Republican Messaging, Going Galt, and a Tale of Two Cities

Last week at Politco’s State Solutions Conference, Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam offered up an explanation for the GOP’s defeat at the ballot box this past November: poor messaging.  According to Haslam, Republicans simply weren’t able to effectively communicate to voters that conservatives stood for lower taxes for everyone, especially for businesses that might look to invest that money.

“I don’t think we did a very good job explaining ourselves,” said Haslam.

Haslam is not alone.  “Messaging” is being asked to do a lot of heavy lifting for Republicans these days, especially those struggling to explain both their inability to take the White House and why their national support continues to dwindle.  Over the past month GOP celebrity-leaders such as Eric Cantor, Marc Rubio, Rand Paul and Frank Lutz, among others,  have insisted that the GOP doesn’t need new ideas; it simply needs to do a better job of communicating its old ones to voters.  The message that government is the problem and that the lives of citizens would be better if they paid less in taxes is a winner, they claim.  The people are longing for these changes; they simply cannot decipher which party might be making such an offer.  Change the rhetoric so that it is clearer, swap out negative words with peppy ones, and the ballot chads will practically punch themselves.  At least, this is what Republicans seem to be telling themselves.  I must confess that I find the notion that the public is stymied over which of the two major political parties runs on Lower/No Taxes and Government is Bad rhetoric to be highly dubious.  But for the sake of argument, let us assume that this question is undecided and needs to be tested.

Today’s leading conservatives, be they pundits, media figures, think-tank celebs or actual politicians, seem sold that there are only two possible stories when it comes to government expenditures. The first is that no one wants the government to spend on non-military programs and yet the “government class” does so regardless; the second story is that only those who get things for “free” from the government support such expenditures.  The possibility that one or both of these stories is wrong is so foreign an idea as to not be seriously considered at all.  What if there is a third and more obvious choice?  What if most voters are well aware that certain programs cost them money, and actively choose to pay for them anyway?  Is it possible that even though no one likes paying taxes to the government (in the same way no one “likes” paying their cell phone bill to their provider) that most people still prefer to actually pay for the “boondoggles” and pork-laden communities government today so often provides – even those who don’t get these things for “free?” In other words, are the Republicans merely in need of better messaging for their old ideas; or do they need to find new ideas to message?

In order to best answer this question we’d first need to find a way to test the GOP’s messaging hypothesis.  After all, we obviously can’t go back in time and rewrite GOP talking points to see if they’d change the 2012 election results.

But what if we could find a large enough sample group of American taxpayers who for decades have been given the choice to live in one of two cities – one highly taxed and regulated, the other pitching itself as a low tax, minimum-regulation, Going-Galt alternative?  Could we use such a setup as a microcosm, a laboratory to see which choice people made with their actual lives regardless of talking points?  If so, we’d want to make sure that these cities were close enough to one another that the barriers of moving your home or business would be minimized.  You would want them to be close enough that, were taxpayers to move their home from one city to the other, they could continue to work for their current employer; likewise, if a business moved, its employees could choose to retain their positions without having to move their homes.   If you could find two such cities, would they support or dispute the claims imbedded in GOP messaging – and might they give some clues as to different conservative missions the GOP might try messaging to win voters’ hearts and confidence?

It just so happens that these two cities actually exist – and I live in the heart (or shadow) of each of them.

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In the late 1990s during the advent of real conservative talk radio in the Pacific Northwest, one of the staple talking points was the imminent death of Portland, Oregon.  The story talk radio hosts pitched – and that GOP candidates would nod along with – was that Portland’s government was out of control, throwing money away on special interest pet projects that no one really wanted. It might be one year, or two, or maybe even five, but one thing was certain – the City of Roses was about to be turned into a ghost town.  The exodus would begin soon, we were assured, as city council members’ crazed schemes to turn our metropolis into a monument to the Government Class forced taxpayers’ hands and led them to a shiny new city on the hill – or to be more precise, a city just across the river: Vancouver, Washington.

vancouver-city-councilFor movement-conservative pundits living in Portland, Vancouver was (and still is) the city Portland should strive to be. The population is about a third of its big-sister city, but it is growing.  City planning is largely left to the private marketplace rather than government officials.  Developers who wish to build commercial or residential buildings are largely able to do so on their own terms.  Vancouver lacks the physical density requirements Portland’s government mandates, so you can build a McMansion or Wal-Mart of just about any size pretty much wherever you can purchase land – and because building codes are far more lax than in Portland, you can do it for considerably less.[1]

The big difference between the two, however, is the different attitude toward each city has toward taxes.

Both cities have taxes, of course, but where Portland politicians continue to ask taxpayers to fund “urban investments” Vancouver largely operates on the theory that citizens should be allowed to keep as much of their hard-earned dollars as possible.  In each election cycle, Portland asks its citizens to approve bonds for libraries, parks, public transportation, and all matters of (sometimes very expensive) upkeep, rebuilding or brand new projects.  There might have been a time in the past decade where Portland voters declined such a bond, but if so I’m not remembering it.  Vancouver on the other hand asks little of its citizenry in these areas, and when they do the battles are far testier.  Conservative pundits say that Portland is a far more expensive city to live in; what’s more, when compared to Vancouver it is clearly a city that spends huge amounts of money on things that are simply unnecessary.  They are, of course, 100% correct on both of these counts.

forest-park-leif-ericksonVancouver spends some money on parks and green spaces, but not nearly as much as Portland.  There are exceptions of course (cool, awesome exceptions), but most of Vancouver’s city parks are small and made for inexpensive upkeep: a pre-constructed play area on bark dust with a patch of grass separated by swaths of concrete is the norm.  This type of planning creates far less of a financial burden than Portland asks of its taxpayers, which is constantly looking to create or maintain more than 400 public parks and greenspaces.  (This include a zoo, an arboretum, a French Renaissance-style mansion, water fountains, a big-ass oak tree, parks dedicated to roses, rhododendrons, Japanese gardensattracting butterflies, tricycle racetracks, runners/walkers/cyclists, not to mention a 5,100 acre urban forest with over 70 miles of public trails and a park that measures 452 square inches.)  This difference between Vancouver’s and Portland’s vision of parks and greenspaces comes with a price tag, obviously.  Vancouver’s parks budget is $9 million.  Portland has just over three times the population, but its park budget is around $61 million.  It’s so big, in fact, that some of the larger parks go out into the community and request additional donations in addition to their sizable allotted tax revenue.

ptd-dntn-pp-0703#162-800And when it comes to high-volume tax-dollar spending, it isn’t just the parks system that separates the sister-cities.  Multnomah County Library, the library system that services Portland, isn’t just more expensive that Vancouver’s system – it’s more expensive than just about any system in the country, spending twice as much per resident than the national average.  Portland’s mass transit system (which shares funding and services with two additional Oregon counties) has buses that run three times more frequently than Vancouver.  What’s more, they have a very expensive light rail system, a phenomenally expensive aerial tram, and a near-free (for riders) streetcar that travels throughout the different downtown-area shopping districts.  Portland clogs its calendar with literally hundreds of “free” events for citizens and visitors alike, including the Rose Festival, Chamber Music Northwest, Portland Blues Festival, The Bite, Cinco De Mayo, Portland International Beer Festival, Bridge Pedal and the holiday Festival of Lights.  It even subsidizes the Rose Garden Arena, home of the NBA franchise Portland Trail Blazers owned by the absurdly wealthy Paul Allen.

If ever there were a city that “spends its taxpayers’ money like a drunken sailor” (to borrow an oft-used conservative talk-radio phrase), it is Portland, Oregon.  In comparison, Vancouver is a cranky, tightwad spinster who acts as a model of fiscal restraint – and its citizens reap the comparative tax-benefit rewards.  When faced with choosing between the two cities, Vancouver residents can boast of a cheaper tax rate, more square footage per housing dollar, and (comparatively, anyway) a hands-off government that gives its people the freedom do or build whatever the hell they want wherever the hell they want.  Vancouver is, in other words, the very symbol of the lifestyle conservatives say the people long for, located just a dual-truss bridge away from a city that clearly represents everything conservatives assure us that the people despise.

So why do so many more people continue choose Portland?


The bottom line is that, by any conceivable measuring stick, Portland attracts and retains more taxpaying residents and businesses than Vancouver.  This despite the fact that Vancouver taxpayers really do get houses for cheaper, pay fewer dollars in taxes and have less government intrusion.

Conservative soothsayers have been correct in their predictions of Vancouver growth, if somewhat off on scale. In 1999, its population stood at just under 119,000.  In the thirteen years that followed Vancouver added 46,000 citizens as it swelled to 165,000.  However, those same soothsayers have been and continue to be entirely wrong about Portland’s prospects.  Portland has continued to grow as well, adding nearly twice as many new citizens as its cross-river sister during the same time period.  So even though Vancouver is growing, it continues to fall further and further behind Portland.

Republican Messaging, Going Galt, and a Tale of Two CitiesIn fact, Portland does more than simply continue to grow.  It continually beats Vancouver in the battle for the hearts of those most coveted of taxpayers: those from the higher income brackets. Vancouver’s median household income (MHI) is around $45,000, twenty percent below Washington state average.  Portland’s, on the other hand, is currently over $50,000.  And that discrepancy is growing: since 2000 Vancouver’s MHI increase has been less than 10%, while Portland’s has grown by 20%.  Local conservative pundits have long been insisting that Portland’s highest earners would Go Galt to Vancouver, but in fact the opposite has transpired. Vancouver is becoming the city people move to when they can no longer afford to live in the City of Roses or its suburbs.  And when their financial situation improves, they often move back.

The same holds true on the business side of things.  Vancouver has plenty of successful businesses, but they are still dwarfed in number and scale by those in Portland.  Since business is all about the bottom line, I wondered about this and called a friend of mine who is a very conservative Republican and the managing partner of a top-20 Portland investment firm.  If it cost so much less to run his business in Vancouver, why didn’t the firm up and move?  After all, most of what they did was done electronically; they could surely operate just as easily out of Vancouver as from their expensive digs in downtown Portland.

“Well, we might keep more of every dollar,” he conceded, “but I think we’d see a whole lot less dollars coming in the door.  I’m pretty sure our top earners want to work in Portland.  They’d probably all jump ship.  And come on, if you got a call from a salesman asking you to put all your money with some guy in a strip-mall in Vancouver, you’re hanging up on him – right?”

Republican Messaging, Going Galt, and a Tale of Two CitiesThough perhaps a bit snobby, the “strip mall” snark is not entirely unfair.  Vancouver business buildings are generally built on the cheap and the city lacks the regulatory standards that encourage building for density, so there are no real high-rises.  The city is very, very flat; almost all white-collar business is done out of a strip mall or a non-descript, single-story business park.   And my friend’s response really does drill down to the heart of it.  Despite the conservative talking points that I’ve heard him actually make, given the choice, my Republican friend and more than half a million others choose to live and work in Portland – not despite government spending, but because of it.

Portland’s building and zoning codes might be overly ham-fisted, but the neighborhoods, business areas and shopping districts are beautiful and vibrant.  (Ironically, between the two sister cities it is the one that minimizes taxes, zoning and regulation that looks most like the grey, soulless Eastern-European Soviet-bloc cities of the 1970s.)  Their mass transit system may not be the cheapest, but Portland traffic is far better than most metropolitan areas I have encountered.  In fact, the hardest place in the greater Portland-Metro area to get to by car is Vancouver; its lack of planning and zoning make driving a confusing and bottlenecked mess even when it isn’t rush hour.  What’s more, well-off Republicans might well want Wal-Mart to have the freedom to build in any neighborhood, but once it’s built most have no desire to continue living in a neighborhood that has the excess traffic issues Wal-Mart and other Big Box stores bring with them.  Ambitious and costly library systems, parks, green spaces, neighborhood renovations, festivals, mass transit options and city planning don’t drive people from Portland.  They attract people to it.  To believe otherwise is to ignore the data.

And yet despite all of this, the truth is that Portland is far from a perfect city. Republicans would be wise to take note of the areas where it fails and build missions to address those failings.

For example, the Portland Public School system is atrocious.  Class sizes are ridiculously large and extra-curricular activity options are few.  Most of the issues are budget-based.  Bloated administrative costs, a teacher’s union that fights for more money but not necessarily more teacher-hires, a string of failed but expensive high-profile executive hires and a lack of clear, sustained vision makes the district enormously inefficient – so much so that I’m not convinced that more revenue will fix problems so much as exacerbate them.  My son is a junior in high school.  In addition to Portland having one of the worst days-in-school/days-in-the-calendar ratios in the country, every other day he has classes from 9:30 – 12:55, and that includes a lunch period.  His sophomore English class consisted of a curriculum with no homework, where the kids would listen to the teacher read books to them for their class period.  Thank goodness he goes to one of the schools in the higher-income neighborhoods – my understanding is that schools in the lower-income neighborhoods are significantly worse.  Because of this situation, Portland loses a lot of families to its own suburbs.

pearl-district-restaurantWhat’s more, since the delights of Portland come with a steep price tag, it means that as those median incomes rise it becomes harder and harder for lower-income people to stay.  Our poorer neighborhoods are continually revitalized with amazing, creative gentrification projects that really do work.  Two decades ago the area just north of Burnside Street was Portland’ equivalent to skid row.  Revamped and renamed the Pearl District, it’s currently our city’s hippest place to live, featuring world-class restaurants and seven figure condos.  Which is great for people who can afford seven figure condos, but a bit of a problem for those who are displaced by these gentrifications.

I suspect that all of these dynamics are not unique to Portland.  And as such, I suspect that they present opportunities for Republicans looking to again be nationally relevant. By an overwhelming majority, people don’t want to live in Vancouver.  They want to live in Portland.  As it turns out, this is especially true of those potential Galts who are flipping the bill.  So why not focus on a way to make living in Portland better, more effective and more efficient?

For example, Portland conservative pundits follow the national trend with education.  Less taxes and less government will magically fix the problem, we are told – which is really all we’re told about every problem.  But what if Republicans chose instead to be a champion for public schools, looking not to defund them but to run them better and more efficiently?  What if instead of simply saying that government can’t work, they sought a way for it to work better and cheaper?  It would require work and an investment in both time and capital.  Saying Taxes + Government = Bad!/Freedom = Good! over and over is pretty cheap and takes little in the way of specifics; coming up with a plan to make the system better would be comparatively hard and expensive.  It would, however, give the public an alternative it might actually want.

Republicans might also do well to embrace the poor rather than demonize them.  It blows my mind that the Portland liberals in power create systems that drive lower-income people and a disproportionate number of minorities out of the city, and yet local Republicans still manage to find a way to craft messaging that drives those same displaced people to vote Democrat year after year.  What might happen if instead of focusing on lionizing “job-creators,” they worked to find conservative answers that addressed the plight of people on society’s edge?

It might well be that Republicans simply have no desire to go these routes; it might well be that they wouldn’t be able to find adequately conservative solutions if they did.  I honestly don’t know.  But I do know this: If the GOP is going to continue to try to win a national majority by promising Americans to turn their Portlands into Vancouvers, they will continue to slip into irrelevance.

 

[1] It should be noted that this “freedom to build” is granted on conservatives’ own terms.  It may be infinitely easier to build a strip mall in Vancouver, but that’s assuming you won’t be considering opening a “blue” business.  If you want to go to a head shop or a hookah lounge, you’ll need to stay on the Portland side of the river.  Likewise, strip bars are illegal in Vancouver, while the Portland-metropolitan area has the highest per-capita strip club ratio in the country.

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368 thoughts on “Republican Messaging, Going Galt, and a Tale of Two Cities

    • Not all the facts are correct. Didn’t anybody else find it odd that the parks budget would work out to over 70 thousand dollars per capita, were that the correct figure?

      The real figures are that Vancouver spends about 55 dollars a head on its parks, and Portland about 78. Portland spends more for sure, but not an order of magnitude more.

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  1. It’s probably worth pointing out here that Vancouver’s value proposition is that you can simultanously take advantage of Washington’s lack of a state income tax and Oregon’s lack of a state sales taxes. Which means, essentially, that Vancouver can’t support high-end retail due to the competition from tax-free shopping in Portland.

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    • Vancouver residents can also take advantage/free ride on Portland’s great parks and public features without having to pay for them. They can have all advantages of being near a great city without paying. That is a benefit of most suburbs.

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      • This is a good point. Suburbanites get massive advantages from being near cities at substantially lower costs. They have to pay for parking and tolls and whatever they buy but that does not cover most of the costs.

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        • Of the many reasons for middle class flight from cities after ww2, one was the increasing ability of many people to work in cities and live in other places. They got the money and play opportunity of the city but could live on their own patch of lawn. Most people could not do that until after ww2. Rich people could do that if they wished before ww2. Best of both worlds.

          One of the big mistakes made in this country has been governing cities and their suburbs under different states. NYC is an example. Lots of NY workers live in NJ or Conn, but they have no input into the city gov where they work. Metro areas should be all in one state. Costs should be born by all the people that thrive due to the presence of the city.

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          • How many major metros really have people commute from out of state?

            The Northeast Corridor feels a bit odd in this area because of proximity. It is easy to get to NYC from certain parts of NJ and Connecticut and the borders were formed centuries before commuting from the suburbs was the norm. The same is true for DC, Boston, Philly, and Chicago, and maybe Portland but not by much.

            There are plenty of major metros which have all the commuters in the same state.

            I suppose you can force an annex but that is not going to make anyone happy and seems like a technocratic solution from a wonk that finds democracy and voters to be pesky.

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            • Oh i think it is mostly NE cities and some in the midwest. I’m not suggesting a forced change just that it was a bad idea to start with. I also think states in the west should have been aligned along major river drainages instead of by arbitrary lines in the sand.

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                • “But many things are handled at the municipal level, no? Which would mean even in-state suburbanites would be limited in their power.”

                  Unless the suburbanites do their legislating at the state level, where the state government tells the cities what to do.

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              • I’m thinking that border towns were more common in those Louisiana Purchase states, while outposts more so more westerly.
                A number of cross-border cities exist along our borders with Canada & Mexico as well.
                It’s nothing for someone to work in Detroit, but live in Windsor; or to go into El Paso for work every day.

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        • First, nobody moves to the suburbs to get out of paying municipal taxes. Vancouver’s advantage is that it’s in Washington state, which has no state income tax (compared to Oregon’s 9% income tax). People move to the suburbs for lower cost of living, more space, and better schools.

          Second, most of the things that draw people to cities are due to network effects, not government spending. A larger population supports more diverse retail services and entertainment. Parks are nice, but they’re not the reason suburbanites go to the city.

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          • This doesn’t seem that complicated to me.

            There are benefits to living in the city. There are benefits to living in the suburbs. Many of these are economic, which we tend to focus on because they are easily quantifiable, but there are other factors as well.

            If folks are willing to indulge in the Vancouver/Portland tax discrepancy at the cost of additional commuting costs, additional commuting time, and less access to other Portland offerings, so be it. If enough folks do so that Portland starts to suffer, Portland can and should take whatever (legal and ethical) steps it takes to incentivize a different behavior.

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          • St. Louis is probably something of an anomaly. It separated from the county years and years ago, because of the county people soaking up all its services. Now it has a 3% income tax for everyone who lives or work within the city.
            The county flourishes, the city has been a shell of its former self for some time.

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          • Brandon,
            They do around here. we have HIGH municipal taxes. Also: see Austin.

            Most people hear the rumor that the city has high taxes, and build that into their valuation of living areas.

            The city does not do half the challenges of assessments that the rich suburbs do. The tax rate is not actually comparable, particularly of new residences.

            Brandon,
            Depends on the park, depends on what you’re doing. We have an observatory in a park, and we used to have horseback riding. I could certainly see someone going to the city for frisbee golf (or ice skating) — or dragon boat races (yes, those are on the river. you’re plunking your tuchus on parkland).

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    • That’s a big point, and I at first thought that Todd was going to fall into that trap, where city A has low taxes/services, while city B has high taxes/services. Obviously those who can will try to arbitrage that, with the classic example of people living in New Hampshire but working in ‘Taxechussets’ (which somehow seems to have all of the jobs).

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      • People who live in NH and work in MA are doing a very poor job of tax arbitrage. NH residents that work in MA are subject to non-resident MA income tax. NH also has one of the highest real estate tax burdens in the country.

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        • NH is one of the few states that — the last time I checked — does all of its K-12 education funding at the local level. I believe that the school districts there are only allowed property taxes, rather than income or sales taxes. Many (most?) states got the state involved in education funding, commonly through the creation of an “equalization” fund of some sort. Once started, it’s a slippery slope. In my state, state funding for K-12 now accounts for about 60% of total K-12 funding.

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          • Texas has a real problem there.

            In fact, Texas’ school funding methods have been under court scrutiny for decades. (State court, not federal). Effectively, Texas has a serious equal protection problem because the disparity in per-capita spending (and, as the courts determined, the quality of instruction, supplies, and resources and options) between the average suburban school district and the poor districts (primarily rural, although some are deep urban) amount to, well, “seperate and entirely unequal”.

            Of course the Texas legislature refuses to pass anything that would even make a token gesture towards solving the problem, so we ended up with the courts basically matching poor and wealth school districts and mandating fund transfers. (The court apparently has the power to do that, but not raise taxes of it’s own violition). Of course, that was sorta working but then the recession hit and rather than use the rainy day fund (we had to keep it ‘for emergencies’. The same governor who said that is now openly mulling using it to cut taxes on businesses) they cut the very minimal (and mostly aimed at the poor districts) school funding even further…

            Make a precarious problem worse, because the vast bulk of the poor district’s funds are from the state, whereas the money sent to the more affluent districts are basically a token. (In general, those districts pay OUT far more to other districts via Robin Hood than they get from the state. MUCH more).

            So it’s back in front of the courts again.

            Texas, FYI, is funded entirely via sales taxes and property taxes and has the lowest — some 40% less than the next lowest — per capita spending out of all 50 states. We run a very, very lean government. How well it works is in the eye of the beholder.

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            • Colorado takes a back seat to no one with regard to a school financing mess. The Lobato decision by the state district court (a) declared the entire school finance system unconstitutional because the funding level had no rational ties to the requirement that the state fund a “thorough and uniform” system of free (to the students) public schools; and (b) found that the state was underfunding K-12 education to the tune of $3B per year. The court further ruled that there was no need for the courts to attempt to harmonize that dollar figure with the TABOR constitutional requirement that tax hikes would have to be approved by the voters — that’s a legislative problem. The state supreme court is scheduled to hear the appeal this week.

              This is the second time the case has been to the supreme court. Initially, the district court found that the issue was not justiciable. That decision went all the way to the supreme court, which decided that the courts did have a role and remanded the case, leading to the current situation.

              There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that the voters will approve a $3B/year tax increase. If the supreme court upholds the ruling, the likely outcomes are that Colorado will cease to fund higher education in the state, and withdraw from Medicaid. There simply are no other sources of General Fund money of sufficient size.

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        • “People who live in NH and work in MA are doing a very poor job of tax arbitrage. NH residents that work in MA are subject to non-resident MA income tax. NH also has one of the highest real estate tax burdens in the country.”

          I didn’t know that; I thought that it was the other way around.

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      • people living in New Hampshire but working in ‘Taxechussets’ (which somehow seems to have all of the jobs).

        Like I said, path dependence. Massachusetts has a huge lead for historical reasons (chiefly, I suspect, the importance of a shipping port to local economic development), and once cities get big, they tend to stay big unless they screw things up very, very badly.

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  2. A very good post. This is the post I was striving to write with my own piece on cities and the middle-class.

    All those things you mentioned do attract people to the city but they also drive up costs of living that drive old-time residents out. There doesn’t seem to be a balanced solution which allows for all those nice things but also keeps housing at moderate prices. Perhaps I am naive in think that a middle-ground solution exists.

    I wonder if it becomes hard for an area to maintain good public schools once population exceeds a certain level. There does not seem to be a large city in the United States that is not known for having a chaotic school system. Large means anything above 350,000 in this case. I grew up in an upper-middle class suburb of NYC. It was the classic inner ring suburb where people move for the school districts. Are large school systems simply too unwieldy and need to cater to too many interests?

    The people who move to the inner-ring suburbs seem to be middle class people who expect or want their children to attend college. This leads to the definitional problem of what is a middle-class American. I think you can be white-collar or blue-collar and be middle class but my biases tend to paint a more white-collar view of the world. However many other people talk about the middle class as being a more blue-collar thing and imagine well-paid manual labor jobs.

    As an example: The New Yorker published an article recently about window-washers. The people who clean all the skyscrapers. This is a good paying, closed-union shop job in New York. One of the guy’s interviewed was high-up in the union. He made an off-hand remark (and very old-world) about how he expects his daughters to come up to him one day and say “Daddy, you have to give my boyfriend/husband a job.” What is remarkable here to me is several things:

    1. He doesn’t seem to have any expectation or dreams for his daughters to attend college or higher.

    2. He expects them to marry guy’s who need help getting a decent job.

    3. There is nothing wrong with this and it is the way of the world.

    I have no qualms with the guy or his union. And it probably is a good manual-labor middle class job. However, I don’t see how you design one school for that guy and his children and a family where both parents have college degrees or higher and expect the same of their children. It seems that having a college education creates an expectation that your children would go. I know very few people who are college-educated that would be supportive of their children not attending college.

    Another interesting that that can be noted is the dislike of chain stores whether Wal-mart or even more expensive/classier brands. I live up the hill from an area in San Francisco called Hayes Valley. Like the Pearl, this used to be very rough but is now filled with nice condos, fashionable shops, and nice restaurants/bars. Plus it is the new home of SFJazz and the close to the Symphony, main Library, and Asian-Art Museum. Today I noticed a sign in one of the shops protesting that “GANT Rugger” was coming to the neighborhood. GANT Rugger is fairly expensive as a clothing store goes, a shirt costs 125 dollars. Yet this was still too corporate for Hayes Valley. Another similar protest happened because Starbucks bought a small-local coffee chain called La Boulange.

    http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Bay-Area-s-La-Boulange-bakery-sold-to-Starbucks-3608539.php

    I would say that the divide between GOP and Democratic types are strong on many levels. This goes beyond policy but even into aesthetics and what a city is for and many (but not all) GOPers seem to have a hard time grasping that liberals will gladly pay higher taxes for the services mentioned above. The Papa John’s CEO did a similar cynical ploy during for Obamacare by saying that pizza prices would need to go up if Obamacare became law. He does not seem to realize that many liberals would not mind paying an extra 50 cents per a pizza (a very paltry sum) if it means more people would get healthcare. I can’t even fathom the kind of person who would be outraged at paying an extra fifty cents if it means getting healthcare to people.

    I think some conservatives are starting to think wait a minute but the party is still hide-bound in Orthodoxy and many seem to have swalloed the kool-aid of their own yeoman fantasies. They can’t conceive why someone would consider single payer to better than everyone buying their own health insurance.

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/03/04/130304fa_fact_lizza

    Choice quotes:

    ‘There are no House Republicans from New England. Nan Hayworth, a Tea Party representative from upstate New York who lost to a Democrat in November, told me about a Southern Republican who once tried to win her support for a colleague on some internal conference position. “He’s a good Christian man,” the congressman told her, assuming that was the first thing she needed to know. She responded, “Well, I’m married to a good Jewish man.”’

    ‘Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon from Georgia, who holds Newt Gingrich’s old congressional seat and is seen as a leader of the most conservative House Republicans, said that, during a recent debate over taxes, “we talked past each other oftentimes as much as Republicans and Democrats talk past each other.” He explained how surprised he was when one of his colleagues from a Northern state told him that he favored a tax increase on millionaires. “It hit me that what he was hearing when he’s going home to a Republican district in a blue state is completely different than what I’m hearing when I go home to a Republican district in a red state,” he said. “My folks are livid about this stuff. His folks clearly weren’t. And so we weren’t even starting from the same premise.”’

    The problem I think is that a lot of non-Southern GOP politicians are essentially Southernized in many ways like the people in close-by Vancouver. Burt Likko has mentioned several times how the GOP Parts of California have more in common with Alabama than they do with San Francisco or Los Angeles.

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    • Actually, those “large districts” often have very good and very bad schools. In the same district.

      I know, for instance, HISD (Houston) does.

      In the end, you might as well claim demographics are destiny. Each and every ‘bad school’ is filled with students of the very, very poor. And the good schools, in the same district, are filled mostly with the children of the middle class.

      It’s very, very, very difficult to educate the children of the poor. They tend to have other priorities (like managing to pay rent, find enough money for food, going to their second job, etc) than their children’s schooling — and even those who do care often lack the time or energy to really help.

      The ones that do have the energy and motivation generally make excellent poster children for charter or private schools — they’re self-selecting motivated students and parents to attend.

      In the end, you find the same patterns in large school districts as you do in states — or in education overall in America — if you lop off the very, very, very poor, American public schools are great. The districts servicing the downtrodden, so to speak, tend to have terrible results. (Although I understand if you dig down in the weeds, those are perking up a bit.)

      There’s a limit to what you can do in a classroom to counteract a crappy life filled with poverty, drugs, violence, or all the other things tha t– rightly or wrongly — tend to take precedence to education.

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      • Same in pittsburgh. we have some pretty damn good schools (magnets too), but some schools really suck. Occasionally that’s management’s fault, but normally it’s just because.

        Ben & Jerry’s gives out jobs to disadvantaged kids. I wonder if a certain amount of school credit (&free icecream) could be used to good affect here?

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  3. IIRC, the Oregon State Constitution has a very strongly worded free-speech clause and the Oregon Supreme Court interprets this clause very absolutely. I think that there was a case where the Oregon Supreme Court declared nude dancing as being protected under the Free Speech provisions of the Oregon State Constitution.

    A quick google confirms that I am right:

    http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/oregon_court_overturns_sex-show_laws/

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  4. Tod if a 90% budget is $4.6M short of the 100% budget, the total budget is definitely not $41B. Also the total economic product of Oregon is of order $200B by napkin math!

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  5. A terrific post, that is to say, one that confirms my personal viewpoints.

    In all, the parts that stand out are the points that Portlanders aren’t secretly yearning to live free of evil gummint and the boot of taxation; they grasp that good things must be paid for.

    One thought that us liberals need to be conscious of, is the point about how this embrace of the public sphere and what it can do isn’t open ended or uncritical; when it comes to schools and their own kids, no one is tolerant of failure.

    Especially intolerant of school system failure are the people most coveted by cities- the higher income higher tax base demographic. If you are pying BMW taxes, you want BMW performance.

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    • I think all liberals would agree with you on the BMW taxes=BMW performance.

      The problem is that we break down upon what education should be like.

      You have the neo-liberal/Michelle Rhee set which seems to go for STEM and a lot of testing, testing, testing. This side is very pro-charter/voucher and very anti-Teacher Union.

      Then you have liberals like me who want a lot less standardized testing, a more well-rounded education that emphasizes critical reading and writing and has well funded arts programs and other extracurriculars.

      Americans cannot seem to agree on what the point and purpose of education is. A good chunk want it devoted to practicality and things that will make the United States strong on an economic basis. Basically education is for creating good worker bees. Then you have people like me who want education to be for creating educated and intellectually curious people on ALL subjects.

      I don’t care for rote memorization or standardized testing or pushing people towards STEM. The STEM fields are important but this does not mean we should ignore the arts and humanities.

      I am not accusing you of being a Michelle Rhee sympathizer. Just writing how I see Democratic/Left infighting on the matter of education policy and where I stand.

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      • Americans cannot seem to agree on what the point and purpose of education is.

        Education reform is a tough nut. I’m a liberal, but I think the institution of public education needs to be put under the microscope. I’m not convinced most liberals are willing to do that.

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        • The problem is that educational policy is very localized and not national.

          As far as I can tell, most other countries have national education policies. We still have a lot of people that want to abolish the Department of Education because they see it as “unconstitutional.”

          Public schools in upper-middle class suburbs are fine. The upper-middle class suburb I grew up in has been sending a large number of students to elite colleges and universities for decades now. There are many places like this all over the United States*.

          Then there are other schools in more mixed or poor areas that are absolutely a chaotic mess.

          A national education policy can help but then it would be a matter of culture war. New York and California would go crazy if they had to work with Texas or South Carolina on teaching certain aspects of US History and the sciences. Local control still makes some parts of the U.S. a laughing stock in the world but it also allows others to function fine.

          *College/University snobbery seems to exist more on the East Coast then the West. In my hometown the push was towards the elite and private: the Ivies, MIT, CalTech, Standford, and the small liberal arts colleges (Wesleyan, Vassar, Williams, Amherst, etc). SUNY schools were considered second tier. In California, I know many people who grew up in comparable socio-economic suburbs or even went to fancy private high schools but there is less shame in attending a UC like Berkeley, Santa Cruz, or UCLA. I realize that UCs were always considered among the best schools in the nation and might still be competitive but the lack of school snobbery out west is a bit striking to me.

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          • Public schools in upper-middle class suburbs are fine. The upper-middle class suburb I grew up in has been sending a large number of students to elite colleges and universities for decades now. There are many places like this all over the United States*.

            And yet so many of the racist conservatives simultaneously insist that inner-city schools are failing, AND that they don’t want to pay to fix the issue.

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          • The problem is that educational policy is very localized and not national.

            I have to critique this. “Nationalization” is the liberal equivalent of conservatives’ “privatization.” A simplistic mantra. A single national policy stifles innovation. Instead of having multiple models to compare and learn from, we end up with a single model and a vested constituency that will view any proposed change as a threat.

            And we have increasingly moved toward a national policy, call NCLB, and that national model–testing, testing, testing–is killing education.

            When you say you want a national education policy you are unwisely assuming your side controls it. Very simply, though, nationalization is no automatic cure, it is not inherently superior. Those who fixate on it are thinking no more deeply than those who fixate on privatization.

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            • that national model–testing, testing, testing–is killing education.

              Amen. One of the reasons I sent my kids to private schools was to get away from that. They spent literally zero time being drilled to pass a specific test because the school’s funding depended upon it. I was educated in public schools, and I’m a great believer in public education, but, as James says, NCLB is ruining it.

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            • I am no fan of NCLB and did not necessarily say I supported nationalization. I just noted that most other countries seem to have national education policies. They are also much more homogeneous than the United States.

              All things being equal, cultural/social politics probably mean that state/local control is good. I would rather not have to come to a consensus with South Carolina or Texas on teaching evolution.

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              • And I’d rather have national standards strong enough to make it so South Carolina and Texas finally got the message and couldn’t keep trying to force creationism and religious nonsense into the schools, as opposed to having to work with the recklessly dumb cowboy-wannabes Texas keeps exporting to the other states.

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                • So the assumption is that your preferred policies would be going through rather than via some democratic process where “the recklessly dumb cowboy-wannabes Texas keeps exporting to the other states” also have a vote?

                  What happens if, say, one of the recklessly dumb cowboy-wannabes Texas keeps exporting to the other states ends up in the “I get to make a decision and other people don’t get a vote” chair?

                  “When”, I should say. Not “if”.

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                  • my problem with letting each state set their educational standards is that Texas is such a big market the textbook makers usually just tailor their base book to whatever “jebus killed the dinosaurs” standards the Texas school board sets and next thing ya know kids in schools from Maine to Washington have to learn the terribly untruthful things Texas wants us to learn. A national Standard that enforces fact based reason and cognition would be a boon for the education system.

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                • I don’t understand why you’re so concerned with So. Carolina or Texas in the first place.
                  Those kids already have parents to attend to their needs.
                  If it’s the orphans you’re concerned about, then getting involved with some orphanage might help to address these issues.

                  When I look at Texas & So. Carolina, I think, “I don’t have to live there.”
                  I’m wondering if this is somehow faulty thinking.

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                  • You’re not fully aware of how much of an affect Texas already HAS on your public schools. Like the available books. Or the fact that the high-stakes part of NCLB was fathered here.

                    (On the bright side, parents in Texas have — after 20 years of increasing use of standardized tests and given those tests more and more power over kid’s education careers — started to get a little PO’d about them.)

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                    • Available books?
                      That reminds me of the English teacher that was excused from further employment at the Catholic school for having the kids read Toni Morrison.

                      It doesn’t matter what’s available.
                      It matters what they’re going to buy.
                      It matters what they’re going to use.

                      There was plenty of Robert E. Howard available when I was in high school.
                      And I had it readily on hand.
                      But guess what?
                      I was told to read some other stupid book that had nothing whatsoever about Robert E. Howard.

                      That’s how terrible some of these schools are.

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                    • Textbooks. Not library books. Texas and California more or less dictate the textbook market. (Texas more than California).

                      For public schools, you take what Texas — and to a lesser extent — California wanted for most core classes. Because it’s not worth the money to make general (Englishes, non-state histories, etc) individual for each state. You make them to fit your big, unified Texas market — whatever they require — and then point out to everyone else that they can get the books at this price if they use the ones you already have (made for Texas) or you can pay a HECK of a lot more and wait a year or two for another set.

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                    • First of all, the First Edition DMG is, in fact, a textbook– regardless of whether it is “officially” recognized as such or not.

                      Secondly, this sounds like a delivery issue.
                      I still don’t get why I should be more concerned about what Texas is doing (and there’s quite a few reasons I really don’t care to be there) rather than the way that the delivery system is made up, as you describe.
                      And really, I’m not so sure Newtonian physics changes that much from year to year.
                      Or French.
                      Or health.
                      Or typing.
                      Or English.
                      Woodshop.
                      But I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, and fear the worst for students nationwide should the personal hygiene of Texans become the national standard which is taught in public schools.

                      But then, I have to wonder about this requirement that each page in the textbook should be taught by all schools.
                      I can think of a lot of classes where we skipped over whole chapters– and not just of the Robert E. Howard stuff either.
                      I’m talking about such things like, “Read pages 52 through 57 and pages 62 through 75 of chapter five.” Stuff like that.
                      If they’re forcing these kids to read every page in the book these days, well, that’s just dastardly right off the bat.
                      Unless they’ve finally taken to teaching the DMG, of course; in which case, I heartily endorse this measure.

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                    • Will H

                      Texas has for decades been targeted by creationists and social conservatives to influence the textbook process due to their nationwide influence.

                      So history and biological sciences are hugely at risk thanks to Texas’s ‘local’ control. I wish what happened in texas only affected Texas…

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              • Maybe a good way to improve education standards is if a HS diploma was not universally accepted as sufficient. Maybe Universities should start publicly saying, if you apply here with a (for the sake of argument) diploma from a Texas Public School, you will have to take an entrance exam to demonstrate you know the minimum required.

                Maybe if parents realized that a diploma from a Texas PS hurts their kids chances for getting into a college that is not funded by Texas taxes, or affiliated with an Evangelical Cult, they’ll start to apply pressure to make changes.

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            • The “national plan” was a Texas export. It started here, and went national when George Bush was elected and chose Paige as his Secretary of Education. (Paige, author of the “Houston miracle” which, like all the others, seems to have shown how high-stakes testing turns schools around by cheating like mad on high-stakes testing).

              The big testing mantra stuff got it’s start here. And there’s quite a backlash brewing over it.

              High stakes testing isn’t really a liberal idea, although it’s hard to find many liberals who disagree with the notion of ‘objective tests measuring progress and knowledge’ — I mean, it seems a pretty simple way of measuring students, districts, and schools and whether, you know, Johnny is Learning.

              It’s the high-stakes part that’s a GOP innovation, and fits into the GOP rhetoric as basically an audit or waste/fraud sort of idea. It slides right into the niche idea that if government is running schools, they’re making a hash of it and have to be watched like hawks and constantly tested. And, well, Texas being Texas — scan-trons are cheap and you can hire consultants to make the tests.

              There’s a growing backlash in Texas over the whole concept.

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              • Who ever said the testing was a liberal idea? My point, in response to the praise by a liberal for the ideal of national education policy was to point out that we got ourselves one, and it’s anything but liberal. Getting a national education policy in no way ensures a good education policy, so folks ought to be careful what they wish for.

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                • You didn’t. I’m pointing out that there is liberal support for national standards and testing in general (liberals being fond of public education and believers in functional government) but that the current hash of NCLB has it’s roots in Texas and conservative notions on education.

                  Worst of both worlds, really.

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              • “It’s the high-stakes part that’s a GOP innovation, and fits into the GOP rhetoric as basically an audit or waste/fraud sort of idea. It slides right into the niche idea that if government is running schools, they’re making a hash of it and have to be watched like hawks and constantly tested. ”

                In more ways than one. It was pointed out that the NCLB standard divide a school into many, many demographic cells, and penalize for problems in *any* cell. If your school slips in performance of [age]*[gender]*[ethnicity], then you’re in trouble, even if that was a few students (and possibly the change in mean was due to one or two students in that cell entering/leaving that school).

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          • Are you being sarcastic or serious?

            There is more too education than getting a good job after you graduate. I think most people who study arts and humanities do not regret it despite all the jokes.

            We can also ask why don’t employers value a smart English major for the marketing department or any department that does not require a specialized degree? I am not that convinced that a major in marketing/business is necessary for indicative of understanding business.

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                  • But do we say that the purpose of work is to acquire vast wealth? And that the purpose of a health care system is to prevent death?

                    I think that mindset exacerbates the flaws in our system. Fair or not, a number of students reach high school with little to no chance of getting a “good job”. Yet in the vast majority of these cases, we continue to teach them as if that is the goal. They take American history and English literature and art classes that get them no closer to a “good job” AND leave them unprepared for the jobs they might be better suited for and which they are far more likely to undertake. Let those kids take vocational classes if they like, help them to graduate with an education and skills that will actually benefit them and which might entice them to finish school.

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                    • Mike, I agree with what you’re saying. “Getting a job” is the rationale behind going to school. And if that’s the case, then most of the public education curriculum and structure is irrelevant for most people. Not all of it, of course. But most.

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                    • What good jobs do American history, English history, and art classes get you closer to? These classes are usually justified under the “well-rounded”/”good citizen” model, not the “good jobs” model.

                      Proponents of education-as-job training are usually keener on STEM, technical writing, and yes, vocational classes. Nonacademic vocational classes arguably lead to better jobs, on average, than pure academic classes like literature and history.

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              • I’m not sure I agree here but I come from an arts background. I know a lot of people who take jobs with mediocre pay but get a lot of flex time and freedom because of said jobs. They use their free time to work on their art, go on auditions, rehearse, paint, etc.

                A few of the paralegals at my firm are like this. I know other paralegals at other firms that do the same. Also lots of theatre and film people that are bartenders, baristas, waiters, nannys/babysitters, tutors, etc. All very smart, all not working to their true economic potential but they want the time.

                I also see careers as a long game. It takes decades to build a career. Most of a lifetime. I am not too concerned about 20-somethings living semi-Bohemian existences. Not everyone needs to join the office park world.

                Also many 20-somethings seem to be rejecting white-collar work for more crafty/skilled work. I will admit that I don’t know how many of the cool crafty people I see working have college educations or not.

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                • I think the fixation on “STEM” majors is silly, and destructive.

                  There is a benefit- a tangible economic benefit- to liberal arts, to humanities.

                  Within the business world, the lowest rung is manual labor, the middle rung is technocratic mastery, and the highest level is strategy and political mastery.

                  STEM only is of benefit to the middle rung.

                  A CEO doesn’t do spreadsheet regression analysis of sales- he has people to do that.

                  What he does need is to understand culture- the culture of his customers, the culture of his company, and he needs to master the political skill of persuasion and insight into character in order to create an effective organization out of wildly disparate people all driven with conflicting agendas.

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                  • I have a math degree, which IMHO is the ideal degree for a compter scientist, because it teaches the right mental discipline for analyzing problems and designing solutions. And since the technology is always changing, the value of expertise in the current hot new thing is ephemeral. When I started working, decades ago, many employers understood that. Nowadays they’re all looking for people with five year’s experience in the hot new thing that was invented last year.

                    A CEO needs to understand the business he’s in as well as having general skills. (That is, the myth of the MBA as a general-purpose expert has been exploded.) There’s no economic value in a degree that would be useful at the top if it doesn’t first get you to the middle.

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                    • A CEO is only as good as his immediate subordinates. I’ve seen CEOs do well who didn’t understand anything when they began: they only knew how to pick people. Conversely, I’ve seen people, I suppose we all have — who were promoted beyond their ability to lead a firm in a good direction.

                      Much as I scoff at them generally, there is a place for the MBA in middle management, especially when a firm is growing. It’s wise to have someone around who knows the business of business itself, much as MD programs put people through various aspects of medicine before they specialise.

                      Some MBA programs are manifestly better than others and some are outright worthless. But I’ve often wished I had an MBA: I once came to rely on one guy who did have an MBA to act as a proxy between my team of contractors and senior management for this firm. He knew how to talk to these guys. We were doing a scope and impact statement so we could see how much of the pea patch we were about to tear up. The MBA gave us loads of insight into how to frame the statement.

                      Math and logic, I’d add philosophy to that list as well, make for solid thinkers. Strengthen the muscles in the sensory organs which detect bullshit and weak thinking. He who can think abstractly without getting lost in the weeds of untested (and usually contestable) assertions will do well in any discipline.

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                    • You know, the more and more I think about it, I think math is sort of the original liberal art.

                      Maybe we can put the liberal arts degree bashing and stem degree worship to bed by agreeing to one proposal: All liberal arts degree majors will become in a second language (not necessarily fluency), analytic writing, research, giving professional presentations, working together on projects professionally with others, and some high-level mathematics.

                      I mean most liberal arts degrees do that already, but maybe we can make it a nationwide requirement or something just to shut the debate up. (Conversely, all STEM majors should have to show proficiency in analytic writing, knowledge about the arts and design, understanding political and ethical debates, etc.)

                      And all the small degree programs that have names that right wing people don’t like, e.g. “LGBT Studies” can change their name to sound like busines-friendly buzzwords. LGBTQ Studies can become “Corporate Diversity and Tolerance Analytics” and “Comparative Literature” can become “Nontraditional Business-Paradigm Solutions.” And “Philosophy” can become “Strategy and Assumption Analysis.”

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                    • “I have a math degree, which IMHO is the ideal degree for a compter scientist, because it teaches the right mental discipline for analyzing problems and designing solutions. ”

                      I think that the operative term is ‘computer scientist’; if a company is looking for ‘programmers’,………..

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                    • CS is just such a catch-all term, though. And the graduates of it are all over the map.

                      A BS in CS basically says “Um, this guy showed the minimum ability to adapt to new languages and programming concepts, and enough basic math to show he can think logically, and enough of the theory so that he sorta might understand how people do things in the real world. Maybe”.

                      I’ve got a CS degree — a bachelor’s and a Master’s. I’m not ragging on CS majors. But the people I’ve seen earn them range from unimaginative grunts who could probably work from a detailed enough work document to people who would have been great coders without the theory to people who shouldn’t be allowed to code, ever. EVER.

                      I found the theory side to be eh…mostly useless with a few exceptions (data structures, algorithm analysis, that sort of thing). The Master’s level stuff was a lot more useful, insofar as you deal with concepts that tend to be at least as complex as most multi-programmer applications.

                      Except, even then, I think I had a hugely unfair advantage compared to some of my classmates because I’d actually coded for a living. Their work was often…uninspired. Which is part talent and part experience. (I’m about middling as far as coders go. I’m no super-star, but if it can be done I’ll eventually manage it. Probably a bit early. But I’m not the guy doing four people’s work and coming up with outside-the-box awesome solutions over lunch).

                      The bext example I can think of was a simple distributed memory problem — every other program took a very complicated, centralized approach to handing out shared memory. None of that was necessary. I solved the same problem with a quarter the code without needing a central server to farm out the pages.

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                  • STEM only is of benefit to the middle rung.

                    That’s very short-sighted. STEM is valuable to the lower rungs because of the technological advances it creates–not just in ever cooler techie gadgets, but in medical advances, advances in energy efficiency, etc.

                    Right now the U.S. imports a huge number of its STEM folks. I’m fine with letting in as many as are willing to come, but competition for them is increasing. If we lose an increasing number to other countries, we’d damn we’ll start better producing more local ones.

                    That’s not a screed against the humanities and social sciences, but a screed in favor of continuing our emphasis on STEM.

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                    • My personal theory is that in a nation with 300 million people, we have an over supply of almost everyone. Also lots of companies are still snobby about educational credentialism and school branding.

                      A lot of Silicon Valley companies would rather be able to say all their techies/engineers come from elite schools than take someone from a perfectly good but less brand-name school.

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                    • I’ve not heard about school snobbery, but Google brags about their corporate GPA.

                      “Yes, you do have some amazing accomplishments in the past 20 years, but we can’t hire someone who only had a 3.3.”

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                    • STEM is not the answer. STEM people with no humanities in their background are lousy around ordinary people. I can work with them: I keep them away from clients, though.

                      Classic case in point: back in the days of the Space Race, NASA was chock full of STEM types. Superior intellects, yes. But their marriages all failed. Furthermore, they never produced cost-effective solutions. STEM types don’t know how to lead.

                      Yes, NASA produced a great many useful techie gadgets and overcame many difficult hurdles. But story after story comes out of those times, of creative people who were crushed down under Wernher von Braun’s autocratic style. The LEM, the vehicle which landed on the moon, was almost never built. One poor engineer had the guts to go behind von Braun’s back to convince the administrators of the necessity of the LEM.

                      MIT, the organisation which built the inertial guidance system for Apollo, started off well enough with one interesting gadget, a really good gyroscope. Software was a new discipline at the time: MIT, for all its STEM thinking, was never able to software control development effectively, though they were masters at hardware. The routine which managed guidance to the Moon’s surface — was almost an afterthought. MIT continued to dither until NASA finally intervened and put in effective management.

                      STEM is not the answer. I’d rather have someone who knows how to think than someone who knows how to do. Both skills are necessary, I suppose. Just don’t say technology solves problems. Technology creates as many problems as it solves. People solve problems.

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                    • Also, I think international competition for science and engineering graduate schools here in the US is a great thing, truly great. We have a lot of the world’s elite schools, so the world’s best talent (not just America’s) is going to graduate from MIT, Berkeley, Harvard, UT Austin, etc., etc.

                      Pushing US kids who aren’t as talented as the worlds best or the U.S.’s best STEM talent is just going to reault in a flood of crappy researchers and engineers (as with the law school bubble) and might even retard scientific innovation and eonomic growth.

                      More reserachers isn’t better, necessarily. Could be too many cooks in the kitchen. And more American-born researchers and engineers coming out of top schools could be counterproductive.

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                    • Somehow, STEM seems to eliminate all the creative people. The usual minefields are Organic Chemistry or DiffEq. It’s a real problem for the Chinese, who’ve put a great deal of emphasis on producing STEM talent. None of them seem to be very creative. Well, all those equations of equilibrium taught them the fundamentals of efficiency: it’s more profitable to steal than invent.

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                    • “Right now the U.S. imports a huge number of its STEM folks. I’m fine with letting in as many as are willing to come, but competition for them is increasing. If we lose an increasing number to other countries, we’d damn we’ll start better producing more local ones.”

                      We are producing more local ones that we can hire.

                      The thing is that companies want a long line outside their doors of MIT grads delighted to work for ‘three hots and a cot’. That’s what the ‘shortage’ is.

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                    • The thing is that companies want a long line outside their doors of MIT grads delighted to work for ‘three hots and a cot’. That’s what the ‘shortage’ is.

                      The other thing the companies want is workers who can’t easily be wooed away to another company later.

                      That’s where much of the push for the H1-B visas is. Not only will many of them do (substandard but barely-passable) work for “three hots and a cot”, the visa’s tied to company employment so they can’t be hired away easily. It’s indentured servitude dressed up to look pretty, but it’s still indentured servitude.

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                    • Right now the U.S. imports a huge number of its STEM folks. I’m fine with letting in as many as are willing to come, but competition for them is increasing. If we lose an increasing number to other countries, we’d damn we’ll start better producing more local ones.

                      The thing about STEM folks is that we mostly produce information, so in the long run it really doesn’t matter where it’s created. It doesn’t really matter all that much whether a new drug or computer program is created in China or the US.

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                    • Jesus, folks, talk about needing education…

                      ND, there’s a recession on, you might have heard about it, I’m talking about the long term trend and you give me today’s news? You shoud go look at the academic job searches in mathematics over the past 20 years.

                      Blaise, who ever said STEM people should only know STEM? Nobody here, but you wrote as though you were correcting someone who had.

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                  • What he does need is to understand culture- the culture of his customers, the culture of his company, and he needs to master the political skill of persuasion and insight into character in order to create an effective organization out of wildly disparate people all driven with conflicting agendas.

                    Sure, but what’s the evidence that a liberal arts education teaches this? I wouldn’t be surprised if these skills were negatively correlated with having a STEM education, but due more to self-selection than to the actual content of education.

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              • so a good job is not working with your hands? then please, tell that to my Union electrician who pulls in close to 6 figures a year. or Mailmen that make 50,000 a year. not everyone is destined for a traditional 4 year College, nor should they. Money doesn’t buy happiness, it buys stuff.

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          • Mike,

            There are a number of theories, both historical and contemporary, on the purpose of public education.

            Private educational institutions technically craft their own purpose (via a mission statement), but are largely influenced by these broader philosophies. Also, most suffer from a huge disconnect between their stated mission and their on-the-ground efforts.

            Even your suggestion comes with its own questions: What is a “good job”? Does that mean the same thing for everyone? If not, how and when do we determine the types of “good jobs” individuals should be prepared for? How do we ensure society has people ready, willing, and able to work the necessary “bad jobs”? These don’t necessarily reject it, but they are the sorts of questions that need to be answered. So even if everyone agreed that education was intended to help people get good jobs, they wouldn’t agree on much more than that.

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      • “I am not accusing you of being a Michelle Rhee sympathizer.”

        Them’s fightin’ words, mister!

        Actually I agree with the above, that we don’t have a clear national consensus on what we want from education. Further, I think most articles on the subject tend to absolve parents and community of their involvement in schools, and view schools like an auto repair shop for childrens brains- we drop them off, they get filled up with “education” and we pick them up, ready for admission to an Ivy League college.

        At the risk of ruining my liberal street cred, I think there is a valid point about the effect of family structure on children’s ability to learn, or more exactly, the effect of parental role models on children’s desire to learn.

        Which is what underlies my communitarian impulses- what happens to my neighbor’s family has an external effect on the level of education in my son’s school.

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        • I don’t think anyone would disagree with this.

          I am a bit skeptical of the End of Men argument and the panic about how men are not going to college. The real thing is that it is the End of SOME Men but accurate copy does not sell well or generate page-clicks. Which men are not going to college? I suspect that if a boy comes from a household where one or both parents have a college education*, that boy will probably go on and graduate from college just fine.

          The parents tend to be very involved in white-collar school districts. This is why many education proponents like the idea of mixed-income school districts. The middle class and above parents put pressure on the teachers and hold them accountable and this raises test scores for everyone.

          *It would be interesting to see what happens to boys in houses where the mother has a college degree but the father does not as compared to houses where the dad has a college degree and the mom does not or both parents are university-educated. I suspect that once both parents have university degrees or higher that becomes the educational achievement norm. Both my parents have advanced degrees and I just sort of took it as natural that I would also get an advanced degree in something without much thought. It wasn’t until I was in grad school that my parent’s even mentioned they expected me to get an advanced degree. They considered it important to show academic mastery of a subject.

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    • Here is another area where public schools are failing. When my son gets ready for school, I’ll be looking not only at how well a given school educates, but also how it handles incidents like this:

      7 Year Old Suspended For Gun Shaped Pastry

      Every time I hear about incidents like this, where schools seem to severely over-react to kids being kids, I worry. I wonder, are their hands so utterly tied by law, or are they so incapable of thought as to be unable to find a better way of dealing with incidents like this?

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  6. If Portland has three times the population of Vancouver but only added twice as many new citizens, isn’t it actually growing at a slower relative rate?

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    • “If Portland has three times the population of Vancouver but only added twice as many new citizens, isn’t it actually growing at a slower relative rate?”

      Yes, but Vancouver will still continue to fall farther behind.

      If you have 100 marbles and I have 10 marbles, and every day you are given two new marbles and I am given one, my rate of growth will always be higher than yours – but the disparity between our marble collections will grow. I won’t be able to catch up until I am able to regularly get more new marbles than you do, percentages be damned.

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    • In the example, your rate of growth, though initially faster, drops to half of mine. But growth rates are a function of existing population and don’t usually adjust like that (with some exceptions for cities that are geographically limited and by ordinance have trouble adding new housing, so they just fill up).

      Going by the Google numbers linked in the OP, Vancouver has a growth rate of 2.545 percent per year and Portland has a growth rate of 1.275 percent per year, almost exactly a 2:1 difference. If continued Vancouver will start adding more people than Portland in the year 2059 (when it’s population reaches half of Portlands) and will pass Portland in total population in the year 2115, when each city is about to surpass 2.2 million people.

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      • A big chunk of the growth in that Google graph is from 1997, when Vancouver annexed outlying non-incorporated communities. If you assume that annual annexation is not a realistic growth strategy and focus on the non-annex years, I think you’ll find the math doesn’t pencil out.

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      • Well, prior to the step change of Vancouver’s annexations (1990-1999), Vancouver’s growth rate was 1.3% and Portland’s was 0.35%, and after the step-change (2000-2009) Vancouver’s growth rate was 1.37% and Portland’s was 0.737%. Portland had a step change from annexation the same year that Vancouver did, and it’s probably that the increase in its growth rate after that was due to further annexations on the eastern side.

        Portland map of historical annexations.

        However, to a conservative comparing Portland to Vancouver is like arguing over the optimal form of socialism. From 2000 to 2009 Portland added an average of eleven people a day. Dallas-Fort Worth is adding 345 people a day, growing over 30 times faster in absolute terms. Even with the step changes from Portland and Vancouver’s annexations, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington grew more last year than those two cities have in the last 20 years.

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  7. Quick question:

    How often is a property for sale in Vancouver listed that states it is “minutes’ drive from Portland”?

    I suspect most of them will be. Vancouver, for all its “yay libertopia” nonsensical structures, clearly would not exist if it were not a suburb of Portland.

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  8. You had me on the verge of packing a bag and moving to Portland for the first 2/3 of the article.

    Then the latter third had me hating every hipster liberal in your fair city.

    Then I got to this almost-throw-away line: “…while the Portland-metropolitan area has the highest per-capita strip club ratio in the country.”

    I’m in.

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    • Maybe TMI, and I don’t want to paint myself as some sort of strip-club connoisseur; I’ve been to what I assume is an average number of clubs for a man my age – usually with a drunken bachelor party – and have found them to be ludicrous at best, downright depressing at worst, and always, always a cynical exercise in maximum money extraction in which NOBODY comes off looking good.

      But – Portland has the single best strip club I have ever been to. A thoroughly-pleasant experience. My gal and I wandered into one while barhopping. There was:

      1.) No cover charge (!) I can’t remember, it might have been a weeknight. You’re not going to start the whole experience with some cash-extraction right at the door?! Insanity!

      2.) No crowd; just a few people (see #1), including couples. We were seated right at the bar.

      3.) A bar!! Where I am from, you can drink, or you can look at naked people dancing; but you cannot be trusted to do both in the same establishment. Being able to get a drink (reasonably-priced, no less) is nice – esp. in an establishment that is a bit disconcerting by its very nature.

      4.) The raven-haired young lady onstage was stunning, with a beautifully intricate neck-to-toe tattoo running down the entire left side of her body; the tat was a work of art in itself, well-deserving of display and appreciation.

      5.) The clincher for us – she wasn’t dancing to Motley Crue, or DJ Assault, or typical bump & grind fare; no, she was dancing (“swaying” is maybe better) to Scots post-rock band Mogwai!!! (link SFW, it’s just a lovely, lovely song, not club video footage or anything).

      I guess what I’m trying to say is, even Portland’s sleaze is nicer than your town’s.

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      • Heh… I was mostly joking about strip clubs. For a long time I abhorred them, as they attracted the type of behavior from men that I just find really obnoxious and they were a really easy way to blow money needlessly. Recently, I’ve come to enjoy them a bit more as a novelty during bachelor parties and the like. If crewing up with the guys and we can find a place similar to what you describe here (no cover, an actual bar, professionals with a bit more taste and class), we’ll sometimes stop in because a bar with beautiful women is generally better than a bar without.

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      • I don’t think one strip club is a representative sample. There could be plenty of really depressing and creepy ones as well.

        But Portland does strike me as the city that would have some kind of alternative, semi-hip, semi-bohemian strip club and see it as a kind of liberation/alt thing to do.

        I’ve only been to Portland once but it strikes me as a very odd city. A woman I know grew up in the suburbs of Portland during the late 80s and 90s. She said she is not used to Portland being a cool city but a city with an “inferiority complex.” Portland as a cool city is a relatively recent trend.

        Portland is still cheap in many ways compared to much of the United States. Or my perceptions of real estate are just skewed by living near or in NYC and the Bay Area for my entire life. Tod might write about people getting priced out of Portland but the real estate still looks like a steal to me. A high school friend lives in Portland and she once put a post on FB asking if anyone wanted a 3-bedroom apartment in SE Portland for 1400 dollars. That is really cheap to me. Other people I know have confirmed that if you are single and childless, it is possible to live a semi-Bohemian existence in Portland and not be too uncomfortable.

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      • That being said I know some people with white-collar jobs who fled Portland because they said they were required to work just as long as people in NYC or San Francisco but for much less pay because of the lower cost of living. These people decided it was better to get paid NYC or SF wages if required to work those kind of hours.

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          • When “long hours” is the primary differentiator I think it depends…If you are working really long hours, and are never home anyway, why not get a shoebox apt. in NYC for the same price that you could get a larger apt. in Portland, and pocket the difference in higher NYC pay (assuming it’s sufficiently higher to compensate for the *other* increases in NYC COL like food etc.)?

            (Of course, you could also get a cheap shoebox in Portland. It all depends on what the pay differential is, and what the range of apt. rents is).

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          • There is more to cost-of-living than rent:

            I have noticed that a lot of Tier I/Tier II cities have similar prices for things especially since this is the age of the Standard Retail Price.

            Clyde Common is a very popular restaurant in Oregon and very of the age. You can find similar establishments in any major US City.

            The prices are the same as they would be in San Francisco or New York. Appetizers cost around 9-12 dollars. Entrees: 24-26 dollars. Glasses of wine are 8-10 dollars, Cocktails 8-12, etc.

            These are standard upmarket restaurant prices across the US.

            Other things are also equal cost: Books, Sneakers, Clothing, etc.

            Context Clothing is an upmarket men’s clothing store in Madison, WI. The prices are only slightly cheaper than a similar store in San Francisco.

            Hence, it might make more sense to make 125,000 in NY or SF than 70,000 in Portland.

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            • Well put. A $55K salary difference almost assuredly outpaces damn near any cost-of-living adjustment.

              But I think the “there is more to cost-of-living than rent” argument goes both ways. Groceries are much more expensive in Manhattan than anywhere else I’ve lived. If you live in an area where you are limited to the Food Emporiums or D’Agostinos of the world (a truly terrible prison, indeed), price tags look like telephone numbers. This is slowly changing, with Fairway expanding and Whole Foods and Trader Joes moving in, but I think that is one area that is different and which a lot of people are wholly ignorant of. It all comes down to how much someone educates themselves on the particulars of their situation. A $5K bump probably doesn’t justify a switch to Manhattan, unless you prefer Manhattan over Portland otherwise. A $55K jump almost certainly does. Where exactly that line falls will be based on a number of factors.

              I dated a girl who was earning, I believe, in the mid- to high-50s fresh out of college working for a big accounting firm. She lived in Murray Hill but had gone to high school in the San Antonio suburbs. She used to complain that she was stuck in a tiny apartment (note: her apartment was large by Manhattan standards; she was just a brat) in Manhattan when she could have had a house and a BMW on her salary in Texas. When I explained that she wouldn’t be earning that same salary in Texas, she insisted I just didn’t understand. Alas…

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          • That seems to show a fundamental misunderstanding of cost-of-living, no?

            Depends on how cheap you are. If you’re the kind of person who spends what you need to and saves the rest, you’ll probably come out ahead in an area with high wages and high cost of living. If you’re the type who saves a fixed amount (possibly zero) and spends the rest, you might be better off in an area with low wages and low cost of living.

            I had a recruiter trying to sell me on a job in Guangzhou once, talking about how the low cost of living more than makes up for the lower wages. If I were the latter type of person, that might have been true. But since I’m not, the total salary he was offering was less than what I save in my current job.

            Note that progressive taxation and variation in local taxes (New York City, especially, has positively European tax rates) can skew this decision. If your pre-tax salary goes up 30% when you move from Seattle to NYC, your after-tax income may only go up 20% or so.

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  9. An extraordinarily well-written piece. Easily one of the top ten posts I’ve read since I’ve gotten here.

    For me, a city is its neighbourhoods. It seems to me a newer neighbourhood always has some advantages, however temporary they might be. Neighbourhoods and their infrastructures must be recycled. At turns, rebuilding is more expensive than repairs but that’s what must be done to bring a neighbourhood back online.

    I used to play keyboards with a municipal planner. A city tells a story, he told me, a play, with props and actors. All those little figures you see on the architecture models, they’re the actors. But new acts are always being written and added to the book: planners are playwrights. New endings can be written at any time. It’s a matter of editing. And night after night, the show goes on. But without asses in chairs, without all those little yellow lights coming out of people’s kitchen windows, living there in town, it’s a waste of time and money and the show will close. Each city exists for its own reasons. When that reason is gone, the town winks out.

    Portland and Vancouver have their own reasons for existence, a point you’ve made very well. But without a fuller understanding of its neighbourhoods, it’s hard to get a better picture of why people choose Portland.

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  10. Question…. Wikipedia shows totally different demographic trends. It shows Vancouver has tripled in population, while Portland has grown by about a third since 1990. Did Vancouver redefine their city borders or something?

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  11. This really was an enjoyable and informative read. Five stars.  Let me play my usual devils advocate…

    Before starting though, I basically agree the Republicans don’t have a coherent strategy or message. This isn’t a defense of anything GOP, just a push back on Tod’s narrative.

    First, though I know zero about Vancouver (heck, I thought it was in Canada:^)) this piece amounts to argument via an anecdote.  Tod is highlighting an exception to a general rule, which is that lower tax states tend to have substantially higher net growth rates than their opposites.

    Second, he is doing it by oddly enough comparing the metropolis with a bedroom community which is actually growing at a faster rate. On the other hand, it isn’t unusual to have emerging suburbs grow faster than their anchor cities.  

    Third, the main argument ends up going against a caricature of conservatives more than a reality of what conservatives actually seem to pursue.  My experience is that they are big fans of museums, schools, parks, fire departments, police forces, freeways and such.  They like government supplied stuff and when given an opportunity vote for it and pay for just like those on the other side of the aisle. Republicans love high property tax school districts with good schools.

    Now let me shift voices and answer a few of Tod’s hypotheticals not as a conservative, but as a classical liberal. 

    “So why not focus on a way to make living in Portland better, more effective and more efficient?”

    Great advice, but my warning is that a morass of monopoly services are going to resist restraint. They will become congested with special interest groups, rent seekers, inefficiency and bureaucratic and regulatory bloat. Absent competition and reinvention, sclerosis and rent seeking via internal exploitation are virtually guaranteed. The problem isn’t Portland today, it is Portland as it becomes Detroit.  And to be clear, I think Detroit-like is the destiny of complex monopolies. Western and Eastern history provide thousands of examples supporting this contention. 

    Long way to say that if the republicans fall for the recommendation to change the nature of monopoly they will have lost the game before it starts.  I suspect they will do so.

    “Saying Taxes + Government = Bad!  Freedom = Good! over and over is pretty cheap and takes little in the way of specifics; coming up with a plan to make the system better would be comparatively hard and expensive.  It would, however, give the public an alternative it might actually want.”

    Freedom isn’t the key word.  The key word is competition.  Freedom supports constructive competition by providing voluntary choice and reducing the risk of involuntary exploitation, rent seeking and inefficiency. But this isn’t a defense of conservatives, as they don’t recognize this much better than liberals.  

    My two cents.

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    • Capital is far more mobile than labor, and Detroit is what happens when capital goes away and leaves labor behind. The real argument against taxation is that capital seeks low-taxation, low-regulation regimes, and will eventually abandon places like Portland. It also seeks high-subsidy regimes, of course, so the end result of competition for capital is regressive tax systems, with labor bribing capital to provide jobs. You see this frequently, with localities granting tax exemptions to large new employers who move on when those exemptions expire.

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      • Capital is far more mobile than labor

        That depends on the kind of capital. Financial assets are mobile, factories not so much. If you want to move production to a different city, you either have to:

        1. Sell the factory to someone in the same business, in which case most of your employees will still have jobs.
        2. Sell it to someone in a different business and take a hit on all the industry-specific features of your factory.
        3. In the case of places like Detroit, just abandon it and take an even bigger hit.

        It also seeks high-subsidy regimes, of course, so the end result of competition for capital is regressive tax systems, with labor bribing capital to provide jobs. You see this frequently, with localities granting tax exemptions to large new employers who move on when those exemptions expire.

        There shouldn’t be any business taxes at all. Business taxes are good politics, because most voters see them as a free lunch, but lousy economics.

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          • Do businesses not have employees, who pay income taxes? Do they not have consumers, who pay consumption taxes?

            Charging use fees for government services makes sense. That way businesses which make heavy use of government services pay proportionately more, and overconsumption of government services is not encouraged. But levying taxes on business income without respect to consumption of government services solves no such problem, and has the obvious drawback of encouraging people to invest elsewhere—or perhaps not at all, and instead choose to consume.

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            • Local tax exemptions are almost always for property taxes, which is the local tax base intended to pay for local services. Not levying them on selected property owners (because it’s not all businesses, jut the ones large enough to cut special deals) is, as I said, a subsidy.

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      • Isn’t saying capital is more mobile partially just another way to say that capital is more dynamic? That entry, exit and competition are just more significant for capital?

        I agree that capital, like labor, will seek rents if it can find them, and fight for them once attained. That is one reason I lobby for competition, to free citizens of this exploitation.

        What do you recommend, Mike?
        .

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        • I wish I had a recommendation. The fact is that finance capitalism has a logic of its own, in which the only value of people is that they’re currently required for the reproductive cycle of money; it’s sort of the way nurseries value bees, a necessary evil to create flowers.

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    • This is again the “Everything Is A Toaster” theory- that the delivery of toasters, medical care, cable TV service, roads, sewer systems, legal advice…these all are markets, and all should be delivered via free market competition.

      Toothpaste is highly efficient, since we have 40 different types to choose from (90% made by only 2 different entities, but ignore that!);

      Would our streets be better if there were Acme Roads competing against Smith Bros. roads? AAA Police Services versus Blackwater Security?

      Are there certain products and services that can be delivered efficiently via regulated monopoly?
      Are there methods of controlling these monopolies other than competition?
      Is price efficiency always a desireable?

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          • Here’s my answer…

            Separating police forces from direct involvement with the political (as opposed to policy) process is a good thing in areas where police abuses are both rampant and protected by other local political institutions. If police forces were contracted out, they’d be subject to review by an institution (probably two!) that was tasked with enforcing the public interest without conflicts of interest directly entering into decision-making, not to mention the indirect influences of wedding the DA’s office to the police.

            I’m not sure that’s enough to justify privatizing police forces, but it’s an argument!

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            • I’m thinking that the core problem with privitization of core government concerns (defense, policing, roads, firefighters — wherever you draw the line) is the concept of ‘profit motive’ as it relates to these things.

              And the distortions this can add. Which of course can be countered by heavy regulation, to ensure that your private police aren’t cutting corners in training, or performance, or any other metric. Which may or may not, in the end, cost more than simply doing it through the government.

              I don’t necessarily believe the government can do any given job better than the private market. OTOH, I don’t necessarily believe the private market is going to perform better than the government at a given task. It kinds depends on the task.

              Prison’s are a good example — there’s some nasty stories about private prisons and the push to fill them (including judges being involved). OTOH, you have the California Prison Guard’s union. And, well, any state prison in the south.

              All things being equal, I’d suspect well run government is probably a better source for handling prisons. Perhaps not building them, but certainly running the dang things. But again, you’ve got, oh, Mississippi’s jails. *shudder*

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              • I’m right there with ya. I think profit motive is the problem, but it’s a problem you encounter in both directions. So the defects – and merits – of both approaches are pretty apparent.

                If we could design political institutions which excluded individual self-interest from the equation we’d be more than half way to a solution.

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                • Part of it is, well, how government is perceived as a job itself. I mean, pride in your job and your work is important in pretty much any field, but government’s a bit different in that you take an AWFUL lot of crap (or at least hear it on the TV) about your job that you wouldn’t if you were doing the same job for a private company.

                  The best functioning governments tend to be the ones where, if not a prestige, there is at least a value assigned to public service. Wherein the ‘servant’ part of ‘civil servant’ is important and given a lot of weight.

                  And given the nature of governments, that sort of thing is set at the top for the most part. Now entrenched bureaucrats can be a power base all on their own, and mass voter views can wield a great deal of weight — but it seems government often lives and dies a lot by who is placed on top.

                  I mean, does anyone think the career folks at FEMA became utterly incompetent during both Bush presidencies (Bush the Elder had his own issues there) and magically became massively competent during the Clinton and Obama presidencies?

                  Of course not. It’s like 98% the same people. But under both Bushs, FEMA wasn’t considered a real job — it was pure bit of patronage, a cushy little organization for donors and not something expected to work. It’s not like they were subtle about it (Clinton and Obama nominated disaster management experts. The Bushes..did not).

                  We glorify doctors and lawyers (despite the lawsuits and jokes) and bankers, and even police and firefighters and soldiers — but generally we do NOT regard the guy at the DMV, or the lady handling billing for some branch of FEMA, the same way.

                  (That’s the nice way of putting it. The GOP in general views every government worker who ISN’T a soldier, firefighter or police officer as a leech).

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                  • Looking at how they attempted to mess with the amendment that made it easier for women who’d been raped in the military to sue, you should adjust that to male soldiers, firemen, and police officers.

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            • “If police forces were contracted out, they’d be subject to review by an institution (probably two!) that was tasked with enforcing the public interest without conflicts of interest directly entering into decision-making, ”

              Has this been true with military contractors?

              Separating the political from police force seems eminently reasonable; how this translates into private versus public is what I don’t grasp.

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              • Yes, good point. My suggestion is that if we trust our state and lower level government officials to govern with respect for the law, then we should see an uptick in prosecutions of cops and a downtick in the use of excessive force if the overt political connections between cops and other institutional players is severed.

                If we don’t see those things – or if you think we wouldn’t see those things – then the problem isn’t with privatizing cops, it’s with the folks who play roles in other institutions.

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          • It seems to me that there is a significant segment of the society that sees the police as, if not fundamentally corrupt, interested in protecting and serving the interests of the police above and beyond protecting and serving the citizenry. Above and beyond the difference between “keeping the peace” and “law enforcement”, there is a huge segment that sees the cops as being interested in crimes that could result in forfeiture (drugs, prostitution) and uninterested in violent or property crimes.

            As for empirical data, I’ll just point to Dorner’s recent murder spree and the response from (what struck me as, anyway) a surprisingly large segment of the population that said #GoDornerGo, #WeAreAllChrisDorner and so on.

            The general feeling is that the likely outcome to an upset citizenry is that they will demand an inquiry, hear that the officers in question have been put on paid leave, hear that the inquiry has found that the officers did nothing wrong (“procedures were followed”) and, in the next year or so, the officers will get a commendation or two.

            The ability to say “you know what, I’d rather be able to pick between AAA and Blackwater” is preferable to hearing that the inquiry determined that since the police officers had not been trained to not violate the rights of the citizens, the fundamental problem was with the training, which has since been addressed, take our word for it, and people who wish to file further complaints must do so in person at the police station.

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            • Yeah, but also consider the concept of a ‘ticket quota’ and how infuriated that makes people.

              I don’t think hiding behind limited liability corporations or contracts is going to make either police brutality or running up the fines as a profit-motive any more palatable — or easy for a citizen to address.

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            • And after you pick Blackwater, who (you should excuse the expression) polices them? The record of private law enforcement like the Pinkertons is not encouraging, anymore than that of Xyzzy (or whatever name Blackwater is hiding out under these days)

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              • I think that begs the question at the first level, tho maybe not at the second.

                At the first level, the Pinkertons would be policed by the institutional structures we have in place to do policing: legislatures (via funding), the executive, and the courts. If we trust those institutions to act in the public interest at all – and for whatever reasons! – then they should be able to police a private firm acting as the police.

                At the second level, well, that’s politics, no?

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                    • But hiring the Pinkertons wasn’t used as a reform measure. It was used as a first order measure, at least with respect to governance. And primarily by private entities and not government.

                      Blackwater is also a different thing. It was hired to achieve goals that were +/- unilaterally determined by the executive to be worth pursuing, evidence and public opinion be damned.

                      The point I’m trying to make here is that if normal democratic processes governing check and balances are in place – that is, if we have a functioning democracy – then hiring private firms to perform police work in accordance with the law ought to be easy. The folks tasked with governing them do so.

                      If the argument is that our political institutions can’t govern private police forces – for whatever reasons – then that’s an indictment of our governance and not the privatizing of cops.

                      I’m not advocating for privatizing cops, mind. But if we think they shouldn’t be privatized because our political institutions are so corrupt as to be incapable of governing them effectively, then that falls on our political institutions and not the cops themselves.

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                    • Stillwater,

                      That seems like a strange way to look at the problem. I think it would be better stated that the privatization of our police forces (the same as for prisons) introduce some negative incentives* which make governance of those actors much more difficult (for a variety of reasons). So it’s not that our institutions are too corrupt, that our institutions are not (or perhaps given recent SCOTUS precedent, cannot) be designed to effectively handle privatized police forces.

                      * It’s worth noting that in house police forces have their own incentives that (in my subjective opinion) have a negative effect on policy, but privatization adds in a whole new array of issues, namely lobbying for more criminal laws etc., which it is hard for any political system (let alone ours) to deal with. The Director of a Bureau of Prisons and the CEO of a prison company have different values and goals driving their decision making, and institutions designed to channel the former into useful social policy may not be suited to dealing with the latter.

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                    • Gaelen,

                      Yes, you’re right that the incentives in a private police firm could run counter to the public good. I don’t disagree with that. But I’m not sure what you meant by this:

                      our institutions are not (or perhaps given recent SCOTUS precedent, cannot) be designed to effectively handle privatized police forces.

                      Could you elaborate a bit?

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                    • That was just a reference to Citizens United, and probably (I don’t actually know) precedent dealing with regulation of lobbying more generally. For me the analogy of privatization of police to the private prison industry (and prison guards unions) presents a useful guide to how hard (or impossible) it would be to regulate the donations and lobbying which would seek to advance the interests of the private firms.

                      It just seems like the private rent seeking (as opposed the bureaucratic kind) is rightly constitutionally protected (making it harder to control). And the rent they are extracting is not just taxpayer money, but the ‘lives’ of citizens.

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              • I’d like to think that the ability to fire Blackwater would, in theory, make it somewhat easier to get rid of bad apples.

                Of course, it’d probably end up that whether we hired AAA or Blackwater, all we’d change is management. They’d hire the same sub-contractors to work the streets no matter who was in charge.

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            • Speakingof empirical data-
              More than a few defense contractors have been convicted of outright fraud, and have been held responsible for the deaths of servicemen via shoddy workmanship and negligence; I would have thought the reference to Blackwater was obvious enough, but google KBR electrocution, or Dyncorp child brothels.

              After that, lets decide- did the Defense Department use the magic of competition to say “you know what, I’d rather be able to pick between AAA and Blackwater and avoid the fraud and ugly scandals”?

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                • As corrupt as police officers might be, a private militia is even less accountable. Christ (shakes head) — you are advocating for death squads. And don’t say you’re not. That’s what private militias become. Patrullos civiles, I’ve seen what they do.

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                    • So instead of government enforcing its laws with oversight, we farm out law enforcement to private parties — then see if they enforce them in accordance with the laws. What’s wrong with this picture?

                      Once again, let’s all sing the Libertarian Song. The Free Market Shall Solve Our Every Problem. C’mon, kids, you know how it goes. Key of G. (puffs on pitch pipe)

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                    • They would not be private militias. That language is pure fear-mongering.

                      Government contracts out lots of its services. More important than government actually producing those services is that it provides for them–it makes sure they are available for the public. Whether it is “better” for government to produce the services itself or to contact out for them is the question (with “better” in square quotes because there are competing understandings of what counts as better).

                      Of course some services will be more appropriate to contract out than others. For example, nearly everyone believes government should ensure trash pickup, but few people argue that there’s any problem with government contracting out for that service.

                      Private prisons, on the other hand, don’t seem to be proving desirable. It may be that the essential “force” activities of government are not well-suited for contracting out. So even though “private militias” is overwrought, contracting our police services seems a pretty dubious policy.

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                    • I’m all about efficiencies, James. Your points are sound enough: when it comes to cost basis, I want the best value for money. There’s nothing disputable in your comment.

                      But when it comes to law enforcement and the justice system, it’s a terrible idea to outsource these aspects of government. There’s no accountability. It leads to death squads. I’ve seen it happen. I do not want Hessians in our military and I do not want privateers enforcing our laws.

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                    • BP,

                      I’m generally in agreement with your point, but not your language. If you can’t make an argument without fear-mongering language, you need to step back and start over.

                      And it’s not as though public law enforcement is immune to the problems you describe. The sister of an LAPD officer once explained the Rodney King beating to my wife and me this way–the police know who some of these drug dealers are, so they stop them on any pretext, and if they don’t find drugs/weapons on them they beat them so they’ll at least be off be streets for a few days.

                      I once had a resident of a western Nebraska town tell me about the mysterious disappearances of those who conflicted with the police.

                      Look at my link below about Mexican police torturing suspects. And google “death squads Mexican police.”

                      Or google “police death squads New Orleans.”

                      Police are necessary, but inherently dangerous. Making them true public servants may very well constrain the danger better than making them contractors–I certainly think it does so–but even so it doesn’t ensure we’ll have no police death squads, torture chambers and vigilante justice, and no guarantee we’ll have accountability.

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                    • I suspect that most of this is a question of which hill you want to die on, distrusting government or distrusting corporations.

                      FWIW, I find the possibility of corruption, incompetence, or people simply working against the public good in the name of self-interest to be inherent in either choice. But I’d still probably opt for government run police, since I’d rather be able to “fire” the screw up than fire the guy that hired the screw up and cross my fingers that the new guy didn’t hire a screw up as well.

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                    • I am not fearmongering. I’m pointing to the historical track record of private militias such as the Pinkertons and Blackwater and the Regulators and the patrullos civiles.

                      We can prosecute police for crimes. There’s an oversight mechanism. No such mechanism exists for a private militia. Nor could it: “whatcha gonna do when they come for you” — without a warrant ? Without probable cause? Gonna take that to the DA — or to civil court?

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                    • We can prosecute police for crimes. There’s an oversight mechanism. No such mechanism exists for a private militia. Nor could it: “whatcha gonna do when they come for you” — without a warrant ? Without probable cause? Gonna take that to the DA — or to civil court?

                      No such mechanism exists? Look, I’m on your side on the issue of contracting out police services, but you’re making weak arguments.

                      If my city contracted out its policing services it could very easily institute such mechanisms in the contract. Plus those mechanisms already effectively exist as a matter of constitutional law. We’re talking about municipally contracted police services in an American city, not federally contracted police services in a subjugated land. The contract and the courts are the oversight mechanism.

                      Again, I am not for contracting out police services, but it is fundamentally wrong to think that they would somehow have greater protection of law than municipally employed police. I think they might very well act worse, creating even more problems than we currently have with police, but in no way would they have greater protection for their and behaviors.

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                    • If my city contracted out its policing services it could very easily institute such mechanisms in the contract. Plus those mechanisms already effectively exist as a matter of constitutional law.

                      Very easily? As with Blackwater’s rampant abuses in Iraq? Where was the accountability there? What about CCA’s problems with substandard guards to tolerate abuse of prisoners?

                      It’s just wrong to farm out law enforcement to anyone but government. Now if your viewpoint says Government == Monopoly Corporation, then sure, I can see your point. A rent-a-cop is just as good as a sworn officer. A rent-a-judge would be just as good as any elected official. A rent-a-soldier just as good as a regular soldier. Hell, why not just privatise all of government and let the corporations run the world? United States of CHOAM, complete with an Emperor Padishah.

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                    • There you go again, comparing what happens in a U.S. municipality with what happened in a country we were militarily occupying.

                      It’s hard to know where to begin to rectify such a ridiculous comparison.

                      First, the general rule has always been that the Constitution applies less strictly in wartime/war zones. Iraq was a war zone, my municipality isn’t (not even when people use that term to describe places like Detroit or L.A.)

                      Second, Blackwater had a no-bid contract. Municipalities cannot generally do that, and certainly not for a project of that scope.

                      Third, Blackwater was responsible to an administration that actively and publicly did not care about abuses.

                      Fourth, the chain of accountability for Blackwater was very meager. Any private police service a municipality hires has at least three levels of government it is accountable to, municipal, state, federal, and with increasing numbers of different bodies within those levels as they increase (e.g, civil rights commissions and DOJ, in addition to courts).

                      Now, why don’t you tell me how Blackwater could escape the boundaries of state and federal law if it was a contractor for police services in, say, Omaha, Nebraska?

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                    • *eyeroll* people die in America every year, killed by “private militias”. Some of them gang related… some of them significantly more corporate.

                      (leaving out assassins, as those are operating under different principles).

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                    • Blaise,

                      1. I’ve repeatedly and explicitly said that I don’t want to contract out police services, yet this is the third time you’ve implied that I do.

                      2. You did not actually respond to my rebuttal of your fallacious militarily-occupied-Iraq/U.S. municipality comparison.

                      3. I’d still like to see you answer the question of how Blackwater could avoid oversight if it contracted its policing services to Omaha, Nebraska.

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                    • Now, why don’t you tell me how Blackwater could escape the boundaries of state and federal law if it was a contractor for police services in, say, Omaha, Nebraska?

                      Let’s just start with the money. I’m a government contractor. I submit time sheets and invoices. What’s to prevent Omaha Rent-a-Cop from filing false time sheets and invoices? Let’s just start there.

                      Remember, James, we’ve privatised this, given Omaha Rent-a-Cop a contract. Who’s going to sign the time sheet? Who’s going to pay the invoice?

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                    • What’s to prevent Omaha Rent-a-Cop from filing false time sheets and invoices?
                      Only the same thing that stops any other government contractor from filing false time sheets and invoices. The potential penalties they face. This isn’t a serious argument, because it doesn’t distinguish between the contracting we both oppose–policing–and the types of contracting out we both would support (e.g., road building, construction of court houses, etc.)

                      <emRemember, James, we’ve privatised this, given Omaha Rent-a-Cop a contract. Who’s going to sign the time sheet?
                      Presumably the Rent-a-Cop Corp.’s relevant supervisor. Same as with my brother, when he worked for Rent-a-Road-Builder Corp.

                      Who’s going to pay the invoice?
                      Government, same as when they contract out to build a road or courthouse.

                      You haven’t provided an argument that Blackwater would be unaccountable. And I don’t think the real question of interest to either of us is invoices and time sheets. Hell, if they actually provided better policing but cheated on their time sheets, it would probably be a good trade-off; but neither of us believe that better policing is the likely outcome, do we?

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                    • No. The client signs the time sheet. The client pays the invoice. Not the Omaha Rent-a-Cop supervisor. I’ve done a lot of government contracting. Trust me, you do NOT want anyone on the Omaha Rent-a-Cop payroll signing the time sheet. They aren’t paying the invoice.

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                    • Eh, I’ve seen it both ways, but it still doesn’t matter, because you’re still talking about contracting generally, which is not the issue of concern. (And that’s setting aside the fact that government employees can falsify time sheets and invoices, too.)

                      I’m somewhat afraid your next criticism will be that contract employees might sometimes sleep on the job, and how will we ever control for that?

                      I repeat, these issues are not your main area of concern. You are concerned about contract policemen being able to abuse citizens without there being any effective oversight to prevent and punish that abuse. That is indeed a worthy concern.

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                  • If it’s possible to fire them (or, at least, hire someone else to do the job) that seems a significant difference from Death Squads.

                    Indeed, that’s one of the things that our police as they exist now seems to have in common with patrullos civiles.

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                    • Get with the plan, Jaybird. Nobody prosecuted Blackwater’s crimes in Fallujah — right up to the point where private militias took them out and burned their bodies and hung them up on a bridge.

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                    • Unless, of course, you think we should take those cops involved in that tragic shooting in Torrance and burn their bodies and hang them from the nearest overpass. Police officers have oversight. Their actions are a matter of public record. We have due process.

                      What you seem to want, Jaybird, is delegation without mandate. That’s bad management practice in every situation, public and private. Rent-a-cops running around — and your solution is to fire them — when they commit crimes?

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                    • This subthread encapsulates a lot of what goes on in these threads, where there is an assertion:
                      “governmental corruption can be solved by privatisation”.

                      The assertion is entirely a hypothetical, along the lines of “IF we had a freed market/ competition/ outsourcing/ whatever, THEN such and such a thing would happen”.

                      Where has any of this been shown to occur?

                      Where have we seen examples of a corrupt governmental entity that was made less corrupt by privatizing?

                      What- other than dreamy imagining- causes people to so fervently believe this would happen?

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                    • JayBird,

                      I am responding to all your points here:

                      1. I don’t think that privitization will lead to an increased ability in firing police/law enforcement officers. I can’t imagine any company agreeing to do it without a strong dose of being liability-free in their contracts. We know this from Blackwater’s actions during the Iraq War and the travails of the woman who says she was rapped by various Blackwater types and then took a while to get to court because of Blackwater’s contract with the government. At the very least they will demand mandatory arbitration and I am very suspicious of arbitration:

                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamie_Leigh_Jones

                      The jury eventually found in the defendants favor but the whole thing does not speak well of privitization.

                      2. Everything I’ve read makes me believe that Blackwater type companies hire really unsavory characters. This is not saying that everyone who applies to the police is a saint. But the guy who founded Blackwater is a really political far-right wing almost fascist and acts accordingly.

                      3. There have been police officers who have used their positions to commit crimes and gotten caught and prosecuted. The most recent examples I can think of are the Cannibal Cop, a police officer in NYC plead guilty or was convicted of sexual assault, and a cop in the East Bay was convicted or plead guilty to various corruption offences in Federal Court.

                      4. Police and Prosecutor’s need some immunity from lawsuits but it has gotten too far out of hand. Here I agree with you. In my ideal world, any prosecutor found to violate the Brady rule would face immediate and speedy disbarment proceedings. Same for police for tamper or plant evidence. I might even combine this with a rule that they cannot work in private security either.

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                    • LWA writes…”The assertion is entirely a hypothetical, along the lines of “IF we had a freed market/ competition/ outsourcing/ whatever, THEN such and such a thing would happen”. Where has any of this been shown to occur? ….What- other than dreamy imagining- causes people to so fervently believe this would happen?”

                      The only example I can think of is the entire history of the human race. I suggest you read Douglas North, Joel Mokyr and/or Eric Jones. There are several dozen othe writers I could recommend, but these are good places to start.

                      I could give internet article recommendations for each. In brief, the narrative is that monopolistic, closed access empires and bureaucracies inevitably stifle change and progress in pursuit of exploitation of the masses by those in power. Decentralized, open access, entities thrive via a process of constructive cultural competition and cooperation.

                      This model can be used to explain scientific progress, technological progress, political progress and economic progress. To oversimplify, it involves nested hierarchies of institutional competition.

                      It is a big topic though, bigger than a subthread.

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                    • LWA,

                      Examples.

                      Competition: Automobiles. Compare U.S. and European innovation in automobiles to Soviet innovation in automobiles.

                      Outsourcing: Yellowstone National Park used to operate its own campgrounds. Funding was based on federal budgeting, so cuts to the Park Service’s budget had to be base on need–policing and trash pickup were top of the list (for good reason–no snark here, the NPS generally made good decisions on where to allocate their money) and campgrounds were very low on the list. Instead of diverting money from more important needs to maintain campgrounds (particularly such things as the bathrooms), the Park Service would sometimes have to close the campground (or at least a loop of it). So in ~1993 the NPs turned over campground management to its hotel concessionaire. The concession contract required, iirc, 20% of revenues to be plowed back into property upkeep. The bathrooms got fixed, the closed campground loops got re-opened.

                      Again, I’m not arguing for contracting out police services. Nor am I arguing that market competition and/or contracting out will inevitably do better than direct government production of the good/service in all cases. But examples of markets and contracting providing better results are trivially easy to find.

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                    • LWA,

                      I sometimes don’t know if you are being serious or not. I’m not trying to argue by anecdote, which is my primary disagreement with the OP (Tod writes an eloquent piece on a notable exception to the general trend).

                      But if you want examples, let me add to James’:

                      Personal experience: I spent three decades in corporate America. When I retired, I was the officer in charge of innovation and product development at one of the largest insurers in the country. In other words, my livelihood depended upon understanding how large organizations work. My experience is that they naturally bloat and become sclerotic by adding levels of staffing, red tape, useless overhead, inefficiency, free tiding and administrative BS as executives and administrators carve up the organization into personal fiefdoms. They not only resist change and efficiency, as both are existential threats to their power, they actively pursue both.

                      For more examples and details, look up Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy, or the Seven Rules of Bureaucracy by Pettegrew and Vance, or Charlton’s Cancer of Bureaucracy, or Parkinson’s law.

                      The point is that anyone who has actually worked in a large organization knows about this bureacratic attractor. There must be forces within an organization which counteract this tendency, or it will become worse and worse over time. The major force resisting this tendency is external competition. If a company becomes too inefficient, it risks losing market share to more competitive and less inefficient, less sclerotic upstarts. In insurance, an example is the growth of GEICO and various lower cost direct marketing companies to the old bloated agency models. Absent competition and consumer selection, there would be no reason for companies to fight this tendency.

                      LWA, are you not familiar with this organizational tendency? Have you never worked in a bureaucracy?

                      HIstoric examples:

                      I would suggest starting with David Landes summary of why Europe flourished as China stagnated.

                      http://www.sfu.ca/~djacks/courses/ECON451/PDFs/Landes,%20Why%20Europe%20and%20the%20West.pdf

                      Choice quote:

                      “..the intrigue of a palace milieu where innovations were judged by their consequences for the balance of power and influence. No proposals were made that did not incite resistance; no novelties offered that did not frighten vested interests. At all levels, moreover, fear of reprimand (or worse) outweighed the prospect of reward. A good idea brought credit to one’s superior; a mistake was invariably the fault of subordinates.

                      One consequence was a prudent, almost instinctive, resistance to change.

                      Another consequence was a plague of lies and misinformation: officials wrote and told their superiors what they wanted to hear; or what the subordinate thought the superior would want to hear. The smothering of incentive and the cultivation of mendacity are characteristic weaknesses of large bureaucracies, whether public or private (business corporations). These are composed of nominal colleagues, who are supposedly pulling together but in fact are adversarial players. What is more, they compete within the organization, not in a free market of ideas, but in a closed world of guile and maneuver. Here the advantage lies with those in place. Reformers and subversives beware.”

                      End quote.

                      China, had a monopolistic empire while Europe was divided into hundreds of competing states. China was able to squash innovation and change and experimentation and freedom and economic improvement, and basically did. In Europe, as Douglas North has written in detail, no single prince was able to stamp out experimentation and change, because when they did so the people found someplace else.

                      For another take on the same dynamic, see this summary of Eric Jones:

                      http://www.tampereclub.org/e-publications/9Baurmann.pdf

                      The best antidote to bureaucracy and exploitation are competition and freedom. See the hundreds of competing city states of classical Greece. The flourishing of culture in the Northern Italian city states. The independent states of the miracle of the Netherlands. The competing states of Western Europe. The cantons of Switzerland. the United but fragmented States of America.

                      For another take on the issue, look up Jared Diamond’s thoughts on intermediate fragmentation on the Edge web page.

                      I could provide hundreds of personal samples, I could supply dozens of historians and even philosophers pointing out the same process of the role that competition and variation play.

                      Heck, read Darwin, read Donald Cambell, read Kant, read Shumpeter, read Acemoglu. The problem isn’t providing examples, it is knowing when to stop.

                      Note also that as my comment at the bottom of this thread states, competition is NOT the only way to manage monopoly.

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                    • James provided a concrete example, which gets us somewhere.
                      We can look at it, measure it, evaluate it.

                      Did the outsourcing cost less, and give better results? Is it truly competitive, or is it a rat’s nest of cronyism and patronage?
                      I don’t know, and will yield to either possibility.

                      But can we use this to conclude that privatized services always provide superior results for less cost?
                      I don’t think so. Pentagon contracting is one counterexample, and we could find an array of others, from cable tv to municipal towing.
                      And from previous threads, we know that USPS and FedEx provide essentially the same service for the same cost, head to head.

                      So what can we conclude?

                      I would assert that there is nothing intrinsic to governmental or private services that leads to one or the other being universally preferable- corruption and price fixing can just as easily be accomplished in either sector.
                      Moreover, I assert that there are many services where price efficiency should not be the primary driver- other factors like universal access or uninterrupted service are worth a lower standard of efficiency.

                      Which ties this back to the original post- Portland’s municipal services are probably less cost efficient than if they were private- but they provide universal access which the taxpayers value more.

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                    • You asked for an anecdotal example in support of competition. I refused because an anecdote won’t prove anything. James provided one and surprise, you conclude an example proves nothing.

                      Some parting remarks…
                      1) you continue to ignore the disease that we are treating. This is what most of my comments have tried to address.
                      2) you continue to confuse competition with a prescription for privatization. Privatization is just one path. I have provided others and they seem to make no impact on you.
                      3) you asked if there were other solutions to the problem other than competition. I answered to the affirmative and provided several. Again, this clarification seems to have made no impact on your position.
                      4) We never argued that efficiency is the only value or that market solutions are universally better. Nor would I. I seriously doubt James would either.

                      My thesis which I supported extensively:
                      Complex organizations are strongly attracted to inefficiency and sclerotic bloat and rent seeking. Competition is one of the most successful proven ways to combat this tendency. It is not the only way, nor always the best way. Monopolies escape this disciplining process and are thus much more prone to the disease. There are multiple ways to address this, only one of which is privatization.

                      Feel free to disagree, but please do so with what I am actually saying.

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                    • Roger wins the sub-thread. Hands down. Why? He provides a better description!

                      Those were some very excellent comments Roger. With a little tweaking, they could be a useful and informative front page post.

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                    • LWA: “can we use this to conclude that privatized services always provide superior results for less cost?” (emphasis added)
                      Aargh. No, no, the example cannot be used to support an absolutist claim that nobody here has made. Why is that even a question?

                      Roger: “We never argued that efficiency is the only value or that market solutions are universally better. Nor would I. I seriously doubt James would either. “
                      Amen, brother. Amen.

                      Stillwater: “Roger wins the sub-thread”
                      Amen, brother. Amen.

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                    • Yes, I’m well aware police officers with union benefits are histories greatest monsters, with teachers and other government employees with union benefits.

                      You change the current problem with police brutality by voting in politicians who will actually work to reform things, not by saying, “screw it, let’s give up and hand over things to a corporation who’s overriding motive by law has to be acquiring the greatest profit.”

                      I mean, you do realize you’re basically arguing for the plot of Robocop as a positive thing, only without the cyborg cop, right?

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                    • Did I ever say it was going to be easy? Or that the police union would roll over and die?

                      I guess what it comes down too, is that the only possible thing I could think of that would probably make American law enforcement worse than it already is in many parts of the country would be handing it over to private contractors.

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                    • 1. I don’t know what union benefits have to do with the fact he was acquitted. I’d doubt that would change with or without a union. Being a white guy versus a non-white person in a courtroom is still a nice advantage to have in America.

                      2. Yes, the union has to attempt for him to get his job back. Because that is likely in his contract. Perhaps the mayor (or whoever negotiated the contract) could’ve removed that clause in favor of a slight pay bump or something else.

                      Again, considering we went through a whole rigamarole over in Iraq with PMC’s covering up rapes by their employees despite no unions being involved, I don’t get how replacing evil union employees with at-will employees will be a major shift when in both cases, the same macho culture is at its core.

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                    • Jonathan Josey is an African-American, Jesse.

                      You should look at the picture of the guy assaulting the woman, not the picture of the guy who wrote the story about the guy who was acquitted of assaulting the woman.

                      With that in mind, would you like to re-write your comment?

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                    • OK. Regardless, police offices, union or no union, white or black, are always going to get the benefit of the doubt in the public eye, especially when it involves a person who isn’t part of mainstream society.

                      My major point is that as long as police officers are lauded in mainstream society as perfect warriors who must not be questioned, you can remove all the benefits and union rights you want and it’ll still be hard to fire the vast majority of bad cops.

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