Bombs or Bridges, Paychecks or Profits

Paul Krugman wrote a column about government spending in which he suggests that the decision comes down to either bombs or bridges. Rep. Barney Frank calls some of his colleagues "Weaponized Keynesians". He defines them as people who believe "that the government does not create jobs when it funds the building of bridges or important research or retrains workers, but when it builds airplanes that are never going to be used in combat, that is of course economic salvation."

Mr. Krugman says that the difference is that bridges get used and bombs don't. He defers to Mr. Keynes who noticed that wholly "wasteful" government spending (on weapons that will never be used) was preferred to partly "wasteful" forms, which, because they are not wholly wasteful, tend to be judged on strict "business" principles. Mr. Krugman accepts the idea that government spending on weapons systems is preferred because it cannot be compared to any private spending on weapons systems, but government spending on construction or schools suffers by comparison to private construction or education costs.

I don't want to completely disagree with Mr. Krugman or Mr. Keynes, but I think there is something else at work here. I see it through another lens - a lens that I got from the Occupy movement. Republicans, conservatives, and others on the right favor government expenditures that go to corporations, but oppose government spending that goes to people.

You'll notice that while the right supports a lot of spending on defense, they don't necessarily support pay and benefits for military personnel. They support spending on weapons bought from private companies. I don't think they would support the development of these weapons if they were designed and built by the government instead of private companies.

When the government spends a million dollars on schools, 80% of that money goes to salaries - middle class salaries at that. None of it goes to private industry. Politicians on the right hate that. They would feel better about it, I notice, if more of that money did go to private industry - for testing, for software, for materials, or even for school administration.

There are all kinds of studies that show that investments in education pay huge long-term dividends to the society and the economy. You'd think everyone would be all for it. But they aren't. I think it's because the money goes to people instead of businesses. The benefactors are workers instead of shareholders.

As I use this lens to see what government spending is supported by the right, I find it an excellent predictor.
Your thoughts?


Sahila said…
Charlie.... you might like to read Marilyn Waring's Counting for Nothing...

you can get a sample of it here, in a radio broadcast embedded in this post:

counting for nothing
Anonymous said…
Spot on Charlie...lots of mutual back-scratching in the Right's idea of worthy government spending.

dan dempsey said…
They would feel better about it, I notice, if more of that money did go to private industry - for testing, for software, for materials, or even for school administration.

About 2.5 weeks ago Chris Jackins and I were the audience of two that watched the Board receive a 75 minute presentation on the Common Core State Standards from Allan Burke and Jessica Vavrus of OSPI.

Having been a classroom teacher in a great many different locations, I found an enormous hole in the OSPI plan. => Why would changing the standards, training teachers on the changed standards, spending on developing new tests, and spending on wide administration of new tests, which appear to be an enormous expansion of testing, do much to improve students learning?

As the Board listened, it struck me that this was yet another way to avoid facing facts:

1.. The classroom is the place that learning improvement needs to take place.

2.. The CCSS adoption in WA State was a big rush job so big Mr. Dorn violated an RCW written just for him. WA wanted to be a leader and Joe Wilthoff (former MR WASL of OSPI would resign to become Executive Director of SBAC (one of the two big consortiums that will develop the tests).

3.. The WA State CCSS adoption will cost according to Mr. Dorn's report submitted on Jan 31, 2011 around $185 million. (likely it will be more than that) This is for five years worth of spending. Of that $165 million will be coming directly out of local school district funds. ($165 million / 5 years = 300+ fewer teachers state-wide per year) This is a transfer of spending from teaching to to private industry - for testing, for software, for materials, and for school administration.

Note: Mr. Dorn and Mr. Burke want WA to be a leader among states.

4.. It is clear that the CCSS direction from OSPI does little about the massive failure to deliver effective interventions in so many of the states classrooms, fewer teachers and more time spent testing will not change that much if at all.

5.. It seems that CCSS is just a continuation of the idea that most all kids can learn at a much greater rate than currently is happening and that Different Standards and More testing will make it happen. A National set of grade level expectations will make this happen. -- WHERE is the evidence for this unwarranted assumption?

6.. The CCSS began as a hidden project funded by the Gates Foundation and eventually emerged as the National Governor's Associations plan .... Gov. Christine Gregoire was the head of NGA and became a big big pusher of CCSS in WA State.

7.. Now is turns out that for the first time in history our balance budget state will finish about $80 million in the red this fiscal year.

8.. The recall filed on October 24, 2011 by Joy Anderson and I includes the following:

dan dempsey said…
RCW 28A.655.071 states:

(2) By January 1, 2011, the superintendent of public instruction shall submit to the education committees of the house of representatives and the senate:

(a) A detailed comparison of the provisionally adopted standards and the state essential academic learning requirements as of June 10, 2010, including the comparative level of rigor and specificity of the standards and the implications of any identified differences; and

(b) An estimated timeline and costs to the state and to school districts to implement the provisionally adopted standards, including providing necessary training, realignment of curriculum, adjustment of state assessments, and other actions.

Superintendent of Public Instruction clearly violated the law by making the above submission on January 31, 2011; a full 30 days late.

This from OSPI Public Records officer Susan Wilson:
Good afternoon Dan,
Thank you for contacting the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in regards to your request for records associated with RCW 28A.655.071. Your request has been logged as 11-0048.

The report that you reference is available online at

The report was sent to legislators on January 31, 2011. I am working on who, specifically, it was sent to and will get back to you in a day or so.

Thank you,

Susan S. Wilson
Public Disclosure Officer
P.O. Box 47200
Olympia, WA 98504-7200
Office: (360) 725-6372
FAX: (360) 586-7251
Mr. Dorn’s failure to perform his duties under RCW 28A.655.071 impacted the public’s access to due process. It prevented citizens from being able to adequately review the report for an important February 4, 2011 House of Representatives hearing. On Tuesday February 8th, Representative Brad Klippert dropped a bill to delay the adoption of the Common Core State Standards for at least two years. This bill never received a timely hearing as House Education Chair Sharon Tamiko Santos ruled that Mr. Klippert’s submission was not made in enough time to schedule a hearing. Shall is a mandatory obligation.

The Washington adoption of the Common Core State Standards as reported in the January 31, 2011 report places an unfunded obligation on local school districts of approximately $165 million over five-years. This will likely cause many districts to divert funding away from the classroom to satisfy those obligations.

Here is the entire recall document =>

Filed Oct. 24, 2011 with the Secretary of State.
The recall sufficiency hearing will be on or before Nov 24 in Pierce County Superior Court.
dan dempsey said…
Spot on Charlie...lots of mutual back-scratching in the Right's idea of worthy government spending.


It wasn't just the Right scratching backs on the CCSS in WA State, as Solvay points out "Lots of Mutual back Scratching."

Allan Burke likes to talk about how there was no opposition to the CCSS adoption in WA State.....

Sharon Tamiko Santos has never been on the far right as far as I know nor has Gov. Christine nor many at OSPI .... but they all were involved in producing exactly what Charlie wrote about.

Speaking of reaching across the aisle Rodney Tom of Medina and Eric Pettigrew of SE Seattle's 34th .... introduced the same bills in the senate and house to RIF teachers by measured student performance or past evaluations...... It hardly mattered to them that as Senator Rosemary McAuliffe pointed out .... neither are valid tools for determining anything about RIFs of teachers.

{{Maybe all those CCSS tests can be used for the RIF and Fire plan.}}
dan dempsey said…
Bomb or Bridges ...?
Bu**Sh*t or classroom instruction and services?

One more spot evidence as to what local school districts will be buying with the $165 million purchase of CCSS ... is right HERE

We at Orange County Department of Education are dedicated to student success. We believe the California Common Core Standards (CCCS) will empower school systems to implement curriculum, assessment, and ongoing professional learning. Through shared leadership we will co-design self-sustaining practices that promote student-centered inquiry-based learning. Our focus is on critical thinking and effective communication. These skills will serve as a gateway for Orange County students to become innovators in the 21st century workforce. We welcome the learning opportunities the Common Core Standards bring to our schools.

The Common Core Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help their students. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.

With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy. The Common Core Standards are the culmination of an extended, broad-based effort to fulfill the charge issued by the states to create the next generation of K-12 standards that help ensure that all students are college and career ready in literacy and mathematics by no later than the end of high school.
Michael H said…
"Republicans, conservatives, and others on the right favor government expenditures that go to corporations, but oppose government spending that goes to people."

Not that it matters to you, Charlie but I need to say it: sorry, that is one of the most idiotic statements I've heard in my over 44 years of life.
Jack Whelan said…
Charlies says, “When the government spends a million dollars on schools, 80% of that money goes to salaries - middle class salaries at that. None of it goes to private industry. Politicians on the right hate that. They would feel better about it, I notice, if more of that money did go to private industry - for testing, for software, for materials, or even for school administration.”

Michael H objects. Back it up, but first tell me what you object to in this:

The so-called investor class (who cares what party) doesn’t need people. It needs labor, which it sees as a commodity to be purchased at the lowest possible cost. Labor can be found anywhere; if not here, then there. Not a major problem, but competition is a problem--the guy down the street or across the river who is going to undersell him and take away market share or put him out of business.

Improved technology increases surpluses; decreased labor costs increase surpluses. Survival and increased surpluses are the name of the game. If you have surpluses to invest, you invest it in what gives you an edge, that is, in what decreases costs and increases productivity. Nothing else matters.

Investments in the military sector are not just about bombs, but about developing ever-more sophisticated technologies that can be justified by those who think the only legitimate role for government is to provide security (i.e., protect property), and also because there are spinoffs from developments in military technology that the investor class can use to reduce production and labor costs.

Does the investor class care about the impact this has on workers and everybody else? No. “Losers” are not their problem. Their problem is winning the game; that’s what gets them up in the morning and gives their lives purpose and meaning. It really is that crude. Spend an afternoon some time watching CNBC to see exactly how crude.

Is the thinking of the entire investor class this crude and bareknuckled? No, but the bareknuckled types are running the game, and they have been for over thirty years now since Reagan started to dismantle the New-Deal, mixed-economy compromise that our more sensible ancestors developed in response to the last major crisis. The more sensible or fair-minded in the investor class today (or anybody who sees this game for the absurd thing it is) don’t have any power, and they have no choice but to play by the rules of the game as they have been developed by these bare-knuckled types. That’s simply the reality we’re living in.

How does this relate to schools? The investor class needs trained workers, and they don’t want the bother of training them; they want govt to do it, but they want government do it at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayer. Schools should not be given more money; they already get too much. They need to get leaner just as businesses do. How do you do that? The old fashioned way—by using technologies that increase productivity and drive labor/production costs down.

That’s why class size doesn’t matter, and that’s why, in the long run, classroom teachers won’t matter. Why use a hit-or-miss, flesh-&-blood, expensively trained classroom teacher when you can use a sure-thing celebrity teacher kids can learn from on TV or on a computer? All we’ll need in the classrooms are low-paid, low-skill baby sitters that we can pay the same as we pay attendants at our old folks homes.

You don’t think it can happen here in Seattle? I could re-write this whole post in such a way as to make the average Seattleite think that what I’m describing here is the best thing that could happen to us, about why it’s necessary and desirable. Why it’s downright patriotic, and how it’s the best thing for our kids, because, what’s more important than our kids. And there’s this achievement gap, and we’re in crisis and we have to take these drastic steps because we’re in crisis, and because, well we’re in crisis, and because, don’t forget, children are our future.
Anonymous said…
Michael H at 5:17

I think Charlie should have modified his comment to say "the string pullers of the Republicans, conservatives ..."

Jack has a different way of saying it, and Jack's way works.

On my side of the tracks, I'd say that there have been aristocrats sucking the surplus out of the sweat of the underlings ever since there've been surpluses to suck out.

The aristocrat's problems are - having enough serfs to have enough surplus to hire a big enough army to protect your stolen surplus from some other warlord or bandit means you can't starve the serfs too much - having a head lackey class which wants to stay lackeys, which means not having a class of Buskinghams and Richards and Gonerils and Regans and Hamlets and Mabeths looking for a chance to murder you ...

Harvard has all kind of professional degrees for the aristocrat class and the head lackey class.

Our aristocrat class wants clean water and toilets and airports and roads for their goodies and their toys, so, they're stuck training some of us, and, to them, it is beyond ridiculous that they can't skim this training the way they skim military contracting and skim health "care" and skim road & water projects ... because they are surplus sucking aristocrats, and that is what surplus sucking aristocrats do.

"The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling with which they overburden the inferior number, is a shilling saved to their own pockets."

seattle citizen said…
"The parting on the left is now the parting on the right."

There are some differences, to be sure, between fiscal conservatives and fiscal liberals, but in terms of ruling the country it is business first, always. The free market rules: all either left or right can do is either support "job creators" or send some of the profit towards the huddled masses to keep them from exploding into violent revolution (or not even revolution: just violence) against those who are sitting pretty. The masses can only "eat cake" for so long, and it better be damn good cake.

There are plenty of liberals who will support business, including military business (look at Boeing); it's not just a left-right thing. The issue is how much of the profit should either side carve off to make better cake. The cake, these days, includes not just food and a roof, but things people seem to think are important for us all - environment, water supply, schools...

Business runs this country - the only difference between left and right is how much of a drag they can put on the "investor class" in order to appease thos, uh, less fortunate.

Speaking of military-industrial complexes, let's not forget that Kennedy and Johnson kept us in Vietnam; Clinton bombed Afghanistan; Obama supports the transition from "old school" war (boots on the ground) to the more technologically advanced (ka-ching!) yet ethically challenged robotic war. To quote Maude (Ruth Gordon) out of context, "everyone seems to love a man in uniform..," left, right, and certainly rich people looking to get richer.
Sahila said…
and completely on topic, it warms the cockles of my heart to watch this....

Mic Check
Chris S. said…
I want to hear Michael H's alternate explanation for the reality we live in.
Jan said…
Jack Whelan said: The so-called investor class (who cares what party) doesn’t need people. It needs labor. . . .

Jack -- this far, I think you are dead on. From the point of business, the two big ingredients needed are capital and labor (with a little high paid management sprinkled at the top). Spending ANY money on something that does not enhance capital or labor (which would include spending too much (more than is necessary) of these things is the same as wasted money.

I also agree with your observation that "competition is a problem--the guy down the street or across the river [or across the globe -- I would add]who is going to undersell him and take away market share or put him out of business.

The problem as I see it is that over the past two or three decades, we have allowed "social safety net" talk to be framed in business language. In some ways this is easy to do -- because even in the providing of social services, no one wants to "waste" money -- though examples of it abound. It is one thing to say you want a reasonable days' work for a reasonable price, though -- and quite another to treat all transfers of dollars to humans that are in excess of the absolute bare minimum on a global labor market as "waste."

Competition is real -- and companies do go out of business (which puts ALL of their employees out of work, and "dissipates" the capital and organizational structure that is the other "predicate" to employing them. While I think it is ok when competition puts "bad" companies (ones that do shoddy work, or overcharge, or provide products no one wants anymore) out of business -- I also watch as companies force states to "bid" for them to locate there -- buy basically "buying" them with tax dollars, waivers of environmental rules, and other "wealth transfers" that impoverish the public body, as a whole, while enriching a very few -- and employing a handful more.

How do we recast the argument, or re-establish the balance, that once curbed the excesses of capital accretion and competition, while still giving us the benefit of living in an economically vital society (I lived for a short time in the Soviet Union prior to the fall of communism. It was unspeakably dreadful (and "it' includes the "social service" aspects of the country as well).
dan dempsey said…
From the Orange County Register

Brian Calle: Schoolkids need an education lobbyist

The educational-industrial complex that drives so much of the agenda doesn't represent the interests of students.

The U.S. Education Department's National Center for Educational Statistics on Tuesday released what it calls the Nation's Report Card. The compilation of student test scores nationwide reflected a 1 percent improvement by fourth- and eighth-graders in mathematics but essentially no improvement in reading proficiency.

While the tiny improvement in math marks the highest scores in the history of the test, what makes the results troubling is that only 40 percent of fourth-graders and barely 35 percent of eighth-graders tested proficient in math and roughly one-third proficient in reading.

Shortly after the release of the Nation's Report Card, Michelle Rhee, an education reformer and former head of the public schools in the District of Columbia, called me to discuss the state of education in the United States and what ought to be done to improve public schools. Rhee made headlines for her tough, data-driven approaches to education reform and battles against teachers unions in D.C. which eventually led to her resignation after unions spent significant resources to unseat Mayor Adrian Fenty, who hired Rhee. Rhee also was featured in the acclaimed education reform documentary "Waiting for 'Superman.'"

She said even though the results of the Nation's Report Card were essentially flat, if "you look at the terms of academic achievement of our kids, we are definitely not progressing," Rhee said. She cited other test scores as a barometer for gauging success and improvement. For example, she said, "SAT scores were the lowest in the history of the test." And, perhaps more consequentially, she said, "We are not making the kind of progress and leaps that other countries are."


"There are lots of special interests driving the agenda,"
Rhee said. "Testing companies, textbook companies and teachers unions" all play a role but there is "no organized national interest group for kids."

"Since there is no such entity," Rhee explained, "laws and policies skewed to those special interests which have billions of dollars and millions of people at their disposal."

Paul Peterson, director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, characterized an "education-industrial complex, most notably the powerful teacher unions, that pour vast sums into political campaigns."

Petersen, in a 2008 essay laid out the evolution of educational special interests: "Around 1970 or thereabouts, the educational-industrial complex was hammered into place: School boards gave teachers collective bargaining rights. State governments assumed greater responsibility for financing the schools. The courts instructed schools on the civil liberties of their students. Regulations multiplied. America gained a federal Department of Education. And state and federal dollars poured into the system." With so much money at stake, economically interested parties sought to feed from the trough.
dan dempsey said…
.... continued ....

To thwart these special interests driving education policy, what might seem obvious is the need for a counterbalance. That is why Rhee started Students First (, a grass-roots advocacy organization for education reform. To date, Rhee said, "We have 750,000 people and are on track to have 1 million by year end; we are raising a lot of money to get politically active to mobilize and influence public policy."

Even though Students First has not yet marketed nor focused policy efforts in California, roughly 100,000 of its members live in the Golden State.

As Rhee noted, there is "no easy fix" to education problems, and there are a variety of solutions, such as the late economists Milton and Rose Friedman's vision for universal school choice. "All families should have options," Rhee believes, "charter schools and vouchers, parent trigger laws and much more empowerment of parents."

Students First has been particularly active in teacher quality and teacher accountability, pushing for "evaluating teachers appropriately and rigorously with teacher evaluation based on student achievement." And also rewarding and incentivizing teachers with pay for performance policies.

Another area of advocacy Rhee has been focused on is "changing layoff policies." In many states – California included – unions negotiate "last in, first out" policies that force schools, in times of layoffs, to let go of teachers with the least seniority. Student's First advocates policies for "layoffs by quality," in an effort to retain the best teachers.

The end goal of these reforms is, as Rhee observes, to ensure "every classroom has a highly effective teacher." To accomplish that, a dismantling of – or at least counterbalance to – the education-industrial complex first must occur.

NOTICE the article seems more about TEACHERS UNIONS being the problem .. than publishing companies and other BIG BUCK drivers.

Fails to mention Common Core State Standards.
Yes, Jack, teachers as facilitators.

There was a good piece on automation on NPR. It was talking about how they may need fewer migrant workers to pick fruit as they are trying to automate the work somewhat (a big electric ladder that can move from tree to tree more quickly).

But, despite the Roomba, they still can't automate jobs like maids, dishwashers, and people who do laundry.

So we can have all the advanced technology we want but we still need manual labor. Will that widen the divide further in this country?

And, what about the human touch? How much technology is good for a growing child? You want a nurse who knows how to draw blood and clean your wound and yes, hold your hand and tell you she's there.
Jack Whelan said…
@Jan--we had the balance during the New Deal era, which ended in 1980. We had a consensus that the well being of the country depended on a mix of markets and government regulations, with the tax code as a tool to keep things from getting too top heavy. It's a balance that needs to be continuously adjusted, but it should never have been allowed to get seriously out of whack, and we have let it get out of whack. It has put us on a fundamentally destabilizing course that I fear will just have to play out, most likely with increasing levels of unrest for which OWS is just the meek beginning.

But my point is that whatever happens in the economic sphere, our schools are in the cultural sphere, and while there is overlap, between spheres our schools should never be dominated by the interests of those in the economic sphere, and that's precisely what we see happening. And we need to work diligently in the political sphere to make sure it doesn't happen. Our public schools main mission should be to develop mature citizens capable of living in a complex pluralistic democracy. Job skills are important but subordinate to that overarching mission.

@Melissa: Yes, exactly, the divide will be widened. That's what this attack on teachers for the last decade has been all about. They're just not that important; they're just a delivery system which can be and should be replaced by less expensive alternatives.

You want real teachers--well you'll be able to get that for $20K+ at Lakeside or SAS--or maybe for a little less at the Catholic Schools or other religious schools if you can scrape together the tuition. The public schools will become job-training factories in which the only things that matter are the development of useful skills for the globalizing economy.

Art? Music? Literature? Even history? Waste of valuable training time or too controversial--no real consensus, you know. Too polarizing. This movement to develop common core standards in those areas is very likely to produce watered down versions no one finds offensive.

This is why we have to fight against the forces of centralization, why we can't let the RttT money seduce us no matter how financially strapped we are.
dan dempsey said…
Amen Jack.

Watching this:

Sure leads one to conclude that:
The Life advocated by Others for Us
is one of working and NOT living.

Forget any frivolity and the joy of living .. life is all about making the BUCK. ... So school should be centered on this lie.
Sahila said…
as to privatisation (otherwise known as charter schools!)... here's another study that confirms its not good sense to go there:

mathematica study on charter school outcomes

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