Monopoly education, unions and parental responsibility

A bitter teachers’ strike in this blogger’s corner of the world, British Columbia, Canada illustrates how public education has become monopoly education and has taken from parents responsibility for schooling their children.

 The founders of this country believed that all children should have an equal opportunity for schooling and established publicly funded schools.  Through the years this has developed into a huge infrastructure and bureaucracy.  We now have a legal requirement that parents must send their children to school.  There are a few private schools and some home-schooling but the public school system is an effective monopoly. 

We also have the British Columbia Teachers Federation which has used its strength to appropriate the monopoly profits for its members.  Education is such an emotionally important thing that in the past the threat of a strike has been enough for the government to give in.  This strike, now resolved after two weeks before the summer break and three weeks in the new school year,. has shown the lack of alternatives.  Public  education has become monopoly education with all the problems associated with monopolies including high prices and mediocre services.

The current strike appears to be a conflict between the union and the government over who is going to control the education system and especially spending decisions.  It appears the government is taking a stand and refusing to put lots more money into the system.

I believe education is first of all a parental responsibility, something which has been forgotten as the BCTF and the government fight for control.  Most parents have the skills and knowledge to teach their children but chose to hire others to do that for them.      Parents should have the right to determine curriculum, the philosophy of education and which teachers educate their children. 

One way to accomplish this would be a voucher system which would allow parents to decide which school their children would attend according to their values.  This would be true to the wishes of our founding fathers and most of us that all children should have an equal opportunity for an education.  It would also transfer decision making and power from the bureaucracy to parents.  Expect the people currently employed in the system to scream.

Other occupations thrive on competition. If teachers had to compete for students they would be innovative and find the stimulation invigorating.  Most of them would be more satisfied and pleased to see what it does for students.

This blogger’s recent experience of schools has been limited to an annual Christmas concert at the local elementary school, but during the strike  I was hearing complaints from teachers of up to five or six special needs students in each class.  I am horrified.

This may be an old issue already won by parents who want their children to be treated as normal and included in the normal school system.  This should be revisited.  We want all children to be educated to their full potential but not everyone has an equal potential.  Trying to teach children of vastly different potentials in one classroom must be asking for problems. How well do students learn from a teacher who is about to have a nervous  breakdown?

While this post was waiting for its final editing the strike was settled and monopoly power reigns supreme.  Poor students,

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Minimum wages and poverty

A $15 minimum wage would be great for those employed by the fast food chains but would probably do little to alleviate poverty for those who remain unemployed or otherwise close to the line.

This observation follows from a Business Insider video interview with Paul Krugman.  I was concerned because it is not clear the headline is supported by what he said.   Here’s the headline: “Watch Paul Krugman, in 2 minutes, Destroy The Argument That We Can’t Pay Fast-Food Workers Higher Wages” and here is what he said:  “But what all the evidence says is we can raise these wages without losing a lot of jobs.  The best research on minimum wages all says that when the minimum wage is as low as it is in the United States there is hardly any cost to raising it.”  I know the guy won a Nobel Prize in economics but that is all the more reason to carefully evaluate a statement such as this.  Sometimes people who are recognized as experts make unsupported statements outside their specialty.

In this case he may be partially right.  Some firms in industries that usually employ  low-paid workers have found they can do well by paying their staff better than usual and providing decent benefits.  Employees who are being treated well stay on the job longer and provide better service to customers. This may not apply to all firms in all industries. 

But the reality is that generally wages are determined by supply and demand and governments that try to fight market forces often make things worse.   That people are willing to work for current wages paid by the fast-food industry indicates the supply exceeds the demand.  There may also be small firms paying low wages that genuinely cannot pay $15 per hour.  There could also be lots of owners or self-employed people not making that much.

Perhaps this should be considered a problem of poverty and we should be looking to alleviate all poverty rather than just for those who make the most noise.

I believe we should have a collective responsibility to ensure everyone has the opportunity to live at the same standard as most other people.  One way to do this would be a universal income scheme.  As well as dealing with poverty such a scheme would in effect set a minimum wage determined by supply and demand in that people would not have to work for low wages for life support.

Poverty is a big issue in North America and around the world, one which is probably going to get worse as the economy continues to slide.  Let’s try to arrange our economy so that no one has to live in poverty.

 

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Why we have financial crises

I believe the root cause of financial crises is in the fractional reserve system of creating money.  Therefore the way to avoid future crises is to change how we create money.

Dear Reader,  This post requires you to understand how money is created by the banks.  I’m feeling too lazy to write that up now so if you don’t already know I encourage you to figure it out.  Google “fractional reserve money”  or look at my essay “LETS go to market: Dealing with the financial crisis” or these other posts on this weblog.  It may appear complicated and overwhelming but if you think it out it should be easy to understand.  I think very few people understand this process which is unfortunate because we can not reform something people don’t understand.  There is a lot of emotion when dealing with money.

There are two aspects to the economy – the physical and the financial.  It’s a distinction which is easily forgotten because we measure the physical side in financial terms.    Both of these can cause economic crises and solutions probably require knowing where the problem originates.  A complication is that a physical problem can and usually does trigger a financial problem.  I believe our current economic problems are largely physical in that we have used up the most easily accessible energy and mineral resources.  There are lots of resources left but they are becoming more and more difficult to extract.

The big problem with fractional reserve money is that  interest is charged on the money created by the banks.  But the process does not create money to cover the interest.  So long as the economy and the money supply continues to grow there is no problem.  However, when growth ceases and the money supply contracts there just isn’t enough money in the economy to repay all the loans with interest.  It’s sort of like a Ponzi scheme.

Fractional reserve banking is about increasing the money supply but to the best of my knowledge not much thought has been given to when the process unfolds.  Just as money can be created out of thin air it can just as easily disappear into thin air.  This is a problem because money is essential in our economy for the exchange of goods and services.  Even a small reduction in our money supply can cause severe economic hardship because losses on bank loans come out of the reserves.  Thus losses are high powered money or leverage in reverse.  A run on the bank would also be a loss of reserves if the money is put under some mattresses.  If the money is transferred to another bank then there would be no loss of money supply to the economy although it would take some time for the adjustments to work through the system.

During the crisis of 2008 I figure the losses to the banks reduced the money supply forcing a slowdown in the physical side of the economy.  During the crisis people talked about a shortage of credit and the need for banks to start lending.  As our money supply is based on loans this is the same as saying we didn’t have enough money to facilitate the exchange of goods and services.

The U.S. officials dealing with the crisis were aware of the danger to the economy. They were also aware that a large part of the economy was sound and that the banks had to be saved so as to not have a complete collapse.  They were in a bind because saving the banks appeared to be saving people who did not deserve to be saved.  To have let the banks fail would have hurt all of us.  That is the power of the banks.  They are too important to fail.

The financial intermediation industry is focused on the double  R – risk and rewards.  The great  profits and bonuses of the industry are based on maximizing the rewards and passing the risk on to others.  As a general rule the higher the risks the greater the rewards.  In an ideal world the rewards would go to the people taking the risks but bankers have ways of grabbing the rewards while leaving the risks with the depositors.

The first thing they do is that their  marketing focuses on expected returns.  The risks involved are seldom mentioned so that customers don’t demand the rewards to go with the risk they are taking.  Governments try to protect savers with deposit insurance schemes although the real reason is to prevent runs on the bank.

The second trick is leverage.  If you did your homework you know that banks are required to keep a fraction of deposits on reserve for people who want to withdraw their deposits.  The smaller this reserve requirement the greater the leverage and the more money they can create and the larger the profits.  Regulated banks are told how much they must keep on reserve.  Unregulated financial institutions can get away with greater leverage – until things go wrong and they cannot repay their depositors.

The third profit-making stunt is to finance long-term loans with short-term deposits.  As short-term interest rates are generally lower than long-term interest rates this increases the spread/margin for the banks.  Some people claim this conversion of short-term deposits into long-term loans is a great accomplished of the financial system.  In fact it is a very dangerous practice and through the centuries many bankers have lost their businesses, if not their shirts. (But the profits were great while they lasted.) This is because when there is a crisis people will refuse to roll over their short-term deposits.  With no way to call in their loans the banks become bankrupt even though most of their outstanding loans are good.

If banks were to match the terms of their deposits with the terms of their loans their business would be financial intermediation rather than speculation and the risk would go to depositors  who are carrying the risk in any case.

I hope you can see from these notes that there are serious problems within the financial industry and the fractional reserve way of creating money.  Money is such an emotional issue and the interests of the financial industry are so strong that I believe it will be impossible to make reforms.  

 

If you liked this post your are invited to comment, press the like button and/or click  one of the share buttons. If you disagree you are invited to say why in a comment.  While I like the idea of sharing this platform, my personality is such that I don’t reply to many comments.

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