is $117,000. But since high-end earnings have grown faster than the average, today only about 83.5 percent of earnings are taxed. In Ball’s view, the system has been over-protective of high-end earners and ‘a major part of the Social Security shortfall is due to the fact that a higher and higher proportion of earnings is escaping Social Security taxation.’ If 90 percent of earnings were taxed, the maximum would rise to about $217,000. In 2004, when he was 89, Ball wrote, ‘This proposal is not a new policy, but an old one restored’."

Social Security has not made excessive promises; the nature of our economy has changed and society has not yet adjusted to those changes—but it must.

Neither Social Security nor Medicare is an extravagant program that society cannot afford. There is no need to panic.
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