The State of Government Workers

By Mike Koetting April 4, 2019

The recent shutdown of the federal government got me thinking again about something that has been on and off my mind for about 20 years, the state of government workers.

I started thinking about this one day in a class I was teaching and it dawned on me that the students sitting in front of me had never been alive when attacking government wasn’t the predominate mode. They were raised in an era, as Ronald Reagan put it, not only was government not the answer, but it was the problem. While it is possible that they grew up in houses that offered a broader view, it is impossible to escape the society-wide attitude that, even at its best, there is something suspect about government. (My niece recounts a classmate at the Kennedy School saying in class: “Private industry is always more efficient than government. Everybody knows that.”)

The government shutdown got me thinking again about the longer-term problems of this attitude. This is the first of three posts on the topic of government workers and the broader society.

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Centrists: Chill Out

By Mike Koetting March 20, 2019

Inevitably, people are starting to talk about 2020.

Prickly City by Scott Stantis

Many people I know—which is to say older people who will under absolutely no circumstances vote for Trump—are worrying that the Democrats are tending too far left. My advice: “Chill out!’ And It’s not just that this is all ridiculously far-way—although it is. Unless the Democrats lose their collective mind, I am not worried by this.

I consider myself progressive, but more of a gradualist. I supported Clinton over Sanders. I have many concerns about the policies proposed by those further to the left. But so what? As economist Brad DeLong points out (in a fabulous Vox interview by Zack Beauchamp, strongly recommended): “The baton rightly passes to our colleagues on our left. We are still here, but it is not our time to lead.”

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Gun Violence: No Single Answer

By Mike Koetting March 1, 2019

I recently attended a summit of groups working on reducing gun violence in Illinois. Much of what was said underlined that we know ways to reduce gun violence without unduly limiting civil liberties. The problem is that, as a society, we are not willing to do what it takes. The majority of society, and certainly most readers of this blog, disagree that the loss of thousands of extra lives a year is an acceptable price to pay for relatively uncontrolled access to guns. But they haven’t yet expressed this belief so strongly that politicians feel no choice but to change their calculations. That may be coming, but it is not here yet.

In any event, that is old news and this blog will focus on a few other things from this meeting.

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Environertia

By Mike Koetting February 14, 2019

Five weeks ago there was another scientific study that said the condition of the ocean was even worse than imagined and that, really, we better start thinking about what we are going to do—really.

One of my recent posts was about more speculative societal risk. Environmental risks are relatively immediate and are potentially existential. But, while a large percentage of Americans recognize it’s a problem, the political momentum to address the issue is not remotely commensurate with the degree of societal risk. How can this be?

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China versus the Shutdown

By Mike Koetting February 4, 2019

What does China have to do with the shutdown?  Not much. But it helps put the shutdown in perspective.

The day before the partial government shutdown, the Dow Jones average stood at 22,445. The day before the shutdown unexpectedly ended, it closed at 24,576, a gain of about 9.5% in a little over a month. How could the Market gain that much when most of the American government was shut-down with who knows what damage to the American economy?

I certainly don’t know the whole answer, but to the extent the people who write on the financial news pages know the answer, there seems to be one over-riding issue:  How are tariff negotiations going with China? When there was good news about the discussions, the Market jumped; when bad rumors were in the ascendency, the Market tanked. (If you don’t believe me, simply Google “China negotiations and stock market”  For a tiny sample of up, see Fox Business news on January 18; for down, see a January 2 Reuters story.)

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Risk

By Mike Koetting January 17, 2019

A few months back, while reading the book Fly Girls, about early women aviators, I was struck by how insanely dangerous early airplanes were. They fell out of the sky quite regularly and a remarkable percentage of the early aviators died in crashes. It got me wondering, anachronistically, how the development of airplanes would happen in today’s more risk-averse world. I found that same sentiment in a complaint voiced by a Silicon Valley developer that achieving self-driving cars was being impeded by the unwillingness of society to tolerate the trial and error necessary to make autonomous vehicles a functioning reality. This is a fair comment, although it doesn’t address that the early fliers almost exclusively killed themselves; when autonomous vehicles run amok, it is unsuspecting bystanders who bear the brunt. Nevertheless, this raises the broader issue of how much risk (and for whom) is society willing to incur for technological progress.

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Density & Interconnection

By Mike Koetting January 9, 2019

Just before the election, a crew delivering cabinets to our next door neighbor sheared off a sprinkler head in the hall. It responded as sprinklers are designed to do. Fifteen units were affected and total damage will be between one quarter and one half million dollars. We spent a lot of the next two months living in hotels, dealing with insurance, and working with and around demolition and construction crews.

It got me thinking about the ways our society had changed over the years. As folks have moved closer and closer to each other, stacked on top of each other in our case, much of our daily lives are interconnected in qualitatively different ways from our ancestors. Population density and technology are locked in a symbiotic relationship— technology thrives on density and density breeds technology. The result intertwines people in ways never previously imagined.

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