A MODEST PROPOSAL

Posted in Rants on March 28th, 2011 by Ed

This new breed of Teabagger governors is really something special. We are fortunate to live in an era in which the political class is so committed to radical change. It's exciting. Fresh. Exhilarating. Behold one of the greatest visionaries, Florida's Governor Rick Scott. The ex-hospital executive and lipless chemotherapy patient faces an uphill battle against recalcitrant, entrenched public sector unions who stand in the way of Progress. I think he's up for the challenge. Don't you?

One of Scott's campaign promises was rapidly fulfilled on Monday when Florida's legislature passed a bill tying teacher salaries to student performance – particularly student performance on standardized tests. Teachers, regardless of seniority, may also be fired if their students' three-year average standardized test scores are judged unsatisfactory . Scott hailed the law as a way to reward the best educators in the state and to create incentives to excel in the classroom. It's a great idea. What's more, its passage bodes well for a number of nearly identical measures soon to be considered in the Florida legislature:

1. A pending bill proposes a performance-based pay system for police officers throughout the Sunshine State. If the crime rate fails to improve based on rolling three-year averages, officers can be fired. They'll all be working on year-to-year contracts without seniority benefits. Bonuses will be paid to officers who make the most arrests. Legislators believe that the new merit-based rules will encourage officers to follow the law scrupulously and suppress the crime rate for which police are responsible.

2. A proposed Senate bill will create an incentive-based salary structure for trash collectors. Since landfill space is an unwelcome expense (and rapidly diminishing resource) for municipal governments, the new rules will reward garbage men for completing their routes while using the least possible landfill volume. State Republicans believe that the law will encourage waste disposal workers to innovate and develop new means of reducing the volume of trash generated by Floridians.

3. Two radical new laws are experimenting with ways of altering the compensation structure of state firefighters. One plan, soon to be implemented in a pilot program in Bradenton, will pay firefighters for each fire they extinguish. Logically, rewarding firefighters for each fire they put out will ensure diligent work with no conceivable negative impact on the number of fires that occur. A separate program (currently testing in Opa-Locka) takes a different approach, terminating the contracts of firefighters who allow buildings to burn down or for fatalities to occur in fires. This makes sense, as firefighters are ultimately the people who control outcomes in this area.

4. House Bill 415 creates a pay-for-performance system for the Governor, State Supreme Court, and legislature. Governors will receive no salary if the state unemployment rate increases on their watch, which is fair inasmuch as Governors are tasked with determining unemployment rates. The court will pay judges by the case and terminate lower-level judges whose cases are overturned on appeal more often than average. Legislators will be paid on a similar per-bill system, with penalties for failing to meet a 500 bill per session quota.

5. Florida Gators football coach Will Muschamp, the highest paid state employee in Florida at $2,500,000 annually, will have his contract restructured to a complicated formula based on wins, time of possession, and successfully executed fake punts. Broadly speaking, Muschamp will earn roughly $100,000 per Gators victory, potentially saving the cash-strapped state over $1,000,000 annually.

6. In the event of a failed citrus crop, Florida Agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam will receive no salary for that calendar year. A successful citrus crop is the responsibility of Commissioner Putnam and his office.

7. The Florida Department of Children and Families will face budgetary cuts for each fiscal year in which the percentage of abused children in the state rises above the national average at the state level. The Cato Institute described this incentive-based scheme as the best way to guarantee a safe childhood and home environment to as many young Floridians as possible, as the FDCF will have the strongest incentives to get out there and combat child abuse.

Gov. Scott has barely scratched the surface. If the potential of pay-for-performance government is Mount Everest, the recent restructuring of teacher compensation and tenure is just a few pebbles in your driveway! By understanding all of the relevant mechanisms of causality and assigning responsibility to the appropriate actors, government can not only operate more efficiently and save money but also provide the very best services to its constituents – without exception or compromise.

BUYER'S REMORSE

Posted in Rants on March 28th, 2011 by Ed

Many years ago I was dating someone with whom I did not see eye to eye on the topic of movies. Her taste in that area, to be blunt, was very bad. She favored the chick flick romantic comedy aimed primarily at a female audience. After about a dozen terrible movies over the course of a year I was fairly upset. I felt like the choice of movies in relationships is a joint responsibility and the opposing party was letting down its end of the bargain. I decided it was time to send a message. "Look," I said, "I think it's only fair that I get to pick a movie for once."

With all the subtlety of an Oliver Stone film, I decided to make my point by picking the worst, most obviously ridiculous movie in theaters at the time. Which explains why I found myself in a theater watching Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor. The point was made but I was not happy.

The problem was twofold. First, in my spiteful effort to make a point I gave Michael Bay $20 and indirectly encouraged him to continue making movies. I am not proud of that. Second, and more importantly, it's not as though I administered this punishment from a safe distance. I had to sit in that theater too. About 90 seconds into the movie my mood shifted rapidly from "Ha ha! Revenge is mine!" to "OK, now I have to sit through Pearl Harbor." It's like four fucking hours long.

Revenge is never as rewarding as we expect it to be. We do something out of anger and more often than not we end up punishing ourselves in the long run. This anecdote has been stuck in my head for the past few months as the results of the anger-driven 2010 elections have played out.

I understand exactly why voters would vote for people like Paul LePage, John Kasich, Scott Walker, and so on to run their states. I understand why they would send Mark Kirk and Ron Johnson to the Senate. It makes a very clear statement: "Screw you, Democrats. We're mad at you and we'll vote for just about anyone else to send a message." There is little doubt that this strategy works – losing 55 House seats, several Governors' mansions, and six Senators is enough to make any political party snap to attention.

The problem is, it took about 30 seconds to make the point. And now they have to live with these ass clowns for four more years.

Scott Walker might not last much longer than a year. Paul "What Maine really needs is lax child labor laws, or perhaps none" LePage. Ohioans, who spent the 00s wildly swinging back and forth between the GOP and Democrats, have enjoyed just three months into Kasichnomics yet it feels like three years. In LePage's defense, though, he has created employment opportunities for unskilled workers. By hiring his daughter as a $41,000 clerical worker.

I don't live in a state with tendencies toward either liberalism or introspection, but I have to imagine that there are some Wisconsinites, Ohioans, Mainers, and so on who are feeling a bit of buyer's remorse at the moment. Of course there are thousands of voters who are perfectly happy with the decision they made and the way their new elected officials have performed. At the same time, I imagine there are quite a few who voted angry and are just now figuring out what they've gotten themselves into. Too bad they're stuck in the theater for a couple more years.