Killing Geology in Florida

| 48 Comments

Joe Meert has been blogging on the “progress” of state budget negotiations in the Florida legislature. State universities are going to take massive financial hits, and the University of Florida has decided to adapt to those hits by effectively eliminating whole departments, including the Geology department. Those who have any influence in Florida should contact the appropriate state legislators ASAP: the negotiations are going on right now and will be finished over the weekend.

The response of the several universities in the state system vary. The University of South Florida is cutting jobs, but not laying off untenured or tenured faculty. The University of Florida, on the other hand, is cutting whole programs. Nothing like a meat axe to encourage higher education.

48 Comments

I have been in these types of positions before; my program was cut and I ended up leaving for another university. These are often agonizing decisions and involve a lot of factors that it is hard for outsiders to know anything about. Things like, how many majors the program pulls in, what is the funding situation, and (most importantly) how easy would it be to merge faculty into other departments.

This stuff is bad, but things can and will get a lot of worse. In particular, it is almost a given that a lot of liberal arts schools will be closing their doors permanently in the next decade.

all ya gotta do is talk floridians into paying more taxes.

Paying more taxes is hard to do when (1) the people have to vote to do this to themselves; and (2) a disturbingly large percentage of people are unemployed, meaning everyone else has to pay even more.

When the state income is greatly reduced, a lot of things have to suffer big cuts. HOW to cut is the challenge, because it’s a zero-sum game - every dollar you preserve (for the geology department) must come out of someone else’s program. Do you eliminate TAs? Cut faculty? Cut departments? Raise tuitions? Eliminate capital expenditures? Discontinue research? WHICH research?

I understand that Joe Meert wants somebody else’s ox to get gored. Who doesn’t?

From talking to some paleo-people here, Florida’s loss is NCSU’s gain. It seems like the students are being granted terminal masters, and are looking for new programs. NCSU paleontology has a late deadline for applications, and they are getting some good applicants from UF: one student already has two field sites, 6 papers (including 1 in Nature).

One of my good colleagues here is a UF grad and a huge supporter of the university. Well he used to be a supporter. He no longer supports them.

When I heard about this, I wrote an open letter to the president and dean at UF, and also submitted it to the Gainesville Sun, pointing out the importance of geology to UF, the state of Florida, and our society. I emailed it to the president and dean, but cc’ed it to several Florida legislators and other governmental figures (including Governor Crist). I’ve heard from several of the governmental figures (although certainly some of them were form letters), but neither the president nor dean.

If you want to read the letter, you can see it here: http://www.gainesvillemoms.com/arti[…]03/904041008

I don’t think that Joe (or many other faculty from Geology or other programs receiving disproportionate cuts) are simply saying cut somebody else. I think the idea is that if you savagely cut a program as is being proposed here, you essentially destroy it. By cutting the staff and non-tenured faculty in Geology, you remove the ability of the labs to operate, and you drastically decrease the teaching of lower-level gen ed classes. Everyone that I’ve talked to feels that a better solution is to spread the cuts over a wider area, which would harm all departments by a relatively small amount. I’ve already heard that many of the Geology faculty are considering leaving. If the cuts were proportionate, I don’t think this would happen, at least not to this extent. Of course, the best solution would be for the legislature to grow a pair and adequately fund higher education in Florida, but in the absence of that, at least distribute the cuts equitably.

At this point, I’m very close to being completely through with supporting UF in any way. If these cuts go through, I’m done with them. Even if the cuts are avoided, I’m letting UF know that I will not financially support the University until both a new president and dean are in place.

Here’s some info on what the University of Central Florida may be doing in response to the budget cuts:

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news[…]722417.story

Cutting 500 jobs doesn’t sound too serious but 25 academic programs is pretty nuts when you only have a few more than 200!

And UCF was just now starting to become a real up-and-coming university with their military connections that they’d acquired after the investment in that supercomputer (not to mention the football team is looking to have a good year!). I’m not in Florida, but if these cuts ever make it to my state, I’m thinking of starting a campaign imploring rich people (of which I am most definitely not one) to invest in education - but that’s probably just a pipedream, the amount of money needed to stabilize the infrastructure in California is probably beyond even Bill Gates’ grasp - oh if I still lived in Illinois…

I don’t know about the particular case of Florida, but it was the case in the 2000s that many states expanded their budgets dramatically, and now a lot of those states are having to deal with budget shortfalls as those expansions now meet lean times.

I live in Tallahassee and I’m a grad of Florida State University. FSU is going through the same budget hell as UF. When the FSU president’s office presented a list of proposed draconian cuts, I was angry that no athletic programs were among them. The adiminstration explained that the athletic department is self-financed through primarily football games, the associated TV revenue, and booster contributions.

I take a backseat to no one when it comes to supporting FSU athletics, but even I found this to be an absurd explanation. The primary purpose of a university is to educate a wide range of people on a wide range of subjects. Athletics is secondary. It should probably even be an afterthought. So when the educational side of the university is bleeding cash, money ought to be taken from the atheltic department to help the rest of the institution. Bah, nobody listens to me.

And just to make this relevant to the blog, FSU recently held a terrific “Origins” seminar that featured several big names in evolutionary biology, including E.O. Wilson and Donald Johansen. Videos of their lectures are available here:

http://origins.fsu.edu/schedule/index.shtml

fasteddie, While I understand the frustration that athletics programs should sacrifice and even agree with you, I believe there are regulations against it. I think it comes down to the NCAA arguing that if there were allowed to be a money flow of athletics to academics, then schools like Notre Dame would have an unfair advantage or something and that it would also taint the academic world by tying it to athletics. I don’t completely understand the reasoning nor can I make a good case for it, but I imagine someone here with more knowledge on the issue would be able to explain it better than myself.

Seward said:

I don’t know about the particular case of Florida, but it was the case in the 2000s that many states expanded their budgets dramatically, and now a lot of those states are having to deal with budget shortfalls as those expansions now meet lean times.

No state that I know of expanded its budget in recent years. If any occurred, I highly doubt they went to higher education. There were budget shortfalls in 2003 and universities were forced to cut their budgets then. Those “temporary” cuts were never restored and now with new cuts being proposed, and increased costs, I’ve heard figures that, for instance, in Georgia the public universities have something like 17% less state funding than they had in 2000, but are not necessarily allowed to raise tuition to cover the costs.

Flint said:

Paying more taxes is hard to do when (1) the people have to vote to do this to themselves; and (2) a disturbingly large percentage of people are unemployed, meaning everyone else has to pay even more.

When the state income is greatly reduced, a lot of things have to suffer big cuts. HOW to cut is the challenge, because it’s a zero-sum game - every dollar you preserve (for the geology department) must come out of someone else’s program. Do you eliminate TAs? Cut faculty? Cut departments? Raise tuitions? Eliminate capital expenditures? Discontinue research? WHICH research?

I understand that Joe Meert wants somebody else’s ox to get gored. Who doesn’t?

Not quite true. The strange thing is that even given the worst case scenario, there is a way for the university to get through the crisis without layoffs and without the closure of departments. While I know best how the cuts will affect geology (and the state of Florida), I have been defending higher education in the entire state. Secondly, the Senate has figured out a budget that will not devastate higher education so it would seem logical that the house could do so as well.

Cheers

Joe Meert

Reed Cartwright,

No state that I know of expanded its budget in recent years.

Well, this is based on what I have read…

California is a pretty good example. Annual budget increases over the past six six or so has been at roughly a 7% clip, which is 2%-3% above what one would expect if the expansion were kept to costs associated with population growth, etc. I believe we also saw (if we average what the states as a whole were doing) increases in budget outlays between 7% and 9% in the middle parts of this decade up to 2008 (so roughly 2003 to 2008) and we will not be seeing any actual decreases in funding in most states as compared to the previous year’s funding, though the increase in funding will be down in comparison to past increases in most states.

As for how that shakes out re: government funding of higher ed, I don’t know much about that.

Er, the last six years or so.

Oh, I should also add that tuition at the University of Florida is (by far) the CHEAPEST of any of the AAU member schools. Florida could protect itself from major cuts if the University was allowed to raise tuition, but it’s a catch-22 since most of the students are supported by state lottery dollars.

Cheers

Joe Meert

Seward said:

I don’t know about the particular case of Florida, but it was the case in the 2000s that many states expanded their budgets dramatically, and now a lot of those states are having to deal with budget shortfalls as those expansions now meet lean times.

Florida has been cutting budgets on a regular basis. These proposed cuts are by far the worst.

Joe Meert,

Well, Florida has been privatizing a lot of its state services, so if you have seen budget cuts over the past few years that would be one reason why.

Joe,

There are a couple of issues here. First, the state lottery was sold to the voters as a way of supplementing education, but has (predictably) replaced tax dollars instead. My understanding is that the percentage of state contribution to higher ed. has decreased in the years since the lottery began.

If there were a real increase in monies (or at least not a decrease), whether from students directly, from lottery money, or from state contributions, this problem would not be happening. The second problem is the way that Bright Futures distributes money. (For those non-Floridians reading this, Bright Futures is a lottery-funded scholarship program here that gives complete or partial scholarships to Florida students who have GPAs out of high school above a certain point, or who maintain certain GPAs while in college.) Unfortunately, this program gives scholarships without reference to need, which means that the money will quickly be exhausted if tuition is raised. If, instead, scholarships had to be earned on the basis of performance but were disbursed on the basis of need (as was done when I was an undergraduate coming out of Connecticut), then only those students who really needed the money would be getting it, and it would go a lot further. In that case, raising tuition would, in fact, increase funds to higher ed.

Greg Mead

Joe Meert said:

Oh, I should also add that tuition at the University of Florida is (by far) the CHEAPEST of any of the AAU member schools. Florida could protect itself from major cuts if the University was allowed to raise tuition, but it’s a catch-22 since most of the students are supported by state lottery dollars.

Cheers

Joe Meert

Of course, the best solution would be for the legislature to grow a pair and adequately fund higher education in Florida

This just shoves the problem around. Don’t cut education, cut (fill in the blank) instead!

I think we’re talking around two basic problems here. The first is, state revenues in every state have been seriously reduced by the economic difficulties. Incomes, profits, sales, employment levels, all are down enough to hurt. And that means there MUST be cuts, because states aren’t like the federal government, they can’t legally run deficits. And cuts are always painful, no matter how they’re applied.

The second problem is, the pain of cuts is allocated by purely political processes. It’s like musical chairs where big people are allowed to shove smaller people out of chairs. Those with the political power protect their territories, and those without see themselves suffering more than an equal share of cuts.

Back to Joe Meert:

The strange thing is that even given the worst case scenario, there is a way for the university to get through the crisis without layoffs and without the closure of departments.

This is both true and misleading. The Japanese approach has been to cut salaries rather than lay people off, cut purchases but not stop them, cut services but not eliminate them, etc. This might be more humane, it might make ramping back up easier, but there’s also some evidence that it also tends to push problems around.

While I know best how the cuts will affect geology (and the state of Florida), I have been defending higher education in the entire state.

Again, the state has far fewer dollars to allocate across the board. If higher education isn’t cut, who is? Law enforcement? Highway maintenance? Recreation? Many states are going to all state-funded operations and saying “OK, you’re going to get a 10% total budget reduction, handle it however you want within the law.” Should higher education get a free pass? At whose expense?

Secondly, the Senate has figured out a budget that will not devastate higher education so it would seem logical that the house could do so as well.

Yes, of course. But remember, this is STILL a below-zero-sum game. If you’re an educator, the Senate approach is ducky. If you’re a construction worker, hey, how come the professors are getting a free pass while I get booted?

Flint said: I think we’re talking around two basic problems here. The first is, state revenues in every state have been seriously reduced by the economic difficulties. Incomes, profits, sales, employment levels, all are down enough to hurt. And that means there MUST be cuts, because states aren’t like the federal government, they can’t legally run deficits.

They can and do. The California budget deficit, for instance, should be around ~$28 billion after this fiscal year. This, however, is a quibble. You’re right in your general point that education is just one area among many hit by shrinking budgets caused in part by the economic downturn.

If higher education isn’t cut, who is? Law enforcement? Highway maintenance? Recreation? Many states are going to all state-funded operations and saying “OK, you’re going to get a 10% total budget reduction, handle it however you want within the law.” Should higher education get a free pass? At whose expense?

I think one argument is that in the long run higher education creates more wealth. By cutting it you are essentially ‘eating your seed corn,’ i.e. reducing future tax revenues by reducing the availability of Floridian skilled labor that would attract high-tech and high-end businesses.

But whatever the reasoning, it is ultimately up to the Universities to convince legislators about why they should be funded at current rates in a tax crunch.

This is both true and misleading. The Japanese approach has been to cut salaries rather than lay people off, cut purchases but not stop them, cut services but not eliminate them, etc. This might be more humane, it might make ramping back up easier, but there’s also some evidence that it also tends to push problems around.

Yes, in times of budget crisis decisions must be made and the question is whether or not to cut academic programs or keep the programs and cut in other ways. My guess is that the faculty are willing to cut in other ways. The point is that there are things in the budget that are not required by the state. Things like the Sun rail system or a sugar factory in the everglades. We can do those things when budgets are rich, in lean times we should protect those things that will bring the biggest return on the investment. Education has a proven track record in ROI.

Cheers

Joe Meert

eric:

No, states can’t run deficits. Doesn’t mean they don’t weasel around this in various ways (pink IOU slips and the like). But long ago it was legally established that they can’t legally do it. Sometimes budget estimates are inaccurate and the money runs out before the fiscal year, and there’s some flexibility for keeping the lights on, but it must be made up quickly.

As for higher education creating more wealth, this is both probably true, and probably irrelevant. The state’s job is NOT to create more wealth. It’s to provide essential services.

Joe:

You also seem to be confused with ROI. But ROI is simply nowhere to be found in the law, the philosphy, or the practice of representative government. People who maintain roads, to pick an example, could find financial reasons why potholes are expensive. Also missing the goal of government.

What happens (it’s probably obvious to everyone) is a budgetary ratchet effect. Something gets $X a year, with an increase of maybe 5-8% each year. Each increase is allocated somewhere, and that somewhere becomes sacrosanct. There was probably a time when UF didn’t even HAVE a geology department. But once started, it’s like every other government program - it CANNOT be cut, because [you name it - jobs, grants, current projects, education itself, ROI, whatever] now relies on it.

This is true across government as a whole. Every new or increased expenditure ALWAYS buys a constituency that relies on the program or increase. No matter the nominal purpose or actual allocation of the money, it buys a constituency. Which will be politically vocal when threatened - MY ox is more important than YOUR ox. You’d have a hard time finding any employee, of the state or otherwise, who’ll say “my work isn’t really very important, fire ME instead.”

If politicians would actually save budget surpluses instead of spending them to impress voters, then budget shortfalls would produce less crises.

Flint, there was also a time when Florida didn’t have a state government. So why don’t the politicians just get rid of the entire thing to save the people money.

Reed A. Cartwright said:

If politicians would actually save budget surpluses instead of spending them to impress voters, then budget shortfalls would produce less crises.

If voters would actually elect politicians who would save budget surpluses, instead of being impressed with big-spending politicians, then …

Flint said: No, states can’t run deficits.

A very quick and shallow web search brings me the factoid that the Florida constitution forbids budget deficits. Obviously, this does not apply to other states.

Link: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/pol[…]/814522.html

The state’s job is NOT to create more wealth. It’s to provide essential services.

I think that’s an extremely minimalist view of government. And even under that very minimalist view, creating more wealth is pretty darn close to ‘promoting the general welfare,’ don’t you think?

While the State may have things it is obligated to do, the people can (and regularly do) also authorize it to do other, nonobligatory things. Such as provide higher education opportunities for the state’s citizens. This is no different than my condo community deciding to let the association handle our water supply rather than individual homeowners doing it. And like that example, one’s personal opinions on higher education does not carry veto authority over the communities’ choice.

Anyway, you asked why education should get a free pass. I don’t think anyone here is arguing it should get a completely free pass, only that there are rational reasons why cutting education is not a good idea. You’re arguing that higher education is not something the State is constitutionally required to do. That doesn’t mean cutting it is a good decision.

eric,

There are ways for states (or at least some of them) to get around the various constitutional, etc. demands re: balanced budgets; having a sort of rolling budget where you borrow to fill any gap until the next year’s revenue arrives is one way. Of course when funds for borrowing become more problematic to get - which is what is happening now apparently - that sort of thing doesn’t work so well.

eric:

You might be interested in this link about state budgets. Florida is normal.

All the states except Vermont have a legal requirement of a balanced budget. Some are constitutional, some are statutory, and some have been derived by judicial decision from constitutional provisions about state indebtedness that do not, on their face, call for a balanced budget.

Moving right along:

I think that’s an extremely minimalist view of government. And even under that very minimalist view, creating more wealth is pretty darn close to ‘promoting the general welfare,’ don’t you think?

My opinions don’t carry much weight in these matters. However, I can assure you you’re on the wrong track. You have succinctly described the role of private industry, not government. Historically, government has never existed to create wealth, to show a profit, or to provide positive ROI. In fact, very much the opposite - government initially existed to provide services that could not be profitably provided by the private sector. Much of government continues to exist for this purpose.

Anyway, you asked why education should get a free pass. I don’t think anyone here is arguing it should get a completely free pass, only that there are rational reasons why cutting education is not a good idea. You’re arguing that higher education is not something the State is constitutionally required to do. That doesn’t mean cutting it is a good decision.

What I’ve been trying very hard to point out is, cutting MY LIVELIHOOD, whatever it might be, is universally viewed as a BAD IDEA by every individual regardless. Depending on what I do for a living, I confect reasons why MY budget is more critical than any one else’s, which I find totally compelling for some strange reason!

Taxes follow this same principle - taxes are necessary, but should rest most heavily on YOU, not on ME, for carefully crafted reasons of special pleading. Maybe you make more money, so you can afford taxes better, so YOU should pay more. Or maybe you make less money, meaning you absorb more than your share of government expenses, so you should pay more accordingly. Or whatever.

But I still have to laugh, I’m sorry. I’ve been reading many discussion groups talking about budget cuts, and the same pattern repeats pretty much identically. Artists are convinced art grants should be the most protected of all expenses. Construction workers can’t understand why anyone in their right mind would place education before infrastructure. And so it goes.

Flint said: I can assure you you’re on the wrong track. You have succinctly described the role of private industry, not government.

So, is my condo association “government” or “private industry?” I’m delegating my authority to someone else. It’s not entirely voluntary - that sounds like government. But it is about “creating wealth” because the entire purpose of the association is to ensure the value of the housing in it stays high. Which you tell me is not a function of government. And of course the association delegates its duties to a private company. Oh cursed reality! Why won’t you be black and white! :)

That’s meant to be a humorous way of saying - I think what you are ignoring is the fact that there are many areas of overlap. In these areas people - faced with a problem or a demand for some service - can choose whether to use government or private industry or even some mule of the two to meet that demand. Education is one of those areas. It doesn’t have to be provided by government…but it doesn’t have to be private, either. Dividing the world into “jobs for industry” and “jobs for government” is simplistic to the point of being wrong.

I’ve been reading many discussion groups talking about budget cuts, and the same pattern repeats pretty much identically. Artists are convinced art grants should be the most protected of all expenses. Construction workers can’t understand why anyone in their right mind would place education before infrastructure. And so it goes.

Okay, so everyone has a bias in favor of themselves. How does this observation create a balanced budget? Decisions still have to be made, which mean people have to argue the validity of their opinions. I fail to see how your observation invalidates or even is relevant to the arguments Joe and I have advanced. You say this opinion is bias. But crying “bias” is not an argument.

What I’ve been trying very hard to point out is, cutting MY LIVELIHOOD, whatever it might be, is universally viewed as a BAD IDEA by every individual regardless.

My livelihood is not part of the cuts proposed by the state. My livelihood was not threatened last year when I argued against philosophy Ph.D. being cut. My livelihood is not threatened by the cuts to the guardian ad litem program. I’ve argued against these cuts because they are bad for society.

eric,

Well, you don’t have to buy a condo; it is a voluntary arrangement. Government isn’t voluntary, or it is at least not voluntary in the way that a condo association is (consider the dramatic differences as far as barriers to exit are concerned between the two). Anyway, what exactly constitutes consent re: the government and its powers over you is a hotly contested issue in philosophical circles, and has been for several hundred years at least.

In these areas people - faced with a problem or a demand for some service - can choose whether to use government or private industry or even some mule of the two to meet that demand.

Well, in the case of government actors making choices it is generally the case that what is happening is some minority or bare majority of the population is making a choice for everyone else. This is one of the reasons why one can be skeptical of just how useful such a decision making device is outside of a set of areas where we have a fair amount of data on the utility of government actors making decisions.

eric:

I suspect you are playing word games, and I also suspect you are the one being gamed. If you sincerely don’t know the difference at the margin between private and public, doubletalk won’t solve this lack.

If you have no choice but to be a member of your condo association, and if has the power to jail for breaking its rules (rather than appeal to outside legal authority), then you have a clue. Most people work for fairly large private organizations, which have internal control structures. But nobody wails that they are therefore hard to distinguish from the public sector.

Even in education, there are distinct differences between private institutions (home schooling, private universities) and public schooling (where teachers are literally government agents.) I’m sure you know this.

Government exists for reasons that are generally practical. BUT there is a bright, sharp distinction between the two. Find me anyone who works for the government but doesn’t know it. Yes, we are all subject to law and regulation by government, taxation by government, etc. But is a scientist working on research paid for by a government grant therefore a government employee? No more than you are an agent of government when you drive on a public highway.

How does this observation create a balanced budget? Decisions still have to be made, which mean people have to argue the validity of their opinions. I fail to see how your observation invalidates or even is relevant to the arguments Joe and I have advanced.

The state budgets can only be balanced by reducing expenses. I already agreed that this is a political process. You and Joe are saying that education is a more pressing need than competing demands for shrinking funds. I’m not arguing that you are wrong, merely observing that you are forging political arguments in support of your self-interest - just like everyone else.

Now, if I were in charge of allocating tax dollars, I can assure you I’d start identifying things government least needs to fund, and start chopping them out - should have been done long since. BUT this shouldn’t render me oblivious to the fact that my boondoggle is my neighbor’s livelihood.

Joe:

I’ve argued against these cuts because they are bad for society.

And conversely, are you arguing that failing bridges are GOOD for society? If I’ve been reading you correctly, you are a geologist. You are appalled that UF would cut the geology department. How terrible for society! What an incredible coincidence.

OK, you have your priorities. I can understand this. Other people, no less patriotic, informed, or thoughtful, sincerely differ with your priorities. By that same incredible coincidence, they marshal what they consider compelling arguments why their priorities are unquestionably more important than geology, or even than higher education. These folks are no dumber than you or eric, and no less sincere.

So, should we take a vote in Florida: check box A if you want a UF geology department, check box B if you want potholes forever? Would you accept the result of this vote as binding, or would you regard the people as enlightened if they chose box A and ignorant if they chose B?

Reed A. Cartwright said:

Seward said:

I don’t know about the particular case of Florida, but it was the case in the 2000s that many states expanded their budgets dramatically, and now a lot of those states are having to deal with budget shortfalls as those expansions now meet lean times.

No state that I know of expanded its budget in recent years. If any occurred, I highly doubt they went to higher education. There were budget shortfalls in 2003 and universities were forced to cut their budgets then. Those “temporary” cuts were never restored and now with new cuts being proposed, and increased costs, I’ve heard figures that, for instance, in Georgia the public universities have something like 17% less state funding than they had in 2000, but are not necessarily allowed to raise tuition to cover the costs.

I’m sure very little went to higher education. But California (http://www.sen.ca.gov/budget/budgethistory.pdf) in the 1999-2000 year had a budget of 81.3 billion. The budget for the year 2006-2007 was 131.4B. An increase of over 61% in 7 years. We just had a tax increase, and are being asked to approve another one in June on the promise (wink wink) that the legislature won’t go over budget next year.

And conversely, are you arguing that failing bridges are GOOD for society?

Nope, I’ve never said that nor implied such a statement.

If I’ve been reading you correctly, you are a geologist. You are appalled that UF would cut the geology department. How terrible for society! What an incredible coincidence.

I’ve been arguing against cuts to higher education using geology as an example. My job is not in jeopardy.

So, should we take a vote in Florida: check box A if you want a UF geology department, check box B if you want potholes forever? Would you accept the result of this vote as binding, or would you regard the people as enlightened if they chose box A and ignorant if they chose B?

Either way you get potholes.

Cheers

Joe Meert

Flint -

As a former geologist, I have to note that your observations are risible. If nothing else, for modern society to understand how we can use land effectively in problematic areas such as active plate margins (e. g. earthquakes and volcanoes), on rapidly coastal lands, etc. etc., then we need to have some understanding of geology. A state university which aspires to some notable measure of academic greatness - such as the University of Florida - is only begging to have its overall academic quality lowered by destroying a department as important as its geology department:

Flint said:

eric:

I suspect you are playing word games, and I also suspect you are the one being gamed. If you sincerely don’t know the difference at the margin between private and public, doubletalk won’t solve this lack.

If you have no choice but to be a member of your condo association, and if has the power to jail for breaking its rules (rather than appeal to outside legal authority), then you have a clue. Most people work for fairly large private organizations, which have internal control structures. But nobody wails that they are therefore hard to distinguish from the public sector.

Even in education, there are distinct differences between private institutions (home schooling, private universities) and public schooling (where teachers are literally government agents.) I’m sure you know this.

Government exists for reasons that are generally practical. BUT there is a bright, sharp distinction between the two. Find me anyone who works for the government but doesn’t know it. Yes, we are all subject to law and regulation by government, taxation by government, etc. But is a scientist working on research paid for by a government grant therefore a government employee? No more than you are an agent of government when you drive on a public highway.

How does this observation create a balanced budget? Decisions still have to be made, which mean people have to argue the validity of their opinions. I fail to see how your observation invalidates or even is relevant to the arguments Joe and I have advanced.

The state budgets can only be balanced by reducing expenses. I already agreed that this is a political process. You and Joe are saying that education is a more pressing need than competing demands for shrinking funds. I’m not arguing that you are wrong, merely observing that you are forging political arguments in support of your self-interest - just like everyone else.

Now, if I were in charge of allocating tax dollars, I can assure you I’d start identifying things government least needs to fund, and start chopping them out - should have been done long since. BUT this shouldn’t render me oblivious to the fact that my boondoggle is my neighbor’s livelihood.

Joe:

I’ve argued against these cuts because they are bad for society.

And conversely, are you arguing that failing bridges are GOOD for society? If I’ve been reading you correctly, you are a geologist. You are appalled that UF would cut the geology department. How terrible for society! What an incredible coincidence.

OK, you have your priorities. I can understand this. Other people, no less patriotic, informed, or thoughtful, sincerely differ with your priorities. By that same incredible coincidence, they marshal what they consider compelling arguments why their priorities are unquestionably more important than geology, or even than higher education. These folks are no dumber than you or eric, and no less sincere.

So, should we take a vote in Florida: check box A if you want a UF geology department, check box B if you want potholes forever? Would you accept the result of this vote as binding, or would you regard the people as enlightened if they chose box A and ignorant if they chose B?

Didn’t do my proofreading right before posting this.

I meant to say “rapidly eroding coastal lands” in the first sentence:

John Kwok said:

Flint -

As a former geologist, I have to note that your observations are risible. If nothing else, for modern society to understand how we can use land effectively in problematic areas such as active plate margins (e. g. earthquakes and volcanoes), on rapidly coastal lands, etc. etc., then we need to have some understanding of geology. A state university which aspires to some notable measure of academic greatness - such as the University of Florida - is only begging to have its overall academic quality lowered by destroying a department as important as its geology department:

Flint said:

eric:

I suspect you are playing word games, and I also suspect you are the one being gamed. If you sincerely don’t know the difference at the margin between private and public, doubletalk won’t solve this lack.

If you have no choice but to be a member of your condo association, and if has the power to jail for breaking its rules (rather than appeal to outside legal authority), then you have a clue. Most people work for fairly large private organizations, which have internal control structures. But nobody wails that they are therefore hard to distinguish from the public sector.

Even in education, there are distinct differences between private institutions (home schooling, private universities) and public schooling (where teachers are literally government agents.) I’m sure you know this.

Government exists for reasons that are generally practical. BUT there is a bright, sharp distinction between the two. Find me anyone who works for the government but doesn’t know it. Yes, we are all subject to law and regulation by government, taxation by government, etc. But is a scientist working on research paid for by a government grant therefore a government employee? No more than you are an agent of government when you drive on a public highway.

How does this observation create a balanced budget? Decisions still have to be made, which mean people have to argue the validity of their opinions. I fail to see how your observation invalidates or even is relevant to the arguments Joe and I have advanced.

The state budgets can only be balanced by reducing expenses. I already agreed that this is a political process. You and Joe are saying that education is a more pressing need than competing demands for shrinking funds. I’m not arguing that you are wrong, merely observing that you are forging political arguments in support of your self-interest - just like everyone else.

Now, if I were in charge of allocating tax dollars, I can assure you I’d start identifying things government least needs to fund, and start chopping them out - should have been done long since. BUT this shouldn’t render me oblivious to the fact that my boondoggle is my neighbor’s livelihood.

Joe:

I’ve argued against these cuts because they are bad for society.

And conversely, are you arguing that failing bridges are GOOD for society? If I’ve been reading you correctly, you are a geologist. You are appalled that UF would cut the geology department. How terrible for society! What an incredible coincidence.

OK, you have your priorities. I can understand this. Other people, no less patriotic, informed, or thoughtful, sincerely differ with your priorities. By that same incredible coincidence, they marshal what they consider compelling arguments why their priorities are unquestionably more important than geology, or even than higher education. These folks are no dumber than you or eric, and no less sincere.

So, should we take a vote in Florida: check box A if you want a UF geology department, check box B if you want potholes forever? Would you accept the result of this vote as binding, or would you regard the people as enlightened if they chose box A and ignorant if they chose B?

John Kwok:

As a computer geek, I have to note that your self-serving defense of geology is risible. By preserving their computer department, cleary the UF has selflessly placed the good of society far above the petty concerns of those married to dirt and rocks.

But more seriously, I’m saddened that you have carefully sidestepped the point of every post I’ve made here - that to save geology, SOMEONE’S PREFERENCES MUST BE SLASHED! Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, YOUR preferences are near and dear to your heart. You know, deep down in your very soul, that the loss of YOUR pet departments and programs are terrible, terrible things.

But your emotional response would elicit more than chuckles if you would be so kind as to explain exactly WHO should be cut instead, and WHY the love of their life is so much less important to the world at large than the love of your life. Oh, and you should explain this to the satisfaction of the victim of the budget cuts YOU are unwilling to suffer because YOUR preferences are so much more important than his.

I have never said geology is an appropriate target of budget cuts, or that UF’s approach is anything near optimal however you might define optimal. I’ve only kept asking, over and over, who should get cut instead and why you’d cut them. And all I get in response is geologists telling me how goddamn important geology is!

OK, explain to me, in detail, WHY the computer department should be eliminated instead of geology. SATISFY me that MY profession is less important than yours. Go ahead, should be interesting.

What you must understand about Florida is that the constant harping on education by Republicanites is a big fat lie. Their objective is the same as always: a low wage, easily duped and beholden to the bosses work force too stupid to see the obvious. It has worked well for a long time. Eat the rich.

Flint:

When Floridians have to deal with important issues like sound land-use policies, global warming, preserving Everglades habitat, and combatting beach erosion, then they ought to recognize why it is important that a premier state university like the University of Florida needs a very good geology department. Slashing its staff will help ensure that that department’s academic quality (as well as its ability to offer courses on the very issues I have noted) suffers substantially:

Flint said:

John Kwok:

As a computer geek, I have to note that your self-serving defense of geology is risible. By preserving their computer department, cleary the UF has selflessly placed the good of society far above the petty concerns of those married to dirt and rocks.

But more seriously, I’m saddened that you have carefully sidestepped the point of every post I’ve made here - that to save geology, SOMEONE’S PREFERENCES MUST BE SLASHED! Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, YOUR preferences are near and dear to your heart. You know, deep down in your very soul, that the loss of YOUR pet departments and programs are terrible, terrible things.

But your emotional response would elicit more than chuckles if you would be so kind as to explain exactly WHO should be cut instead, and WHY the love of their life is so much less important to the world at large than the love of your life. Oh, and you should explain this to the satisfaction of the victim of the budget cuts YOU are unwilling to suffer because YOUR preferences are so much more important than his.

I have never said geology is an appropriate target of budget cuts, or that UF’s approach is anything near optimal however you might define optimal. I’ve only kept asking, over and over, who should get cut instead and why you’d cut them. And all I get in response is geologists telling me how goddamn important geology is!

OK, explain to me, in detail, WHY the computer department should be eliminated instead of geology. SATISFY me that MY profession is less important than yours. Go ahead, should be interesting.

Respectfully yours,

John

P. S. I’m a computer programmer too and I’m not going to answer your argument, except to note that for the very reasons I’ve stated, having a highly regarded geology department may be more important than one in computer science.

Flint said: I’m not arguing that you are wrong, merely observing that you are forging political arguments in support of your self-interest - just like everyone else.

Well, I’m not a geologist, or a university professor, or a Floridian. So this decision doesn’t do anything material for me one way or the other.

But yes, everyone is biased. Again, this does not mean every argument is equal.

And honestly I still don’t see your point. Are you saying geologists shouldn’t call their state representative about this? Are you saying that the state representative should ignore their opinion because of potential bias? Or, are you merely saying we should take note that we might be biased? Okay, we’ve noted that. Super. Guess what, your observation changes nothing. No opinions, no actions, nothing. We already knew it.

if I were in charge of allocating tax dollars, I can assure you I’d start identifying things government least needs to fund, and start chopping them out - should have been done long since. BUT this shouldn’t render me oblivious to the fact that my boondoggle is my neighbor’s livelihood.

In my experience your implication is wrong. Every politician I’ve met has been keenly aware of the human bias and ulterior motives present in the inputs they get from their constituents. They haven’t been oblivious, they try and do exactly what you describe, and I would bet dollars against donuts that the current state representatives are both non-oblivious and attempting to identify those things government least needs to fund.

Look, your previous post made the point that people no less patriotic, sincere, intelligent, etc… may disagree about priorities. Well Flint, why don’t you believe your own advice when it comes to politicians? Just because they disagree with you about funding priorities does not mean they aren’t patriotically, sincerely, and intelligently doing their best. And if their list of priorities doesn’t match yours, instead of immediately assuming ‘bias, or ‘politics,’ or incompetence, you might want to think about the fact that they have more information than you do about the impact of various cuts at their disposal.

But Flint, why must someone’s preferences be “SLASHED”? The point I tried to make earlier is that it would make much more sense to make more equitable cuts across the board. These cuts would be smaller, and would spread the pain across a much wider set of departments. The result is that each department would be harmed, but only to the extent that the damage would be recoverable once funding improves. As it now stands, these cuts would be devastating to Geology (and to Religion, the other department in CLAS that is under the gun), and it will essentially destroy the department.

And yes, Geology is a vital department to our state, and these cuts will damage the ability of our state to understand, and plan for, many of the challenges facing Florida in the years to come. What will happen in the future, when, as it certainly will, the economy improves? By that time, faculty members will have left the university, the program will be much smaller, and it will be very difficult to attract new faculty. This will be especially true in the light of the fact that the university will have proven that it is willing to go after the Geology Department when there are economic downturns.

For the record, I am a graduate of UF’s Geology Dept., but I am not directly affected by its problems. As a matter of fact, it is possible that these problems could improve my situation. I am a tenured faculty member at Santa Fe College, in the same city, and we would probably have our geology program expanded if this happens. I just happen to think that this is a stupid, shortsighted, nearly permanent solution to what in the long run is a temporary problem.

Flint said:

But more seriously, I’m saddened that you have carefully sidestepped the point of every post I’ve made here - that to save geology, SOMEONE’S PREFERENCES MUST BE SLASHED!

OK, replies to everyone:

John Kwok:

All you have done here is reiterated the importance of geology. But I don’t dispute that geology is important. I’m trying to point out that whatever the expenditure, someone considers it more essential than any other. The problem here is lack of money. You simply do not seem to recognize that under the circumstances, not everything can be maintained at the level everyone would like.

There are two sides to each defense: why YOUR preference is worthy (you’ve done this well) and why HIS preferences is NOT worthy (and unless you can also make this case, you are just one of countless voices shouting Me! Me! Me!)

——————–

eric:

And honestly I still don’t see your point. Are you saying geologists shouldn’t call their state representative about this? Are you saying that the state representative should ignore their opinion because of potential bias? Or, are you merely saying we should take note that we might be biased? Okay, we’ve noted that. Super. Guess what, your observation changes nothing. No opinions, no actions, nothing. We already knew it.

Once again, my point was that budget allocations (and specifically budget reductions, which are painful) are decided on political grounds, there being no visible grounds of merit to a politician. Simply a matter of power, and of votes.

By all means, geologists should call their representatives. So should everyone else who disagrees with how the reductions are being allocated. Ideally, this will shift the reductions into someone else’s territory, and then they too should complain. When the game is musical chairs, I only obvserve how that game is played. I don’t select my preferred winner.

Look, your previous post made the point that people no less patriotic, sincere, intelligent, etc… may disagree about priorities. Well Flint, why don’t you believe your own advice when it comes to politicians? Just because they disagree with you about funding priorities does not mean they aren’t patriotically, sincerely, and intelligently doing their best. And if their list of priorities doesn’t match yours, instead of immediately assuming ‘bias, or ‘politics,’ or incompetence, you might want to think about the fact that they have more information than you do about the impact of various cuts at their disposal.

I don’t understand this response. Except for purpose of illustration, I have never once suggested any preferred funding priorities. I’m not “assuming bias” beyond the observation that everyone is biased. You are entirely correct that politicians understand this instinctively. Their task is to balance biases so as to maximize votes. “Their best” to politicians consists of taking credit, avoiding blame, and getting re-elected. Nothing wrong with this - these are the structure of politics. The goal of RBH’s post, which I applaud, is to get supporters of geology to become a squeaky wheel, because politicians listen to squeaky wheels. I’m only pointing out that the health of the UF geology instruction now depends on the volume of squeak, and not on any purported merits of geology itself.

———————–

GvlGeologist:

But Flint, why must someone’s preferences be “SLASHED”?

Uh, because there’s a lot less money to be allocated statewide? Would you prefer “reduced” instead? Fine.

The point I tried to make earlier is that it would make much more sense to make more equitable cuts across the board. These cuts would be smaller, and would spread the pain across a much wider set of departments.

Permit me to look at it a bit differently. What “makes sense” depends on your overall goal. An example: You have two vehicles that started off identical. Parts are no longer available for them, and they don’t run. However, by cannibalizing one vehicle, you can fully repair the other. OK, does it “make sense” to have the vehicles equally inoperable, or does it make sense to cannibalize? Sometimes “spreading the pain around equally” isn’t optimal to achieve some specific goal.

And it might very well make more sense, from some viewpoint, to keep funding of some departments at prior levels by eliminating other departments altogether. As others have noticed, this “sense” is based on a lot of factors - enrollments, tuitions, relocatability of faculty, ease of recovery once budgets increase again, and on and on. Equal pain may in fact NOT be best for anyone, much less for everyone.

From what I’ve read, most universities (in most states) are doing as you feel optimal - they’re making surgical cuts across the board. Perhaps they’re doing this because they think recovery later will be easier. Maybe they think a university-wide reduction in quality of education is more attractive to funding sources such as students and donors, then retaining excellence in most departments at the cost of the total loss of other departments.

And that’s not necessarily stupid. When new schools start and grow, they tend to do so by creating one truly excellent program, then another, then another. They don’t normally try to start dozens of disciplines and programs at once, each of them struggling to reach bare competence. So if these schools must shrink, why is now better to abandon ALL excellence, rather than only some of it?

Have you ever suffered a sudden significant reduction in income? Do you choose to pay (say) 80% of your rent, 80% of your utilities, 80% of your food requirements, etc? Or do you look for things to eliminate altogether? Most people, much like UF, do the latter and consider it reasonable, not “stupid and shortsighted.” YMMV.

Flint said -

Historically, government has never existed to create wealth, to show a profit, or to provide positive ROI.

This is something of an oversimplification.

Most beneficial government programs do, in fact, directly or indirectly increase the wealth of society.

The most obvious example, ironically, is public education. The economic development of the countries that are now the richest was fueled by the availability of educated, trainable workers.

Private industry did not have to directly bear the cost of the childhood education of their future workers. Nor did it rely entirely on the resources of the parents.

Public funding of things like roads and bridges, which have obvious benefits for commerce, is another easy example.

Florida, of course, has no state income tax.

To some degree, the US obsession with “lower taxes” at all costs is an example of penny-wise-pound-foolish unenlightened selfishness.

Step one, allow yourself to be gulled into a tax policy that primarily benefits a tiny wealthy elite, typically by arguments that, if public goods are made available, people of a different social class or ethnic background than you may be able to benefit from them, something which must be avoided.

Step two, find yourself with no savings anyway, and without the sustainable ability to give your family health care coverage, higher education, a reserve for the care of disabled or extremely elderly members, etc.

In the specific case of Florida, obviously, major aspects of their economy - tourism and retirement/real estate - are under tremendous strain. Agriculture, the one thing they have left, is vulnerable to changing weather patterns. Something certainly has to give. Hopefully, a wasteful, sprawl-oriented, short-term-obsessed style of development was worth it for the good times it allowed before the chickens came home.

harold:

Well, my intent here isn’t to teach political science.

You’re partially correct. The purpose of (Western) government, considered generally, hasn’t been to increase social wealth, but rather social welfare. At the very least, this means providing for common defense and for conflict resolution. Public education of course benefits social welfare generally, as does the provision of infrastructure, public safety, and the like.

Your discussion of the goal of “lower taxes” is also somewhat of an oversimplification. What underlies this is a philosophical debate as to the appropriate role of government. Shoud government properly be limited to providing essential services essentially impossible for private enterprise to provide (by “essentially impossible” I mean, hopelessly inefficient, like half a dozen competing providers of firefighters, etc.)

Or should government be the proper means of doing almost anything that COULD be done privately, but requires too large an investment, or too much risk, or too slow or uncertain a return.

Or, at the other extreme, should government provide ALL industry and service, with minimal or no role for private enterprise at all? All of these have been tried, and all have advantages and disadvantages.

So the quest to minimize taxes translates into a quest to minimize government itself - fewer departments, fewer programs, less regulation, elimination of entitlement programs and wealth transfer programs, and so on.

But hopefully we recognize that the private sector will be oriented toward the short term - no longer than the fiscal quarter. No results in a quarter? Move investment elsewhere! Government, meanwhile, operates according to a different reward structure - power rather than profit, popularity rather than effectiveness. Planned economies are NOT sensitive to last month’s or last quarter’s bottom line, and so the USSR could continue building boats nobody wanted for decades on end, then towing them out to clog rivers where they rotted.

So how short a term is too short, and how long is too long? Short-term interests can be painfully short-sighted, but short-term interests are also MUCH better at pulling the plug when something clearly doesn’t work. Compare with the government’s war on drugs, which has been having the exact opposite of the intended effect, at huge expense, for generations. And it’s impossible to stop.

While I can’t answer these questions even to my satisfaction, I’m still of the personal philosophy that government should be ultimately answerable to popular input - not instantly, not necessarily directly, but still the process should be formal and transparent.

I don’t think the current economic slowdown will last more than a few more years, then there will be slow recovery. I’ll be interested to see which cost-cutting strategies prove most resiliant. I think it’s probably good that different schools are using different approaches. Kind of like genetic variation is valuable when disease hits.

Flint said:

Joe:

I’ve argued against these cuts because they are bad for society.

And conversely, are you arguing that failing bridges are GOOD for society? If I’ve been reading you correctly, you are a geologist. You are appalled that UF would cut the geology department. How terrible for society! What an incredible coincidence.

OK, you have your priorities. I can understand this. Other people, no less patriotic, informed, or thoughtful, sincerely differ with your priorities. By that same incredible coincidence, they marshal what they consider compelling arguments why their priorities are unquestionably more important than geology, or even than higher education. These folks are no dumber than you or eric, and no less sincere.

So, should we take a vote in Florida: check box A if you want a UF geology department, check box B if you want potholes forever? Would you accept the result of this vote as binding, or would you regard the people as enlightened if they chose box A and ignorant if they chose B?

Gee.. and people wonder where Jindal gets it from?

If they chose B, pretty f***en ignorant I’d say. As long as there are roads, there will be potholes.

How about phrasing it more like:

Check Box A if you want to reduce your child’s educational opportunities; Check B if you want to reduce potholes.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a geophysicist on the federal dole.

Stuart

How about phrasing it more like:

Check Box A if you want to reduce your child’s educational opportunities; Check B if you want to reduce potholes.

Good point. Unfortunately, the reality is that this list of checkboxes is literally millions of items long, and each “box” isn’t a check mark, it’s a percentage reduction, and each percentage must be multiplied by that item’s proportion of the overall budget, and the total can’t exceed estimated revenues, which will probably exceed actual revenues.

The nasty reality is, people do not want EITHER potholes or reduced educational opportunities. Nor do they wish to reduce anything else the state spends money on. So maybe we should provide a “manageable” list of, say, 500 categories and ask people to rank-order them as to what they’d cut most, what they’d cut second most, etc.

And even that daunting task would be too general to determine HOW cuts should be made. OK, we vote to reduce road maintenance to preserve geology departments. Do we stop filling potholes? Stop all work on new roads? Let bridges deteriorate a little longer? No longer replace signs in a timely manner? And so it goes, in realistic detail.

Already on this thread, we’ve talked about how education shouldn’t be reduced if something else can instead, but if education must be reduced, should it be proportional across all departments, or should excellence in some departments be preserved at the cost of other departments altogether, or how? Reduced salaries? Reduced staffing at current salaries? More stringent requirements that departments support themselves through outside grants and other funding?

I’m all in favor of saving dolphins and turtles, I’m against pollution and dead zones and overfishing. But my grocery bill damn well better not go up either!

Flint -

To continue in mutual mild oversimplification, what you provide here is a rather good summary of the political thought of the nineteenth and twentieth century.

As societies moved from being authoritarian and predominantly agricultural, with authoritarian impulses partially checked day to day by an unofficial framework of religion and ancient tradition, and became industrial, the following questions arose…

Shoud government properly be limited to providing essential services essentially impossible for private enterprise to provide (by “essentially impossible” I mean, hopelessly inefficient, like half a dozen competing providers of firefighters, etc.)

Or should government be the proper means of doing almost anything that COULD be done privately, but requires too large an investment, or too much risk, or too slow or uncertain a return.

Or, at the other extreme, should government provide ALL industry and service, with minimal or no role for private enterprise at all? All of these have been tried, and all have advantages and disadvantages.

And the twenty-first answer is - THE MIDDLE ONE.

The top one, the laissez-faire Ebeneezer Scrooge fantasy of so-called libertarians, has never existed, but a corrupt approximation of it governed industrial societies for much of the nineteenth century, and it was an unsustainable disaster.

The bottom one, communism, inevitably degenerates into something resembling the top one, but with an arbitrary and unstable aristocracy of “the party” controlling the supposedly “common” resources.

In retrospect, the arbitrary limitations of both of these - the government “must” or “can never” do certain things, purely on the grounds of arbitrary ideology - make their failure inevitable.

All successful societies today utilize a balanced and pragmatic blend of free markets, elections, guaranteed human rights, and a government with the power to take actions that address the common good. Certain things, like basic social welfare, emergency services, basic education, and health care, are invariably provided mainly by the government. This is perfectly true of the United States, although anachronistic flirtation with “the top one” (partly motivated, I believe, by the desire of some to deny basic services to people of certain social classes or ethnic backgrounds), over the last thirty years, has cost us quite a bit.

Flint said: Once again, my point was that budget allocations (and specifically budget reductions, which are painful) are decided on political grounds, there being no visible grounds of merit to a politician. Simply a matter of power, and of votes.

IMO you are wrong. Politicians probably get provided hundreds of pages and hours of briefings of “visible grounds” for their budget decisions. And they employ staffers who are experts in their fields specifically to review this data and provide a cogent summary of it to the congressperson or senator. Are staffers unbiased? Of course not. Does the politician always listen to their expert staffers? No. But for you to imply that voting decisions are based purely on political gamesmanship is to ignore the fact that congresspeople and senators employ thousands of subject matter expert staffers specifically to give them advise on the substantive merit of political votes.

Now, my experience is at the federal level. Maybe Florida state representatives employ no scientific staff whatsoever and do, as you claim, make all of their voting decisions based purely on political gamesmanship. This would suprise me, though I have to admit its possible.

I only obvserve how that game is played. I don’t select my preferred winner.

Well, you seem to have missed the fact that the players spend a lot of money and time employing people to give the type of advice you say doesn’t exist and isn’t used.

Political school policy is beyond my primitive faculties to understand. But this is more comprehensible:

harold said:

In retrospect, the arbitrary limitations of both of these - the government “must” or “can never” do certain things, purely on the grounds of arbitrary ideology - make their failure inevitable.

I do believe that untested ideology is, probably unpractical and harmful, belief systems among others. And both of those qualify.

But I don’t understand the equalization made here between those two. It is, I believe, an observational fact that free markets (combined with democracy) is successful as regards standards of living for all included. So minimizing regulation has a lot of observational support.

And I’m not a historian, but I seem to remember that nineteenth century economical problems has been attributed to foremost government interventions (but also an absence of a global capitalism). So I think it is premature to claim that a political ideology based on markets have been tested, or that failure is inevitable (but perhaps more likely than in todays system, see below).

harold said:

All successful societies today utilize a balanced and pragmatic blend of free markets, elections, guaranteed human rights, and a government with the power to take actions that address the common good.

Such “pragmatism” includes much political vote fishing, and homogenization and untested ideology (perhaps even more so), same as those extremist alternatives listed. So I’m reluctant to call it pragmatic as related to common good results as measured outside of votes. (But certainly there is, or should be, a correlation.)

But they have at least one more thing going for them aside from the mentioned “certain things” are possible, they break down the over all system and its problems into smaller, putatively sturdier and putatively comprehensible pieces.

eric:

But for you to imply that voting decisions are based purely on political gamesmanship is to ignore the fact that congresspeople and senators employ thousands of subject matter expert staffers specifically to give them advise on the substantive merit of political votes.

Now, my experience is at the federal level. Maybe Florida state representatives employ no scientific staff whatsoever and do, as you claim, make all of their voting decisions based purely on political gamesmanship. This would suprise me, though I have to admit its possible.

I’m not sure where this straw man comes from, but let’s dispense with it forthwith!

Politicians DO make decisions on political grounds. I didn’t say, imply, or mean that these are uninformed decisions, only that they are political. It’s very true that for most politicians, re-election (perhaps to even higher office) is top priority, but it’s neither the only priority, nor is it a short-sighted priority. Votes are simply how success is counted in politics, much as money is how it’s counted in the private sector. And sure, some people choose their careers based on dollars alone. But most factor in the satisfaction, entertainment, or excitement the job itself provides, with money as an important consideration in the sense that the worker needs enough money to live on, not a zillion dollars. The politician needs enough votes for re-election, not all the votes.

So maybe we’ll never agree through linguistic difficulties. For me, “political gamesmanship” means finding the greatest good for the greatest number, in the opinion of the greatest number. This is best done by being as informed as possible about everything. BUT it might very well result in a fully informed decision that preserving one geology deparment (out of several) is not, everything considered (and I mean everything), the optimal way to allocate shrinking resources.

————————-

Torbjörn:

It is, I believe, an observational fact that free markets (combined with democracy) is successful as regards standards of living for all included. So minimizing regulation has a lot of observational support.

“Regulation” might be a bit too hazy in this context. Observation has certainly established that the “free market” is an economically unstable condition, and left alone it quickly devolves into monopolies and oligarchy. So much of this regulation exists to ensure that the markets stay as free as possible.

Among other things, an object of this regulation is to keep consumers as informed as possible, so they do not make market decisions in ignorance. This sort of regulation ranges from requiring an honest prospectus to an investor, to requiring ingredients to be listed on food labels. There is a natural (if short-term) desire towards restraint of trade on the part of suppliers. There are also tendencies to cut production costs by (for example) providing unsafe working conditions and unsafe products, releasing pollutants into the environment, and any other practices hidden from the consumer intended to increase profit margins. There are regulations (and laws) against fraud, theft, and the like.

By today, the West has largely elected to pay these costs with taxes and higher prices, rather than with “caveat emptor” risks that come from buying pigs in pokes.

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on April 23, 2009 5:55 PM.

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