On a related note, there is this recent news item on Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer casting doubt on the extent to which the First Amendment protects the ability of people like the pastor in Florida to burn books. I may be blogging separately on that absurdity soon.
Nestled in an obscure Florida Attorney General candidates’ debate Friday was a fundamental disagreement over the nature of rights. The specific issue at hand was whether health care is a right.
Notably, one Democratic candidate, Dan Gelber, asserted the following on the matter:
Health care should be a right, not a privilege.
Note the verb “should be.” Gelber didn’t claim it “was” a right. Such phrasing seems to deny that rights are fundamental to all individuals (e.g.; “endowed by their Creator“) and not determined by the whims of popular opinion or government decree. He is suggesting, at least in his wording, that rights become rights after being acknowledged by government.
Government creation of rights is anathema to the framers’ understanding of rights. Rights, to them, were innate to being human. They were only to be protected by government, not dependent on government for their existence.
A recently vetoed bill in Florida that would have tied teacher pay to student test performance may have at first glance appeared to introduce something into the public education system that many have criticized it for lacking: an emphasis on results. However, the wisdom of such a significant change may not be so clear.
The Florida Legislature recently passed a bill that would base a large part of teacher pay on their students’ performance on standardized tests. It would also end tenure for new teachers. After much speculation, Florida Governor Charlie Crist vetoed the bill Thursday.
In theory, such a move would have incentivized teachers to make sure their students are achieving academically. In reality, as with many government policies, there may also have been some unintended consequences.
Since such merit pay would be based on improvement in standardized test scores, the degree to which these tests adequately reflect the knowledge that should be learned by students is of critical importance. Many in Florida have criticized the state’s chief standardized test, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), for not necessarily accurately assessing what students have learned. Critics, including teachers’ unions and students, have also argued that focus on such tests gives an incentive to teachers to teach solely to the test, de-emphasizing the students’ overall education. Under the merit-pay bill, the teachers’ pay would have been linked partly to their students’ improvement on the FCAT, further exacerbating the perceived problem with the emphasis placed on the much-maligned test.
Kudos to the Web site for Hillsborough County (Florida) Public Schools for being among the 14 Web sites to obtain a perfect score on the Sunshine Review’s “Sunny Awards” — recognizing the most transparent government Web sites in the United States. Sunshine Review is a non-profit organization, and wiki, that reports on transparency in state and local government.
Also, consider this post a break from the cynical as we head into the weekend. At least one government department/agency is doing one thing right.
As a brief addendum to my previous post on the sinkhole problem in Plant City, Florida, I find it important to add one more note. Since posting the column, some have suggested that those property owners with property insurance would fare well under the circumstances. However, it’s important to point out that no matter who actually pays for the repairs, the money has to come from somewhere.
Insurance is a risk pool. When the risk is higher, the cost for the insurance is higher. Having multiple sinkholes in an area represents an increased risk. If the sinkhole repairs are paid by insurance companies, those companies would have to make up for that loss by possibly raising insurance premiums for areas at risk for these sinkholes.
In the end, there is no getting around the negative economic costs of the sinkholes. There is no free lunch.
Plant City, Florida and surrounding areas are sinking. Following the marathon of water-pumping in area fields, roads are being closed and property damaged. A rare cold snap combined with the need to protect the “Winter Strawberry Capital of the World” from a season of damaged crops is to blame.
Some are pointing fingers at the farmers, others are not. Regardless of who’s to blame, the fact remains that the sinkholes developing across the area are a threat to people and their property. The cold weather is also a threat to the livelihoods of the area’s many growers. Good news is hard to come by right now.
Amid this dilemma, however, some people – ever the optimists – have suggested that the proliferation of sinkholes will actually help the local economy. The same argument is often made when hurricanes ravage an area. In the recent sinkhole example, the argument goes something like this: The sinkholes will need to be filled and property will need to be repaired; the individuals and companies repairing the damage will benefit and then spend their earnings on other economic goods and services, thus creating a cycle of beneficial economic activity.
Economists, however, have referred to this reasoning as the “broken window fallacy.” In this example, the optimist may argue that there is a chain-reaction of beneficial economic activity that proceeds a vandal breaking a car window. The car owner will pay someone to repair the window. The window repairer will use some of that money to buy new shoes for his kids. The shoemaker will use the money from the window repairer to buy his wife a watch. The watchmaker will then spend the money from the shoemaker on something else … and on and on.
Another new worry for the new year: increased unemployment compensation taxes for Florida employers. As I’ve blogged about previously, employers could see their taxes for this fund increase to as much as 11 times what they have been paying.
A more recent article notes the likely outcome for small businesses under this increase, predicted by an executive at a staffing firm:
The first things likely to go will be vacation time and sick leave, McLeod said. After those savings are exhausted, more layoffs may be the only option for some companies. “This increased tax is going to cost jobs, running unemployment up even higher,” McLeod said. “And 2011 will be worse on employers if something doesn’t change dramatically.”
Moral of the story: Watch out for those pesky unintended consequences of government intervention. Since unemployment is high, more funds are needed to pay for unemployment benefits. Those increased funds take money away from businesses that may have used the money to hire new employees. The result: increased unemployment and/or decreased benefits.
These unintended consequences can lead to a vicious cycle, all thanks in part to those in government who believe it is their job to fix all of our problems. In reality, their “solutions” to our problems often create new ones or at least make the current problems worse.
Earlier this year I wrote about government employee benefits in Florida outpacing private-sector benefits — particularly noteworthy in a time of recession. Now comes an interesting analysis comparing average federal government wages and total compensation to those in the private sector.
The new data show that average federal compensation is now more than double the average in the private sector.
Here is his graph displaying the average difference since 2000:
In a time of economic downturn, the stark contrast between the government and the private sector is a bit worrisome — especially to those recently experiencing pay cuts or a layoff. But government doesn’t often face the same pressures as the private sector. It isn’t required to be competitive in order to stay in business; it can simply raise taxes or print or borrow money.
Ironically, all of that taxing, printing and borrowing in one way or another reduces private investment in things like jobs and higher compensation packages. Taxing takes that money directly. Printing reduces the value of that money. Borrowing diverts that money and eventually leads to higher taxation or more printing.
A recent article comparing government employee benefits in Florida to the private sector notes the widening disparity. The Sun Sentinel report points out that although the pay is often lower in state government, the benefits are often better. One notable summary of the article is this:
Florida’s 127,000 state workers still enjoy free or inexpensive health care, rich retirement benefits and such perks as free college tuition and ready access to financial planners.
It also points out the following:
In all, taxpayers paid $1.19 billion for employees’ health care last year, including a 15 percent increase from two years prior. Employees’ contributions declined slightly during that time, to $154 million.
Another mushrooming expense: retirement benefits.
The state’s contribution to workers in the Florida Retirement System is virtually unmatched in the private sector, at 9 to 19 percent of each worker’s salary. The bill for taxpayers has almost doubled in five years, to $1.1 billion. Employees don’t contribute anything.
This comes around the same time as reports on the newly appointed Hillsborough County (Florida) Supervisor of Elections collecting a $167,948 pension from his previous work in the county schools while being paid a $132,000 salary in the elections post. You read that right: $167,948 per year is his pension.
All of this occurs while, as the Sun Sentinel report notes, government has taken steps to increase taxes and fees on residents to make up budget shortfalls resulting from the down-turned economy. Meanwhile, the private sector has “been laying off workers in droves, cutting salaries, forcing furloughs and dropping health care contributions and matches to 401(k) accounts.”
These are just two examples of how not having to make a profit allows government to be tone-deaf to economic realities. To survive, private companies need to make a profit (the exception being those who dubiously receive government bailouts). To succeed, government need only force an increase in taxes and fees on its citizens.