Leave them teachers alone

A story on NPR about research into motivating teachers got my attention. Researchers experimented with offering Chicago-area teachers different types of bonuses to see how they affected student performance (as measured by test scores). They found that test scores improved the most if the bonus was given to the teachers up front with the threat of taking it away when students didn’t perform.

(So what group of right-wingers conducted this research? Let’s see…, oh, economists at the University of Chicago. Figures. Wait, didn’t Milton Friedman already come up with the solutions to all of our economic problems? No?)

A couple of things gall me about this story. Why did the researchers choose teachers? Why not experiment on people in the Chicago area who are legitimately overpaid like hedge fund managers or CEOs or Theo Epstein? Take their perks away and see how they perform. But teachers are popular punching bags theses days, and no one needs an excuse to draw the inevitable conclusion that they don’t work hard enough. It won’t take a lot of imagination for someone to suggest dispensing with the bonus and simply take teachers’ pay away when the test scores don’t triple every year. Maybe the real problem with teacher motivation is the blame they get for your and your kids’ educational shortcomings.

Then the reporter admits at the end that the results have not been replicated or sustained. I can’t tell if this is bad research or bad reporting. Either way, NPR’s selection of which research breakthroughs to report on could be a little more rigorous.

Hunting the Rich

A letter to the editors of The Economist.


Maybe I should not be surprised that, despite their penchant for sensible solutions and cool-headed, rational analysis, the editors of The Economist would get so exercised over modest tax increases for the wealthy (September 24, “Hunting the Rich”, page 13). Since your editors and writers are anonymous my imagination is left to envision a tantrum-throwing CEO or an oily investor from Dubai or whoever you have calling the shots berating the editors about how “Leviathan” should keep its hands off his bulletproof fourth home in southern California (see “Beverly Hills Flop”, page 38).

Get over yourselves. The “soaking” you are shrieking about is more like a light splash. Your briefing “Diving into the Rich Pool” (whatever that means) leads us to the oh-so-inevitable conclusion that higher taxes on the rich will destroy us all. Yet it is not so much a matter of whether higher marginal tax rates retard short and medium term growth slightly, but a matter of fairness and whether, in democracies, the people have the right to legislate such equitable treatment rather than be held economic hostage by a clique of plutocrats.

Surely you do not expect us to accept the neo-feudal suggestion that rich must be at liberty to look over the rest of us. Shrinking tax rates did not stop us from getting into the present mess, nor did historically higher tax rates ever stop anyone from being rich (page 38). In the United States (“America”, as you like to call it) the proposal is to simply raise the marginal tax rate to its previous historical low of the prosperous 1990s, a time when rich people did just fine (see page 38 again).

Or perhaps you do expect us to buy this nonsense since the United Kingdom, from which your magazine emanates, is a model for such medieval arrangements, presided over by an unelected family of parasites subsisting in great luxury on public money. Because that is the inevitable conclusion when we trade away our democratic initiative and political independence to wealthiest 2 percent in return for the chance of their good favor.

Good hunting.


Somebody in this building was evicted today. I saw the notice posted a few days ago. Today when I came home there was a big pile of furniture and boxes of stuff by the dumpster. I’m tempted to say this is a “sign of the times” but aside from it being a cliche I have no idea if it’s true.

Sign of winter

It’s been a little warmer out so we’ve been trying to walk more. The snow is melting but is also re-freezing on the sidewalks, so walks take longer than normal. We keep passing a “For Sale” sign by a house down the street; next to it is a handwritten “Divorce Must Sell” sign that seems more bitter than desperate.

Handwritten sign reading Divorce Must Sell next to a printed For Sale yard sign.
Handwritten sign reading Divorce Must Sell next to a printed For Sale yard sign.

A close shave?

Every October Gillette advertises its razors during the baseball playoffs. And every year they promote a new model with an extra blade in it. They’re up to five per razor. When I’m an old man will Gillette razors have forty blades in them? Will each additional blade shave my beard that much closer?

The Gillette corporation is breaking the law of diminishing returns. There should be an economics police.