Are charters the new mortgage market?

In the wake of the 2012 elections in the US, much of the media has been grappling with two major issues that must be understood: how did Obama and the Democrats win and where do the Republicans go from here? There’s a variety of answers to both, but there’s two key explanations that are striking if you pair them side by side.

Among the apparent causes for various progressive victories is that Republicans and conservatives overestimated their chance at winning, and didn’t invest their electoral resources very intelligently as a result. As part of analyzing that, in a recent interview with author Chrystia Freeland in the Washington Post, Ezra Klein chillingly notes:

“These folks, too, are purportedly very data focused, very good at assimilating new information. So I find it genuinely scary that neither Romney nor his super-rich backers had any idea he was going to lose. All the polls, all the models, all the betting markets said he was likely to lose. How did a group of people who, in their jobs, have to be willing to read and respond to disappointing data convince themselves to ignore every piece of data we had?”

Ms Freeland was promoting her new worrisome book.

So there’s the first worrisome problem right off the bat: there is a class of people in US society who are at once highly valued as financial analysts or something similar and yet, many of them do not seem to be able to analyze things, financially or otherwise. This is part of how the markets could so idiotically pour investment into patently toxic mortgages (causing the most recent recession), clearly overvalued homes (causing the housing bubble), and obviously worthless internet stock (causing the one before that). A sizable percentage of the financier class who are supposed to be intelligently running things seem to be doing anything but making the correct calls. That same poor ability to analyze reality or predict consequences reared its head politically on election day, when that group overwhelmingly anticipated a Romney victory, in spite of all evidence otherwise.

Chrystia Freeland eerily replies that it’s worse than that. Large parts of that socio-economic class aren’t merely convinced of their awesomeness at their jobs, but also believe that the perks of their position are more than personal but part of the greater good. She explains-

“They’re convinced that it just so happens that their self-interest coincides perfectly with the collective interest. That’s where you get this idea of the ‘job creators’. The view is that to seek a low tax environment or less regulation, that’s not special pleading for yourself, it’s not transactional politics. It’s that this set of rules is the most conducive to economic growth for everybody. It will grow the pie. Now, it also happens to be an incredibly convenient way of thinking. If you’ve developed an ideology that what’s good for you personally also happens to be good for everyone else, that’s quite wonderful because there’s no moral tension.”

So, if we’re going to keep the tab running here’s the situation we’re in. There’s a group of powerful people. Many of them are making decisions which notably have negative long term repercussions. But it’s alright, supposedly, because they should know what they’re doing. They’re the group of powerful people after all. Likewise, if their short term decisions result in personal gain, that’s only because their personal gain conveniently always coincides with the best of all possible worlds. Really, they’re doing this for everyone.

Now, momentarily put on hold that idea of social organization which has led us to where we are today politically, economically, and socially. It’s worth asking what the Republican Party’s various members are proposing as the road forward after their obvious loss earlier this month. Their answers obviously vary, but one of the major candidates for the next presidential run, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, has been running for years now on education reform. Doesn’t that sound bipartisan, forward-thinking, and nice?

But like almost everything proposed by Republicans the more you look the gift horse in the mouth, the more like a nightmarish ghoul it looks. As Reuters has reported, the fundamental mechanics of what he’s done in Florida and is now proposing on a national-scale look suspiciously similar to the disastrous No Child Left Behind policies of the early Bush years. Likewise, the improvement in test schools looks to mostly have been a short term fluke due to rising property tax returns from ballooning real estate sales, after which the state’s schools were left high and dry (and test scores began to drop again as funding declined). The only people who seem to have done well under these circumstances are the small number of for-profit charters who turned tidy profits under the new policies. But don’t worry, Jeb Bush is still insisted that we can apply this law on a national scale with no serious negative impacts.

In short, the new way forward for the Republican Party looks remarkably similar to the exact same organizational philosophy that’s impoverished this country by locking up investment in foolish gamble after foolish gamble (whether purely business or political in nature). But it made someone at the top money, so it’s still worth pursuing. It’s worth noting that similar policies are being implemented in Michigan. I only hope the United States as a whole figures out how this story ends before Jeb Bush can decide that for us.

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