Science and Democracy

By Mike Koetting June 26, 2019

In 1816, Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend:

Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched…..But I know that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered…institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.

Not surprising from Jefferson. He was a man with boundless interest in and reverence for discovery, science and the empirical understanding of human nature.

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Immigration Issues Aren’t Going Away

By Mike Koetting June 13, 2019

About 15 months ago, I had a series of posts on immigration. The issue has not gone away. In fact, Trump continues to bang the drum loudly on the all too plausible belief this is an issue that not only animates his core base, but slightly extends it to people who are genuinely concerned about this issue. The truth is that immigration is a real issue for both political parties, but a difficult and complicated one that can not be solved with slogans.

A recent article by David Frum in The Atlantic lays out the terms very clearly. This article is must-reading for anyone who wants to talk about immigration. It is a thoughtful, nuanced set of considerations, but essentially comes down to the question of whether it is possible to maintain a country and a set of national values without having borders and a common definition of citizenship.

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Jettisoning Rationalist Guilt

By Mike Koetting May 30, 2019

As even occasional readers of this blog know, I think of myself as a reasonable guy who, biases and predilections notwithstanding, tries to see both sides of most policy arguments.

So I am uncomfortable with my growing sense that Republicans have strayed so far from reasoned policy that they no longer deserve much benefit of the doubt. I understand this attitude is potentially bad for democracy. There is something inherently objectionable to me about broadly discounting most of what one of our major parties says. But, and I didn’t get here lightly, I think that is the point I have reached.

This is more than Donald Trump. It is a problem that started when Richard Nixon decided to create a power base for Republicans by wooing those populations left behind when Democrats, belatedly, started to take the position that the situation of blacks was inconsistent with the stated goals of the country.

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High Expertise Government Jobs

By Mike Koetting May 1, 2019

This is the final post in my series on government workers. The last two posts have addressed government jobs, particularly federal jobs, in general. This post will focus more on government jobs at the higher end of the education spectrum. Generally speaking, these jobs require some specific expertise, are leadership/management positions, or both. As a society, we focus a lot of attention on political jobs, but we don’t pay much attention to jobs at the top range of the bureaucracy. Failing to get the appropriate people in these positions is as potentially dangerous as electing the wrong politicians. (See Michael Lewis’ new book, The Fifth Risk.)

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Private Sector Versus Government Workers

By Mike Koetting April 19, 2019

You don’t have to work very hard to find someone willing to criticize government workers, for instance this investors’ newsletter dismissing the hardship of government workers during the shutdown:

Let’s remember who we are talking about here. While there are certainly plenty of hardworking, dedicated federal workers, they are, for the most part, incredibly pampered. They get better pay and more generous benefits than private sector workers doing the same things.

Complaints about government worker pensions are ubiquitous, particularly here in Illinois where the pension system has been horribly mismanaged.

But I think there is a shortage of clear thinking on the topic. I would make two fundamental points:

  • Maybe the problem is not in the government sector, but in the private sector.
  • The net impact of moving good jobs to the contracting sector contributes to other problematic trends.
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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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