Category Archives: Uncategorized

Furbos and Fessos

I found this discussion of the similarities between Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi very thought provoking.

In those bits of Italian society from which Mr Berlusconi drew his strongest support, it is a high compliment to be deemed a furbo, or a sly, worldly wise-guy. The furbo knows how to jump queues, dodge taxes and play systems of nepotism and patronage like a Stradivarius. In contrast the fesso is the chump who waits his turn and fails to grasp how badly the system is rigged, or how much of his taxes will be stolen. The fesso might cheer a new clean-air law in his city, naively taking an announcement by the elites at face value. The furbo wonders who in the environment department may have a brother-in-law with a fat contract to supply chimney scrubbers…

Living in that sort of society comes with costs. For decades anthropologists and political scientists have weighed the advantages of living in a high-trust, highly transparent country like Sweden, and measured how corruption and squandered human capital harm places like Sicily.

Then again, when you have had a furbo generation or two in charge, what is the alternative?   A generation or two the minority of which has preached, and even acted, as fessos, but the majority of which has acted as furbos with regard to the common future? The Trump/Clinton generation. And they desperately insist on no one even talking about it, “controlling the narrative” by talking about anything else.

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Like School Reform, At This Point Financial Reform May Be A Fool’s Errand

In my previous post, I repeated my thought experiment of reinventing the school system from the ground up, leaving past deals, favors, patterns and privileges behind. Creating alternatives that were less costly and better for teachers, parents and students. But what do I suggest for the existing school system? Reform? No.

School reform has been defeated by the teacher’s union in New York and places like it, and by those who want to cut funding for education to keep taxes down elsewhere.   In part due to soaring pension costs, the result of past pension increases in some place and underfunding in others. It’s time to face it. The idea that people had a right to expect more from the education system in exchange for more funding?   In New York they took the funding, revolted against expectations, and now demand even more funding.   The right alternative is to stop trying, stop lying and pursue alternatives in entirely new organizations. In this post I intend to extend that concept to New York City’s leading industry: finance.

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Schools Are Obsolete II

Not long ago, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, as part of a campaign to obtain the support of the United Federation of Teachers, released a report critical of the financial practices of the charter school network Success Academy. A page 21, the report noted:

“Success Academy invoices to DOE bi-monthly for per pupil funding for general and special education services that it provides to students who reside in New York City. For Fiscal Year 2015, Success Academy was entitled to receive $13,777 per year for each of its students who reside in New York City. Further, Success Academy was entitled to receive an additional $10,390 per year for each student that was mandated to receive and was provided special education services for between 20 to 60 percent of the school instructional week, and an additional $19,049 per year for each student that was mandated to receive and was provided special education services for more than 60 percent of the school instructional week.”

My first impression is that’s a whole lotta money. For non-special education children, that is $275,540 per 20 students and $165,324 per 12 students. On the other hand, I know that this is less than the amount NYC district schools receive. Does that make me think that charter schools are a better deal? In part. But what it mostly does is further convinces me that education needs to be rethought and reorganized from the ground up. For that amount of money, or even less money, a new system, unencumbered by the deals, favors, practices and privileges of the past, could provide far better values for students, younger and future teachers and taxpayers alike. For the existing system, school reform has been defeated and its time to face it. Only by making a clean break will anything get better, or even avoid getting worse.

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Local Area Personal Income Data: The Unsaid

Not long ago, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released its Local Area Personal Income data for 2015.

And I downloaded some data, using the “interactive data” tool to the right on the website, to see if various trends I have observed in the past have continued.   The data show that the Tri-state area continues to be a much richer than average part of the U.S., due mostly to those living and working in Manhattan (many of the richest of whom live in the suburbs), but Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens remain relatively poor. Manhattan is rich enough that New York City’s share of the nation’s personal income is stable even as its share of the nation’s population continues to fall. In New York State the total earnings per worker of state and local government workers (including employee benefits) continues to soar relative to the earnings of most private sector workers, who are left worse off as a result. The idea that lower wages for private sector workers are offset by, and in some sense caused by, higher employer costs for employee benefits hasn’t been true for more than two decades, and Obamacare did nothing to alter this. And more and more people have become self-employed, freelance, and contract laborers, rather than being employees at all, and the average earnings of such workers continues to fall. A series of charts and some discussion follows.

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Nobody’s Gonna Pay You To Tell The Truth, Or Worse

If you are wondering why I have been writing so few posts lately, it is because there is less to say that I haven’t already said, and less new data available from which to learn something new. I once wrote about how Medicaid beneficiaries and expenditures varied by state each year, but the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid shut down their Datamart after 2011, when only 45 states reported.

I recently found some 2012 data on their site, but with only 39 states reporting. How can one compare with the national average, when that national average doesn’t include Texas and Florida? How can one compare New York with adjacent states when that doesn’t include Massachusetts? Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for the U.S. Census Bureau to release FY 2014 state and local government finance data, which usually comes out in September.

And now Room Eight, where I started posting originally before starting this alternate blog, is shutting down, supposedly in part due to legal threats.

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Trump, Clinton, Paul Theroux’s Deep South, the Decline of the Midwest, Etc.

Paul Theroux is a travel writer and novelist. I was introduced to his work decades ago by a colleague at the Department of City Planning, who knew of my interest in trains and transit and other countries. I read several of his early books: The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, Riding the Iron Rooster. He branched out from trains, walking the whole coast of Great Britain in The Kingdom by the Sea. Theroux has been all over the world, and in particular all over what had been called the Third World, and then the Developing World, and more recently the Global South, generally mingling with and writing about the ordinary people there, but also meeting with writers and intellectuals like himself.

Now age 75, he did something recently he had never done before: wrote a travel book about his own country, Deep South. The book, for me, provided several big surprises. In light of recent events I’ve included extended excerpts and other commentary below. It’s a long post I suppose, but not to those of us who read books.

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Time to Take Down the American Flag

It’ something I usually do after Veteran’s Day. But this year, I’m going to do it before Election Day. Because something bad is going to happen on that day. Or something terrible. Or something even worse than that, which would be a repeat of 2000. And people are going to be confused by what is going on. But I know what is going on. This is what has been done to this country by Generation Greed, something they don’t want to face but find more difficult to ignore after 2008, something they want rationalizations for, scapegoats for, something they want an excuse for. That’s why they are so angry. And this is what has been allowed to happen by the generation to follow, Generation Apathy. “We’re screwed anyway, let’s just worry about ourselves.”   Uh huh. Good luck with that.

I’ve seen this election analyzed every way to Sunday. By race. By education level. By occupation. By sex. The electorate divided into categories this way and that way. How about by age group? How about by generation? What would that show? Hopefully based on exit polls, we’ll find out. This country once sought to build toward a better future. But for 35 years it has been cashing in the future, now the present, to make things easier in the present, now the future. Those over 59 should be embarrassed about even voting, and making choices for those who will be paying for the choices they’ve already made.

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