No, race isn’t the cause of our economic and education woes

Just when you think the conservatives can’t possibly sound any more like fascists of the 1930s . . . I mean, can we just repeal Godwin’s law and call a racist fascist argument, a racist fascist argument?

Paul Krugman, whose Nobel Memorial Prize for economics galls conservatives more than left turns bothered J. Edgar Hoover, noted the other day that Texas is in a series of fixes.  This is important because Texas is what Wisconsin’s governor claims Wisconsin should be:  Shorn of union interference in almost all things, especially in public service sectors including education.  Krugman wrote in his column, “Leaving Children Behind”:

Texas likes to portray itself as a model of small government, and indeed it is. Taxes are low, at least if you’re in the upper part of the income distribution (taxes on the bottom 40 percent of the population are actually above the national average). Government spending is also low. And to be fair, low taxes may be one reason for the state’s rapid population growth, although low housing prices are surely much more important.

But here’s the thing: While low spending may sound good in the abstract, what it amounts to in practice is low spending on children, who account directly or indirectly for a large part of government outlays at the state and local level.

And in low-tax, low-spending Texas, the kids are not all right. The high school graduation rate, at just 61.3 percent, puts Texas 43rd out of 50 in state rankings. Nationally, the state ranks fifth in child poverty; it leads in the percentage of children without health insurance. And only 78 percent of Texas children are in excellent or very good health, significantly below the national average.

But wait — how can graduation rates be so low when Texas had that education miracle back when former President Bush was governor? Well, a couple of years into his presidency the truth about that miracle came out: Texas school administrators achieved low reported dropout rates the old-fashioned way — they, ahem, got the numbers wrong.

It’s not a pretty picture; compassion aside, you have to wonder — and many business people in Texas do — how the state can prosper in the long run with a future work force blighted by childhood poverty, poor health and lack of education.

But things are about to get much worse.

A few months ago another Texas miracle went the way of that education miracle of the 1990s. For months, Gov. Rick Perry had boasted that his “tough conservative decisions” had kept the budget in surplus while allowing the state to weather the recession unscathed. But after Mr. Perry’s re-election, reality intruded — funny how that happens — and the state is now scrambling to close a huge budget gap. (By the way, given the current efforts to blame public-sector unions for state fiscal problems, it’s worth noting that the mess in Texas was achieved with an overwhelmingly nonunion work force.)

Krugman was too easy on Perry.  In his campaign last year, Perry claimed that Texas had plenty of money, a surplus, even.  In debates with Democratic candidate Bill White, Perry pooh-poohed the notion that Texas had a sizable deficit, certainly not the $18 billion deficit White named.

No, the Texas deficit actually is north of $25 billion.  (Linda Chavez-Thompson, the defeated Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, addressed Perry’s denial in a line that very few reporters bothered to report (or report accurately):  “Do you know how many zeroes there are in 18 billion?” Chavez-Thompson said. “11, when you count Perry and Dewhurst.”)

But blogger Iowahawk would hear none of that — no, the issue isn’t bad government and poor fiscal management.  Texas loses out in education because its got more racial minorities, he wrote at some length.

Other bloggers who should know better, or at least should be struck by the repugnance of the claim that race is the problem, spread the claim, including Paul E. Peterson at EducationNext and Mark at Pseudo-Polymath.

Krugman’s original point was untouched by any of these guys.  Texas is in deep trouble, on many, many fronts.  One of the more common comments on Texas education is, “Thank God for Mississippi!”  Mississippi’s having closed down its education system rather than integrate, and continued underfunding and mismanagement since the federal government forced the reopening, keeps Mississippi at the bottom of almost all state rankings regarding children.  That means Texas isn’t dead last.  Texas’s very real problems will affect racial disparities in achievement, but they are in no way caused by racial disparity, or race of the students.

Notice, too, how Iowahawk changed the comparison.  Krugman noted dropout rates.  Unable to muster a direct rebuttal to Krugman’s point, Iowahawk switched to comparing scores in NAEP.  It’s not the same thing by any stretch.

No Texas teacher would say Texas performs better than any other state in stopping dropouts.  While we might brag a bit on how we’ve increased scores on the ACT and SAT, it’s not across the board, and it’s not enough.  (It’s a miracle with the stingy funding, and it will likely stop with the proposed budget cuts — but we’re proud of our ability to make improvement despite obstacles carefully placed by state policy makers.)

Notice, too, that dropouts tend to perform more poorly on standardized tests.  If one wishes to screw around with the statistics for spin, one might note that by forcing students to drop out, Texas raises its scores on NAEP.  I seriously doubt any Texas educator conducts a campaign to get dropouts to boost NAEP scores, but let’s be realistic.  (Which is not to say that there is not a lot of action to mask the dropout problem; a Texas high school is responsible for the academic achievement of kids who drop out, or more accurately, the lack of academic achievement.  Dropouts count against a school’s performance rating, and count hard.  Every school on the cusp of “Exemplary,” or “Recognized,” or “Unacceptable,” has a campaign to track down dropouts to find that they have enrolled in another school to whom blame can be passed, or that they have left the state or the nation, and so don’t count in Texas at all.  One wishes one could school administrators and legislators in Deming’s Red Bead Experiment.)

It’s impossible to claim Wisconsin union teachers are to blame for any Wisconsin woe, when Texas, with it’s strong anti-union stands and ban on unionizing among teachers, performs worse, on average.

Will busting the unions put Wisconsin in the black?  It didn’t work for Texas.

Will busting the unions help Wisconsin schools?  You can’t make that case based on the information from Texas.  In fact, Angus Johnson conducted a more serious analysis of statistics that may provide a better view into the issue, and they tend to show that unionized teachers improve education performance.

Surely these guys understand where their argument ends up.  It is absolutely untrue that Texas’s minorities dragged the state into deficits.

We know where Texas deficits came from.  Several years ago Texas cut property taxes, a key source of education and other funding for the state, promising to make up the difference with corporate tax reforms.  But the corporations blocked significant reform.  Texas has been running on empty for six years, and now the deficits are simply too big to hide.

Unwise tax cuts, made for political gains, that put Texas in the dumper.

It wasn’t unions, and it sure wasn’t the large population of hard-working, tax-paying, union-needing Hispanics and blacks and Native Americans who got Texas in trouble.  They didn’t get the tax cut benefits, for the most part.

Race is not the cause of our education and budget woes, except in this way:  Racists, especially the latent, passive-aggressive sort, will not hesitate to cut programs that they see benefiting minorities.  Those education programs that have done the most to reduce the achievement gaps between the races, boosting minority achievement, are the first to go under the Republican budget meat cleavers.  The proposed cuts are not surgical in any way, to preserve education gains.

18 Responses to No, race isn’t the cause of our economic and education woes

  1. […] “No, race is not the cause of our economic and education woes” […]


  2. LOUDelf says:

    @ Jim

    You make some thoughtful and informed points. Here’s where we disagree. I think you and Ed have missed this: Using your example, would this mom be buying the new Escalade, or maybe the used Camry? If she’s an idiot, she’s buying the new SUV, but most-likely she’s smart, or cannot afford the choice, and thus buys the 5-20k car instead of the 60-80k car. The people buying the Escalade are paying far higher per person than the ones buying the lower end. Correct? One vehicle, one tax, more collected, right? The only way the argument holds water is if this single mom buys the same car as the rich person. Again, this is where I think Krugman used selective data to base his weak point on.

    I’m no optimist, I’m a realist. I’ve been poor, and now am classified as rich only to be told (by “experts” like Krugman) that though I work more hours, employ more people, and donate more time and money than people on the other end of the spectrum, I somehow don’t pay my fair share. This may sit for a chin-scratcher focused on theory, but not a practical realist. Yes, people DO need to suck it up more. Some NEED help. Most do not. If it’s jaded or dickish to expect people to try (read: TRY) to pull their own weight, then I’m guilty. If it’s optimistic to believe the vast majority of people are capable of supporting themselves, then that’s me as well. But that’s not the issue here. What is the issue is Krugman’s faulty contention and the belief that charging one person more than the next for the same item is somehow fair.

    And to clarify, I’m not conservative, I’m libertarian. I’m not offended by demonizing the right.


  3. LOUDelf says:

    @ Nick

    I’ve been poor. It’s not easy to work out of, but attainable through planning, hard work and sacrifice. I have no clue what the purpose of your 18k plan would be or the logic behind it… other than perpetuating a theoretical discussion.


  4. Nick K says:

    To quote Bill Maher:

    New Rule – Fantasies are for sex, not public policy. When you go down the list of useless distractions that make up the Republican Party agenda; public unions and Sharia law, anchor babies and a mosque at ground zero, ACORN and National Public Radio, the war on Christmas, the New Black Panthers, Planned Parenthood, Michelle Obama’s war on desserts…

    …you realize that one reason nothing gets done in America is that one of the political parties puts so much more into fantasy problems. Governing this country with Republicans is like rooming with a meth addict.

    You want to address real life problems like when the rent is due and they’re saying “How can you even think of that stuff when there’s police scanner voices coming out of the air conditioning unit?”


  5. Jim says:

    Thanks, Ed. It’s not original to me. Recently — and I mean in the last year or two — someone said something very profound about how impossible our American ideals are to live out. It might have been President Obama, or perhaps a Senate candidate or one of the evening pundits. I honestly can’t remember. Nor can I recall the context — was it a conservative talking about reining in spending? Was it a liberal talking about living the Preamble? I don’t remember. But it moved me.

    But then they said, “Tt’s impossible. But trying to do the impossible is what we have always done. Why stop now?”


  6. Ed Darrell says:

    What most everyone at the founding of this country dreamed of, however, was “a more perfect union”. The idea being that, while we’ll never attain perfection, we’ll keep trying.

    There’s a bit of profundity. Nice thought, Jim


  7. Nick K says:

    Elf, if you think its oh so easy to get ahead when you’re poor lets try an experiment.

    For the period of five years you agree to put any income you make above, say, $18k in an trust that neither you or anyone else can access.

    Come on, Elf, put your money where your mouth is. Or are you going to admit that you’re a loudmouth who really has no idea what you’re talking about?


  8. Jim says:

    Hello there Elf!

    I don’t hear anyone calling for Utopia this side of the bodily return of Jesus Christ. That’s a bit of a strawman, don’t you think?

    What most everyone at the founding of this country dreamed of, however, was “a more perfect union”. The idea being that, while we’ll never attain perfection, we’ll keep trying.

    I respect the realism rooted in the argument that life isn’t fair. Indeed, I think each human being owes it to himself to affirm that no society can create perfect equality. Even in extremely just and democratic countries like Sweden, Denmark and New Zealand…there are those who have more and those who have less.

    What they’ve got right…and what we’ve let fade from our national conscience, however… s the sense that we’re all in this together, as a society…a union. One of the better arguments FOR a flat sales tax is ironically just that. We’re all paying it, if we’re spending. And we’re all paying the same amount. The acolytes of a flat sales tax who appeal for it on that basis are getting closer, I think, to our founding ideals.

    The problem, which Ed seems to have discovered and, quite respectfully — you seem not to have — is that the 15% I would pay on a used car is scarcely felt. The single mom down the street, who just lost her job and has a student loan to pay off, will almost surely go off the rails. She’s able to scrape together the money to pay for the car. But tack that same 15% onto it — that 15% that I don’t even notice — and she is out of luck.

    Now, I know the popular conservative view is that she should just suck it up and do without. Well, that works beautifully where televisions and lazy-boy recliners are concerned. But not so much with things like refrigerators, automobiles and mattresses. Ironically, (and I am sure you are the exception) many of the same conservatives who tell this woman to just buck up and do without that used car — she should walk or ride a bike instead — are the same conservatives who will then call her a “welfare queen” because she can’t find employment. And why can’t she find a job? Because it’s hard to get to very many interviews…to say nothing of looking employably presentable…when you are hoofing it or pedalling from application to spplication. Public transportation presents us with some wonderful options in places like Chicago or New York. Not so much in places like where I live. Oh, we have city buses here. But they run about once an hour. And then, of course, you have all those pending budget cuts as cities, counties, states and the Congress are ALL looking to slash funding for transportation.

    So we’ve come ’round finally to the question of fairness. Your suggestion is actually the one more connected to idea of Utopia, for it PRESUMES this single mom can absorb the flat sales tax just as easily as can I. We must live in quite a paradise of equality if that is the case. Frankly, I applaud your optimism.

    I presume optimism on your part, of course. Because the only other option is that you are jaded and dickish. And I don’t want to think that of you. A jaded, cruel person would say, “So what if she can’t afford it. She’s just SOL. Life’s not fair.” That’s not Christian, compassionate OR American.

    The men who wrote the Preamble to our Constitution — which I seem to keep returning to over and over these days — knew that we could never create perfection here. But in spite of the impossibility of it, they dreamed that we would always keep striving and at least moving in that direction.

    And there you have it! :-)


  9. LOUDelf says:

    Sales tax is unfair only if you believe other people should be paying for services that you use. As the wealthy spend more, they are most surely taxed more on this. As they have more disposable income to buy non-food items, they are taxed at a far higher rate to fund things that benefit them (if at all) on a smaller scale. How is this unfair to the non-rich again?

    As you may have heard, life is unfair. Utopia cannot exist because humans are involved. Once this is realized, most people don’t have such a hard time carrying their own weight to an imperfect day.


  10. Ed Darrell says:

    Sales tax is among the most regressive possible. In Texas, mercifully, we don’t tax food. But all other necessities are taxed. The dime/gallon on gasoline doesn’t bother the rich man, but it takes proportionately more out of the poor man’s pocket — same with all other necessities.

    Sales taxes are charged on the poor man’s boat, to get dinner for tonight, as well as the rich man’s yacht, for partying. But it takes more, proportionately, from the poor man.

    That is the very definition of “regressive tax.” Look it up, Lou.


  11. Nick K says:

    Oh and sorry…a flat tax isn’t fair when it entails raising taxes on the poor and cutting taxes on the rich.

    Go pedal that right wing balderdash to people stupid enough to buy it.


  12. Nick K says:

    To quote:
    The sales tax is flat and fair, not regressive.

    It may be flat..but its not fair. Or are you somehow forgetting that millionaires will not really be hurt by sales taxes but it can mean the difference between putting food on the table or having a house over your head for the poor?

    And let us know, elf, when its going to gall you that 60% of corporations don’t pay any income taxes.


  13. LOUDelf says:

    “that very regressive tax regime hits the poor the hardest” — I guess the poor DID start buying luxury cars and yachts. The top 5% of income earners in the US spend 37% of the discrtionary monies (almost all are sales taxable, where as in many states necessary items like food are not). I’m not sure how someone in a 500k home pays less than their proportion of property tax compared to someone in an apartment. Please explain. Again, circling back, how does someone pay more in sales tax on an economy car over a luxury car? The sales tax is flat and fair, not regressive.


  14. Ed Darrell says:

    In Texas, every district gets at least 37% of its money directly from the State of Texas. Texas has no income tax, nor much of any other taxes that are progressive. Sales tax makes up the bulk of the income, and that very regressive tax regime hits the poor the hardest.

    Property taxes in Texas were slashed six years ago, to benefit the wealthy. The loss to the school fund was supposed to be made up by reforms of corporate taxes, but the Republican legislature was very optimistic in all of its projections, and not all of the reformed taxes passed into law.

    So the burden of schooling has fallen on the poor and middle class, with a massive transfer of wealth from them to the very rich and large land owners, in Texas.

    The Third Estate pays for the frolics of the First and Second Estates, in Texas.

    Even if there are more poor, it’s unfair and burdensome. It’s also a drag on economic development, but the very rich don’t see it that way.


  15. LOUDelf says:

    So he’s using gray area and arbitrary numbers to back up theories? Property taxes are paid on a mil rate, and therefor lower-value homes pay less. Are the bottom 40 percent owning more expensive homes than the upper 60? Are they owning disproportionately expensive homes?
    You calculate your state tax cost by figuring in sales tax? Let me guess, the lowest 40% in Texas has started buying more expensive cars and yachts, right? Not buying that either.

    The reason I label Krugman a hack is he uses weak circumstantial data to back up his political theories instead of looking at economic fact.


  16. […] started to make the “oh, we have all of those idiot minority students” excuse. Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub takes that on. Eco World Content From Across The Internet. Featured on EcoPressed What's Next For […]


  17. Paul says:

    yet the income tax is zero


    Noting the correct fact that the Texas income tax is zero says absolutely nothing about the state tax burden of any individual or group of individuals in Texas. If you ask me how much I pay in state taxes I would have to itemize my income tax, sales tax, property tax, and a whole myriad of other taxes and fees.

    Also, sales taxes, among others, are considered to be regressive, which explains why the bottom half of Texans shoulder a greater tax burden. A flat income tax rate would be a step towards a more fair system.


  18. LOUDelf says:

    I think Krugman’s prize galls me because says “taxes on the bottom 40 percent of the population are actually above the national average”, yet the income tax is zero.


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