Monday, December 24, 2007

Government Hypocrisy

I reguarly read Bill Ferriter's The Tempered Radical and in particular a recent post on governmental hypocrisy related to targets for education and targets for climate change. After discussing the relucatance to establish and meet hard target goals in the area of climate change, Bill had this to say:
The reason this sits wrong in the pit of my stomach is that our government seems to have completely embraced hard targets for education, haven't they? After all, we've been told that "100% of our students" are going to be on grade level by 2014.

We've been given specific targets for student growth for every year between now and then, too---and when we don't meet those targets, we're ridiculed in the press, called failures, and taken over by outside agencies. Despite working in a field that is easily as unpredictable as climate change, our government has no troubles setting hard targets for schools?

Starting off with "some set of numbers" didn't seem to bother anyone when No Child Left Behind was passed. Coercive accountability was seen as the only way to get unresponsive schools to "shape up," and urgency was necessary because to wait any longer was morally wrong.

So why are hard targets appropriate for education, but not appropriate for fighting global warming? Aren't both issues equally important?

Interesting, huh?
In the comments, I wrote (in part):
I think the fact that the government has much more discretion over domestic policy, where the variables are better known, means that they set the hard numbers domestically. Witness for example the hard target numbers for gasoline efficiency just set for cars sold in America. (by the way does not those standards count?)
Aside from my admittedly tortured grammar, I still believe this to largely be the case, domestic policy is easier to develop standards in than foriegn policy.

But there is another reason why I believe that the government is not being hypocritical when it comes to the dichotomy between climate change and education. I don't think there is any lack of consensus on the importance of education to our future. I firmly believe there is a deep lack of consensus on climate change (or at least our ability to do anything about it as a nation). Therein lies the rub. We think education is vitally important and that government can somehow make the necessary policy decisions to implement a tough educational policy, with hard targets. On the other hand, there is broad enough dissension on climate change in the opposite direction. There is a large enough percentage of people who, perhaps believing climate change is an issue, do not think the goverment capable of making any lasting change.

I generally don't think there is much government can do in either case and that is where I see the hypocrisy. Education policy, from everything I have seen, read, witnessed or discussed ultimate comes down to an individual family's output. That is, if the family believes it to be important, the kids in the family unit will generally do better--regardless of the circumstances they find themselves in. Government can help by providing assistance or opportunities, but unless the family takes advantage there is really little government can do.

The same holds true for the environment. Unless people are willing to make personal choices to do something to help, i.e. recycling, switching to compact flourescent bulbs, choosing cars that are better on gas mileage and other personal (and I might add market oriented) solutions, there is little government can do to mandate change and have it be effective. Government can, and has, mandated better fuel efficiency, and a growth in alternative fuels, but all that pre-supposed that people will buy those new cars or use those alternative fuels. There are an awful lot of old muscle cars, lovingly maintained, out on the road that would be exempt from new fuel standards.

So the hypocrisy in government is that it believes it can make a difference in either education or climate change via government policy. It can do neither effectively and fails on both accounts, hard targets or not.

1 comment:

The Tempered Radical said...

Matt wrote:
So the hypocrisy in government is that it believes it can make a difference in either education or climate change via government policy. It can do neither effectively and fails on both accounts, hard targets or not.

This is a really interesting point, Matt---and one that I'm finding I agree with more and more. Strong efforts from the top to control anything are never as effective as decisions that are made as close to the local level as possible.

And this has been a foundational conservative belief for a long while now. I always appreciate hearing conservatives call for smaller government because I realize that those calls mean more control for me....something that I feel we lose when the government gets too involved in our lives.

What's frustrating to me is that our current government fails to see the dichotomy in calling for fewer controls at the federal level in business and industry while calling for more controls at the federal level in education!

Anyway....thanks for a good post. My mind is spinning and that's always a good feeling.

Rock on,
Bill Ferriter