Friday, December 6, 2013

Comment on last post

Blogger ate another comment so I am going to put it out as a post.

Mark wonders why a movement with smart people and admirable goals can have issues with corruption.  I think that the key piece to understand here is that, in a real organization, the goals will be a mix of real goals and marketing. 

You only have to look at the rhetoric of he top 1% of earners being job creators (remember trickle down economics) to see how this can happen.  After all, the goal of making everyone wealthier and more prosperous is noble.  But it is a "heads I win, tails you lose" scenario.  If trickle down happens the elite get more money.  If it doesn't happen the elite get more money.  It's worth noting that the elite do pretty well regardless of what the truth is.

Similarly, if charter schools improve outcomes for all children than the people who run charter schools will get rich and help kids.  If they fail, these same people will simply get rich (as we won't be able to see failure fast enough to prevent vast profits.  Now I am positive that 100% of these people want the first scenario.  Everybody would like to be wealthy and to be a moral hero at the same time. 

It gets tricky when these goals conflict.  These things range from the subtle (that one study is concerning but maybe it was a fluke) to the less so (this stuff is great marketing and provides cover for all sorts of actions).  It isn't helped by our media preference for news about problems and not news about "another senior class graduates from a public school with a solid education provided by hard working union members" -- which is anodyne and unremarkable news.

So I think that option #5 (it is all marketing) should show up.  It's a variation of #3, except it does not necessarily require the people saying this stuff to necessarily believe it. 


  1. It's true that all organizations have issues with corruption, but the reform movement seems exceptionally vulnerable to these problems and has shown itself to be almost completely incapable of self-policing.

    What makes the movement special in such an unfortunate way?

  2. Are we really sure it is more corrupt than the sub-prime loan market? Or the pension fund market? Have you seen 2 and 20 hedge funds in retirement accounts?

    I might be a property of any "take your money now" and "check our (hard to measure) results later" enterprise.

    1. "More corrupt" is a problematic standard. If we look at total dollars, the financial sector will always dominate. By other metrics -- number of people involved both as workers and students, volume of tax dollars (depending on how you count the bailout), deviation from intended purpose -- education might come out number two to pensions.

      But I think the quantitative is less interesting than the qualitative. These other cases strike me as fairly standard regulatory capture with the mainstream press lulled into a false sense of security but, with some exceptions, not actively facilitating. With reform, the proponents were, from the beginning, strangely blind to the obvious risks.