Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Aspiring Politicians Learn to Dissemble

Hayek' Road to Serfdom argued that a major problem with socialism was that it encouraged the most ruthless and illiberal to rise to the top. As they find their plans untenable, they will be forced to apply force to achieve their aims, so those willing to apply such force will tend to be most successful in such systems. A problem with modern politics is that as only dissembling narcissists can succeed, politicians at all levels become such pathetic losers.

Recently my school board voted for busing to rectify the achievement gap that results from the new Somali immigrants who cluster at certain schools. This has made certain elementary schools have lower scores than others, and so their solution is to spread the Somalis around. That this only superficially rids one metric of inequality while not actually raising Somali scores (except through the theory of osmosis), and making my little guys take a longer bus ride across town, makes me almost want to run for the school board. Today's election in my little town consisted solely of school board elections, and it has polarized the town [note: we voted the busing advocates out].

I don't care about schools so much that I would allocate 15 hours a week to them, so I looked for someone being elected who shares my views. Unfortunately, reading their position statements, they all speak in platitudes similar to those spoken by senators and presidents, making statements that no one disagrees with.

Here's various takes on the softball question of how they would approach the School Board Governance Policy (which is never defined):

"the idea behind governance – clearly defining the roles of the superintendent and board – is a good one. If all parties commit to transparency and accountability, this model could work...."

"Board focus should be on achieving results and maintaining direct communications with stakeholders. Policies should state what should and shouldn’t be done..."

"Every group – like the Eden Prairie School Board – needs a set of rules, bylaws, or a governance policy..."

“I support coherent governance because it provides a comprehensive and systematic way for the Eden Prairie School Board to guide and monitor operations and results of the district..."

The rest of their vision statements are so vapid one might as well just know that first and foremost they all want to be liked by everyone, and think that being trite and vague are the best ways to that end. These aspiring politicians are afraid of saying anything that people might actually disagree with, but then if everyone agrees with you, you really aren't saying anything interesting. As George Orwell noted in his classic Politics and the English Language, the great enemy of clear language is insincerity. It's a dominant strategy. Remember Barack Obama's response to Rick Warren's question as to what he thinks about abortion: 'that's above my pay grade.' This was a stupid answer (he has an opinion and it would affect policy), but it probably worked out better for him than articulating his true beliefs. In a democracy the winner has to pander to a rabble--though there are better and worse among them.

This is a major reason why I prefer a smaller government, because at least businessmen pursues their own advantage more openly and honestly, whereas government workers pursue their self interest hypocritically and under false pretenses. Petty school board nominees are now aping our betters, and bringing the level of discourse down to a point where everyone is afraid of a Kinsley gaffe.


Anonymous #5 said...

Not sure how "smaller government" solves your problem here. How big is the Minneapolis school board? How small do you want it to be?

Also, you are taking a simple first-order disagreement (you don't support busing) and writing as if your real objections are to "hypocrisy" and "false pretenses." (I read your book: when you write about hypocrisy and false pretenses within the business world, you write in a resigned matter, as a realist who understands that people often advance their interests through obfuscation.)

Eric Falkenstein said...

The smaller the domain of their realm the better the world will be, because they must be much more deceptive and insincere than in business.

Dross said...

As someone who just won a seat on the local BOE, I resemble that.

But seriously, while my goals are to improve education and make our kids competitive in this global economy by benchmarking better systems, as indicated by higher test scores. I have doubts. Specifically because the Obama adminstration has effectively implemented a national core curriculum. More of the one size fits all model of governance.

Essentially this federal takeover was implemented via "Race to Top" funding, basically want your tax money back? Then embrace the federal program. That's extortion in anyone's book.

A key characteristic of centralized power is one size fits all. We are all equal and therefore we are all mediocre.

Mercury said...

Government at all levels is increasingly in business for itself at this point. The vapid platitudes you cite are just acknowledgements that public education is primarily a jobs program for adults.

Also, it always amazes me how abortion activists (in both camps really) can get away with being so disingenuous. Like many things in life sometimes it can plausibly (or not) be the lesser of two evils AND a morally fraught, disturbing business filled with unknown consequences. For instance, if it were legal in 1961 Obama probably wouldn't be around today.

Anonymous said...

Big government created the problem and now big government is trying to solve it. We launched a pointless military action in Somalia. We then took tens of thousands of third-worlders who are illiterate in any language, not just English, and brought them over, at our expense, via the near open-borders refugee policy along with the heavily subsidized "non-profit" refugee industry. We then set them up in the welfare state where their food, housing and education is "free" or subsidized via Section 8, food stamps, etc. Without all these previously established big-government policies and the unelected Met Council pushing for more low-income housing (and "dissembling" politicians on the city council in the early 90's, some of whom are still there and one of whom is now mayor), there'd be no way that an "affluent" suburban school district would have been flooded with expensive-to-educate, low-scoring ESL/"special education" kids. They'd be mostly the kids of people who can afford to live in the area, not the children of one of the lowest-IQ nations on earth. There will always be an "achievement gap" when you have decades of big welfare bring together drastically different groups for totally unnatural comparisons. Sure, critics will say all of the above is racist, segregationist, anti-progressive, politically incorrect, offensive, etc. You can say all of that, but you can't say it's untrue... at least with any honest or logical argument.

Dave said...

I generally also support smaller government, but your reasoning is no good.

Most petty businessmen have also learned to ape their betters and are strongly afraid of saying anything with actual content. It's a relic of our education and grading system for the upper middle class.

B. A. said...

Regardless of the circumstances, making strong clear statements in front of a diverse audience is going to bring you more bitterness from those who disagree with you than support from those who do (which is something that we see every now and then on the comments section of your blog). It's a bad trade, in my view, because of human nature, rather than education.