Archives for category: Economics

Lindsay Owens and David Dayen note that some of the most outspoken critics of Biden’s decision to forgive up to $20,000 in student debt are Obama-era economists. Republicans have called it “socialism” and worse, but some Democratic economists are also upset. Owens and Dayen attribute their anger to the failure of Obama’s policy to solve the home foreclosure crisis.

They write:

President Biden’s long-awaited decision to wipe out up to $20,000 in student debt was met with joy and relief by millions of borrowers, and a temper tantrum from centrist economists.null

Moments after the announcement, former Council of Economic Advisers Chair Jason Furman took to Twitter with a dozen tweets skewering the proposal as “reckless,” “pouring … gasoline on the inflationary fire,” and an example of executive branch overreach (“Even if technically legal I don’t like this amount of unilateral Presidential power.”). Brookings economist Melissa Kearny called the proposal “astonishingly bad policy” and puzzled over whether economists inside the administration were “all hanging their heads in defeat.” Ben Ritz, the head of a centrist think tank, went so far as to call for the staff who worked on the proposal to be fired after the midterms.

Histrionics are nothing new on Twitter, but it’s worth examining why this proposal has evoked such strong reactions. Elizabeth Popp Berman has argued in the Prospect that student loan forgiveness is a threat to the economic style of reasoning that dominates Washington policy circles. That’s correct. But President Biden’s elegant and forceful approach to tackling the student loan crisis also may feel like a personal rebuke to those who once worked alongside President Obama as he utterly failed to solve the debt crisis he inherited.

Let’s be very clear: The Obama administration’s bungled policy to help underwater borrowers and to stem the tide of devastating foreclosures, carried out by many of the same people carping about Biden’s student loan cancellation, led directly to nearly ten million families losing their homes. This failure of debt relief was immoral and catastrophic, both for the lives of those involved and for the principle of taking bold government action to protect the public. It set the Democratic Party back years. And those throwing a fit about Biden’s debt relief plan now are doing so because it exposes the disaster they precipitated on the American people.

One reason the Obama administration failed to swiftly help homeowners was their obsession with ensuring their policies didn’t help the “wrong” type of debtor.

President Obama campaigned on an aggressive platform to prevent foreclosures. Larry Summers, one of the critics of Biden’s student debt relief, promised during the Obama transition in a letter to Congress that the administration “will commit substantial resources of $50-100B to a sweeping effort to address the foreclosure crisis.” The plan had two parts: “helping to reduce mortgage payments for economically stressed but responsible homeowners,” and “reforming our bankruptcy laws” by allowing judges in bankruptcy proceedings to write down mortgage principal and interest, a policy known as “cramdown.”

The administration accomplished neither. On cramdown, the administration didn’t fight to get the House-passed proposal over the finish line in the Senate. Credible accounts point to the Treasury Department and even Summers himself (who just last week said his preferred method of dealing with student debt was to allow it to be discharged in bankruptcy) lobbying to undermine its passage. Summers “was really dismissive as to the utility of it,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said at the time. “He was not supportive of this.”

Summers and Treasury economists expressed more concern for financially fragile banks than homeowners facing foreclosure, while also openly worrying that some borrowers would “take advantage” of cramdown to get undeserved relief. This is also a preoccupation of economist anger at student debt relief: that it’s inefficient and untargeted and will go to the “wrong” people who don’t need it. (It won’t.)

For mortgage modification, President Obama’s Federal Housing Finance Agency repeatedly refused to use its administrative authority to write down the principal of loans in its portfolio at mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—the simplest and fastest tool at its disposal. Despite a 2013 Congressional Budget Office study that showed how modest principal reduction could help 1.2 million homeowners, prevent tens of thousands of defaults, and save Fannie and Freddie billions, FHFA repeatedly refused to move forward with principal reduction, citing their own efforts to study whether the policy would incentivize strategic default (the idea that financially solvent homeowners would default on their loans to try and access cheaper ones).

Virtually everyone involved with the housing system was stunned that the options of cramdown and principal reduction weren’t taken. Banks literally held meetings in expectation of Obama’s team requiring writedowns, until they didn’t.

Instead, the Obama administration rolled out the industry-backed Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), relying on the voluntary cooperation of servicers to modify mortgages. The program was, even by the administration’s own modest objectives, a failure, ultimately reaching less than a quarter of the three to four million homeowners it hoped to target. In the critical first two years, the administration did not even spend 3 percent of what they were allotted to save homeowners.

Just as with cramdown, one reason the Obama administration failed to swiftly help homeowners was their obsession with ensuring their policies didn’t help the “wrong” type of debtor. When Obama first announced HAMP in 2009, he said the program would “not reward folks who bought homes they knew from the beginning they would never afford.” The resulting “Goldilocks” proposal, with its focus on weeding out undeserving borrowers, would not be available to homeowners with incomes too high or too low and would be backstopped with voluminous income and financial verifications (in many cases, more than what was required to take out the loan in the first place). Treasury also tweaked the program numerous times as they went along, confusing servicers and borrowers. The barrage of paperwork ground the program to a halt at many servicers, and ultimately nearly a quarter of modifications were rejected on the grounds that incomplete paperwork was provided.

But it was much worse than that. The mortgage servicers used HAMP like a predatory lending program, squeezing homeowners for as many payments as possible before canceling their modifications and kicking them out of their homes. These companies had financial incentives to foreclose rather than modify loans. In one particularly excruciating example, the servicer arm of Bank of America offered its employees Target gift cards as a bonus for placing borrowers into foreclosure.

This was also by design, or at least benign neglect. Then–Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner candidly told officials that the program was intended to help banks, not borrowers. The purpose was to “foam the runway” for the banks, Geithner said, with homeowners and their families being the foam crushed by a jumbo jet in that scenario. If the goal was just to let the banks use HAMP for their own benefit, it’s not surprising that would come at homeowners’ expense.

And those banks executed their plan fraudulently, using millions of forged and fabricated documents to illegally foreclose on people. Even with this new leverage against the banks, the administration failed to provide equitable relief. A new program, the National Mortgage Settlement, promised one million principal reductions but delivered only 83,000. Meanwhile, millions more unlawful foreclosures ensued, and no high-level executive was convicted in association with any of these crimes.

In short, the policy apparatus ultimately failed to assist the majority of people who sought help, a suboptimal policy outcome by any metric. Student debt relief skeptics like Furman spent the Obama years advocating for privatizing Fannie and Freddie, rather than apologizing for falling so short on dealing with the massive debt overhang, which stunted the economic recovery.

President Biden’s approach has been markedly different and, if well implemented, is poised to be extremely effective. The simplicity of the program design, with its straightforward cancellation thresholds ($10,000/$20,000) and eligibility criteria (Pell status and household income), means the policy should deliver nearly 90 percent of its relief dollars to those making less than $75,000 a year. Will some small amount of relief dollars land in the bank accounts of borrowers who will make higher incomes in the future? Absolutely. Is preventing that outcome more important than delivering relief to 43 million borrowers? Of course not.

It’s not just the policy design that is a rebuke to the old guard’s theory of debt relief; it’s also the rhetoric. Notably, in his 20-minute speech announcing the rollout of the student loan relief program, President Biden didn’t mention “bad debtors” once. He didn’t spend a single breath on the individual failings of borrowers, make any reference to their poor decision-making, or nod to a handful of unscrupulous debtors trying to game the system.

Instead, he talked about the failings of our higher-education system, in which “an entire generation is now saddled with unsustainable debt.” Instead of blaming borrowers, he showed them empathy. Instead of talking about borrowers taking advantage of the system, he vowed to hold “colleges accountable for jacking up costs without delivering value to students” and crack down on “schools luring students with the promise of big paychecks when they graduate only to watch these students be ripped off and left with mountains of debt.” And he headed concerns about moral hazard off at the pass, vowing to “never apologize for helping the working and middle class.”

Moreover, Biden wasn’t afraid to use all of the tools available to him to get results for indebted borrowers. The Obama administration was given funding from Congress, an explicit mandate for foreclosure prevention, and at the end, a settlement with the banks that authorized even more money. They still failed, because they were more interested in deluded notions of “personal responsibility” than acting to avert disaster.

Biden has flipped the Beltway consensus on policy design around debt forgiveness and modeled a path for viewing student debt as a national crisis, rather than an individual failing. It’s a stunning reversal of the Obama-era consensus and one that casts that failed legacy of mortgage debt relief in an even darker light. Biden has shown us there was an easier, softer way all along.

Several years ago, I endowed a lecture series at my alma mater, Wellesley College, focused on education issues. This year’s lecture will be live-streamed on April 12, and the speaker is Helen Ladd, an emeritus professor at Duke University and one of the nation’s leading economists. I hope you will mark the event on your calendar and tune in.

The Diane Silvers Ravitch ’60 Lecture

How Charter Schools Disrupt Good Education Policy

Tuesday, April 12, 4 p.m. ET


LIVESTREAMED at www.wellesley.edu/live

Speaker: Helen F. Ladd ’67, Susan B. King Professor Emerita of Public Policy and Economics at Duke University

Ladd will draw on her many years of education research and discuss the four central requirements of good education policy in the U.S., and how charter schools, as currently designed and operated, typically do far more to interfere with, rather than to promote, good education policy in the U.S.

The following post was written by Jill Barshay and reposted by Larry Cuban on his blog. It is a response to the claim by various economists that teachers don’t improve after three to five years. This claim has been used to promote Teach for America, despite their inexperience and lack of substantive teacher education. It has also been used, as the previous post about North Carolina shows, to claim that teachers should not be paid based on their experience. It’s a pernicious idea, and I thank Larry Cuban for featuring this debunking of the conventional but wrong “wisdom.”

Jill Barshay writes:

The idea that teachers stop getting better after their first few years on the job has become widely accepted by both policymakers and the public. Philanthropist and former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates popularized the notion in a 2009 TED Talk when he said “once somebody has taught for three years, their teaching quality does not change thereafter.” He argued that teacher effectiveness should be measured and good teachers rewarded.

That teachers stop improving after three years was, perhaps, an overly simplistic exaggeration but it was based on sound research at the time. In a 2004 paper, economist Jonah Rockoff, now at Columbia Business School, tracked how teachers improved over their careers and noticed that teachers were getting better at their jobs by leaps and bounds at first, as measured by their ability to raise their students’ achievement test scores. But then, their effectiveness or productivity plateaued after three to 10 years on the job. For example, student achievement in their classrooms might increase by the same 50 points every year. The annual jump in their students’ test scores didn’t grow larger. Other researchers, including Stanford University’s Eric Hanushek, found the same.

But now, a new nonprofit organization that seeks to improve teaching, the Research Partnership for Professional Learning, says the conventional wisdom that veteran teachers stop getting better is one of several myths about teaching. The organization says that several groups of researchers have since found that teachers continue to improve, albeit at a slower rate, well into their mid careers.

“It’s not true that teachers stop improving,” said John Papay, an associate professor of education and economics at Brown University. “The science has evolved.”

Papay cited his own 2015 study with Matt Kraft, along with a 2017 study of middle school teachers in North Carolina and a 2011 study of elementary and middle school teachers. These analyses all found that teachers continue to improve beyond their first five years. Papay and Kraft calculated that teachers increased student performance by about half as much between their 5th and 15th year on the job as they did during the first five years of their career. The data are unclear after year 15.

Using test scores to measure teacher quality can be controversial. Papay also looked atother measures of how well teachers teach, such as ratings of their ability to ask probing questions, generate vibrant classroom discussions and handle students’ mistakes and confusion. Again, Papay found that more seasoned teachers were continuing to improve at their profession beyond the first five years of their career. Old dogs do appear to learn new tricks.

The debate over whether teachers get better with experience has had big implications. It has prompted the public to question union pay schedules. Why pay teachers more who’ve been on the job longer if they’re no better than a third-year teacher? It has encouraged school systems to fire “bad” teachers because ineffective teachers were thought to be unlikely to improve. It has also been a way of justifying high turnover in the field. If there’s no added value to veteran teachers, why bother to hang on to them, or invest more in them? Maybe it’s okay if thousands of teachers leave the profession every year if we can replace them with loads of new ones who learn the job fast.

So, how is it that highly regarded quantitative researchers could be coming to such different conclusions when they add up the numbers?

It turns out that it’s really complicated to calculate how much teachers improve every year. It’s simple enough to look up their students’ test scores and see how much they’ve gone up. But it’s unclear how much of the test score gain we can attribute to a teacher. Imagine a teacher who had a classroom of struggling students one year followed by a classroom of high achievers the next year. The bright, motivated students might learn more no matter who their teacher was; it would be misleading to say this teacher had improved.

The Boston Globe published a story about climate change that scared me. The story has the headline “Climate Change Has Destabilized the Earth’s Poles, Putting the Rest of the Planet in Peril.” President Biden has a sense of urgency about climate change, but thus far he has been unable to move the 50 Republicans and one Democrat (Manchin) to care about the future of the planet. Why is climate change a partisan issue? Don’t we all have a stake in the habitability of the earth? Don’t Republicans care about the world their children and grandchildren will inherit? I don’t get it.

The story begins:

The ice shelf was cracking up. Surveys showed warm ocean water eroding its underbelly. Satellite imagery revealed long, parallel fissures in the frozen expanse, like scratches from some clawed monster. One fracture grew so big, so fast, scientists took to calling it “the dagger.”

“It was hugely surprising to see things changing that fast,” said Erin Pettit. The Oregon State University glaciologist had chosen this spot for her Antarctic field research precisely because of its stability. While other parts of the infamous Thwaites Glacier crumbled, this wedge of floating ice acted as a brace, slowing the melt. It was supposed to be boring, durable, safe.

Now climate change has turned the ice shelf into a threat — to Pettit’s field work, and to the world.

Planet-warming pollution from burning fossil fuels and other human activities has already raised global temperatures more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit. But the effects are particularly profound at the poles, where rising temperatures have seriously undermined regions once locked in ice.

In research presented this week at the world’s biggest earth science conference, Pettit showed that the Thwaites ice shelf could collapse within the next three to five years, unleashing a river of ice that could dramatically raise sea levels. Aerial surveys document how warmer conditions have allowed beavers to invade the Arctic tundra, flooding the landscape with their dams. Large commercial ships are increasingly infiltrating formerly frozen areas, disturbing wildlife and generating disastrous amounts of trash. In many Alaska Native communities, climate impacts compounded the hardships of the coronavirus pandemic, leading to food shortages among people who have lived off this land for thousands of years.

“The very character of these places is changing,” said Twila Moon, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center and coeditor of the Arctic Report Card, an annual assessment of the state of the top of the world. “We are seeing conditions unlike those ever seen before.”

The rapid transformation of the Arctic and Antarctic creates ripple effects all over the planet. Sea levels will rise, weather patterns will shift, and ecosystems will be altered. Unless humanity acts swiftly to curb emissions, scientists say, the same forces that have destabilized the poles will wreak havoc on the rest of the globe.

“The Arctic is a way to look into the future,” said Matthew Druckenmiller, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center and another coeditor of the Arctic Report Card. “Small changes in temperature can have huge effects in a region that is dominated by ice.”

This year’s edition of the report card, which was presented at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting Tuesday, describes a landscape that is transforming so fast scientists struggle to keep up. Temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice as fast as the global average. The period between October and December 2020 was the warmest on record, scientists say.

Separately on Tuesday, the World Meteorological Organization confirmed a new temperature record for the Arctic: 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk on June 20, 2020.

Another story in the Boston Globe said that New England is warming faster than the world as a whole.

New England is warming significantly faster than global average temperatures, and that rate is expected to accelerate as more greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere and dangerous cycles of warming exacerbate climate change, according to a new study.

The authors of the scientific paper, which was published in the most recent edition of the journal Climate, analyzed temperature data over more than a century across the six New England states and documented how winters are becoming shorter and summers longer, jeopardizing much of the region’s unique ecology, economy, and cultural heritage.

Their findings were underscored this year in Greater Boston, which is on track to having the warmest year on record since 1900, according to data compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Based on the data presented here, and the continuing increase of greenhouse gases, it is clear that humanity does not have its hand on the rudder of climate control,” the authors wrote. “We are in a climate crisis, and we need to take concerted steps to reduce our production of greenhouse gases as soon as possible. The temperature changes that are currently happening . . . threaten to disrupt the seasonality of New England, which will disrupt the ecosystems and the economy of New England….”

The warming in the region already has exceeded a threshold set by the Paris Climate Accord, in which nearly 200 nations agreed to cut their emissions in an effort to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. If global temperatures exceed that amount, the damage from intensifying storms, rising sea levels, droughts, forest fires, and other natural disasters is likely to be catastrophic, scientists say.

With New England’s annual temperatures expected to rise sharply in the coming decades, the authors of the study said the region should expect major disruptions to its economy, including coastal waters that will become increasingly inhospitable to iconic species such as cod and lobster; fewer days when skiing and other winter recreation will be possible; less maple syrup and other agricultural products produced; and a range of other consequences.

Who is responsible for the widespread teaching exodus? Who demoralized America’s teachers, the professionals who work tirelessly for low wages in oftentimes poor working conditions? Who smeared and discouraged an entire profession, one of the noblest of professions?

Let’s see:

Federal legislation, including No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

George W. Bush; Margaret Spellings; Rod Paige (who likened the NEA to terrorists); the Congressional enablers of NCLB; Sandy Kress (the mastermind behind the harsh, punitive and ultimately failed NCLB).

Erik Hanushek, the economist who has long advocated for firing the teachers whose students get low test scores; the late William Sanders, the agricultural economist who created the methodology to rank teachers by their students’ scores; Raj Chetty, who produced a study with two other economists claiming that “one good teacher” would enhance the lifetime earnings of a class by more than $200,000; the reporters at the Los Angeles Times who dreamed up the scheme of rating teachers by student scores abd publishing their ratings, despite their lack of validity (one LA teacher committed suicide).

Davis Guggenheim, director of the deeply flawed “Waiting for Superman”; Bill Gates and his foundation, who funded the myth that the nation’s schools would dramatically improve by systematically firing low-ranking teachers (as judged by their students’ scores), funded “Waiting for Superman,” funded the Common Core, funded NBC’s “Education Nation,” which gave the public school bashers a national platform for a few days every year, until viewers got bored and the program died; and funded anything that was harmful to public schools and their teachers; President Obama and Arne Duncan, whose Race to the Top required states to evaluate teachers by their students’ scores and required states to adopt the Common Core and to increase the number of charter schools; Jeb Bush, for unleashing the Florida “model” of punitive accountability; and many more.

We now know that ranking teachers by their students’ test scores does not identify the best and the worst teachers. It is ineffective and profoundly demoralizing.

We now know that charter schools do not outperform public schools, as many studies and NAEP data show.

We now know that public schools are superior to voucher schools, and that the voucher schools have high attrition rates.

We now know that Teach for America is not a good substitute for well-prepared professional teachers.

Who did I leave out?

We have long known that students need experienced teachers and reasonable class sizes (ideally less than 25) to do their best.

Given the vitriolic attacks on teachers and public schools for more than 20 years, it almost seems as though there is a purposeful effort to demoralize teachers and replace them with technology.

Denis Smith writes here about the past, present, and hoped-for future of West Virginia. He urges West Virginians to throw out the leaders who undermine their health, safety, and well-being. He reminds us and them of the state’s past progressive leaders. A lifelong educator, Smith retired as an official in the Ohio State Department of Education, where he oversaw charter schools.

He writes:

In her earlier post, West Virginia: The Battle of Blair Mountain, Diane Ravitch not only reminded us about the emergence of the labor movement but also shed light on how, a century later, the coal industry, though greatly diminished in activity from earlier times, still maintains a grip on the state through the misfeasance of its political leadership in the governor’s office and by its representatives in the Congress.

The story goes back to 1921, when 10,000 coal miners, in reaction to the murder of a union-friendly local sheriff, joined together to check the power of coal companies and the low wages, unsafe working conditions, and horrific housing they provided in company towns situated near the mines operated by these representatives of corporate America.

Inasmuch as I completed almost all of my graduate work in West Virginia and lived there for nearly 20 years, I was familiar with the Blair Mountain story and the sad history of exploitation of the land and workers by extractive industries like coal companies. Unfortunately, I thought that this tale of labor history was widely known but learned otherwise about eight years ago.

At that time, I was asked to teach a number of American history courses for Ohio public school teachers so they could meet the then-new content area Highly Qualified Teacher requirements. A review of the draft course syllabus showed, however, that additional content was needed to bolster the students’ knowledge of the Progressive Era and the emerging American labor movement. In particular, there was no treatment of the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire as well as the Battle of Blair Mountain, which remains the largest labor uprising in American history.

I soon learned that none of the students in my class in suburban Columbus, Ohio had any knowledge of either event, and the Blair Mountain post, with its spotlight on West Virginia, sheds light on that state’s history of exploitation by energy companies and the lack of political leadership today to ensure the health, safety,and welfare of its citizens based on that past history.

But in light of the state’s challenges in the past, and with the neglect of the health, safety, and welfare shown by its top political leaders, are West Virginia residents also unknowing of its past history? Or have they been bamboozled by their politicians in not realizing what is at stake in the current political climate?

That lack of leadership to ensure the health and welfare of the populace is shown in the misfeasance and conflicts-of-interest manifested by West Virginia’s Governor Jim Justice and its senior U.S. Senator, Joe Manchin, who also served as the state’s governor before his election to Congress.

As the owner of several coal companies, Justice has a history of exploiting not only the land but of the communities affected. Moreover, like his friend Donald Trump, he also has a history of tax avoidance. In 2019, for example, Justice companies paid $1.2 million in back taxes owed to Knott, Pike, Harlan and Magoffin counties in Kentucky, with more delinquent taxes to be paid at a later date. A review of his tax delinquency showed that he had additional obligations to be paid in Virginia and West Virginia, along with past due mine safety fines.

Yes, mine safety fines owed by companies owned by the governor of the state where 10,000 miners revolted against unsafe working conditions exactly a century ago. But that was then, right? Or are we back to the future and the past simultaneously?

Then we have the case of Senator Joe Manchin, a predecessor of Jim Justice in the West Virginia governor’s office. The current Build Back Better legislation would provide funds to deal with climate change, expand Medicare, and assist families with lower costs for child care and elder care. Yet Manchin, who has interests in the energy industry and a daughter who formerly was the CEO of Mylan, a pharmaceutical company, seems to have a conflict-of-interest when it comes to supporting lower prescription drug costs and dealing with the environment.

When many communities lack safe drinking water caused by years of mining and health consequences caused by such mineral extraction activity in West Virginia, wouldn’t you think that the political leadership on both sides of the aisle would support legislation that would protect the health, safety, and welfare of residents?

If you have financial interests in a top industry, as Manchin and Justice do, that’s asking far too much.

On Sunday, Manchin announced, appropriately enough, on Fox News that he does not support the Build Back Better Act. This is what Bernie Sanders had to say about his colleague, Joe Manchin:

“Well, I think he’s going to have a lot of explaining to do to the people of West Virginia, to tell him why he doesn’t have the guts to take on the drug companies to lower the cost of prescription drugs,” he said. “West Virginia is one of the poorest states in this country. You got elderly people and disabled people who would like to stay at home. He’s going to have to tell the people of West Virginia why he doesn’t want to expand Medicare to cover dental, hearing, and eyeglasses.”

When it comes to drug companies and Manchin’s lack of courage in dealing with them, Bernie Sanders is certainly knowledgeable about some family history. And then some. He went on to add this observation:

“If he doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world.”

Manchin used the canard of not wanting to increase the national debt as one of his arguments in opposing Build Back Better. But he does not acknowledge that West Virginia greatly benefits from all types of federal spending. A study several years ago demonstrated that a number of red states, including West Virginia, receive much more in federal dollars than they receive from the treasury. As examples, West Virginia receives $2.07, Kentucky $1.90, and South Carolina $1.71 for every dollar sent to Washington.

In light of his concern about the national debt, would Manchin favor West Virginia being treated on a par with states like Massachusetts and New York, which receive far less than a dollar back from the treasury for every dollar sent to Washington?

So as I reflect a bit more about the Mine Wars and the Battle of Blair Mountain, I am puzzled by the descendants of these mine workers offering such enthusiastic support to the likes of Governor Jim Justice and Senator Joe Manchin, who obstruct legislation that would improve the health, safety, nutrition, and educational opportunities for West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the union.

There are two great West Virginia Senators who must be turning in their graves as they view the likes of the state’s present political leadership. The first, Jennings Randolph, entered the U.S. Senate in 1933 at the start of FDR’s New Deal and was a champion of Social Security, Medicare, voting rights and the abolition of the Poll Tax. Then there was Robert Byrd, who served with Randolph as the long-time Senate leader who distinguished himself as a check on many of Ronald Reagan’s policies, opposed the Iraq War, and in his last days championed the Affordable Care Act from a wheelchair on the Senate floor.

In a Senate speech on February 12, 2003 that attacked the march toward war with Iraq, Byrd said that “We are truly “sleepwalking through history.” In my heart of hearts I pray that this great nation and its good and trusting citizens are not in for a rudest of awakenings.”

In the same vein, it’s past time for the people of West Virginia to emerge from their sleepwalking and support leaders, unlike Manchin and Justice, who will put the interests of the people first and not those of the pharmaceutical industry and energy interests.

One more thing. Dear West Virginians, the next time you vote, remember your ancestors who fought for justice (small j, of course) and basic human rights at Blair Mountain. It’s now the 21st century. Jennings Randolph and Robert Byrd might be pleased with your awakening.

This article in the Capital & Main series was written by Marcus Baram and is titled ”Inside the Secretive World of Union-Busting: Here’s How Much Corporations Pay to Bust Unions.” Subtitle: “U.S. companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year to ensure workers don’t organize.”

It begins:

A handful of workers at the Dollar General In the small Connecticut town of Barkhamsted had grown frustrated last September at being poorly treated by a district manager, amid allegations

The organizing effort involved just six workers (five after one said he was fired for his efforts to unionize) earning $13 an hour — so about $624 a day in total — but the company spent multiples of that to combat the union drive. Dollar General paid Labor Relations Institute, a firm known for its union avoidance consulting, a fee of $2,700 per day for each consultant it brought in, according to filings with the Department of Labor. LRI used five consultants, who reportedly held one-on-one meetings with workers and conducted group sessions to educate them on the risks of joining a union. In the end, the unionization effort failed and the company breathed a sigh of relief. The retail giant posted $33.7 billion in sales and $2.7 billion in profit in 2020, but remains convinced its future earnings might have been hurt if any of its 157,000 workers joined a union.

What do you say when a corporation cares more about profits than the lives of its workers?

Education Week reported that a decade of “reforms” focused on tougher teacher evaluations produced no improvement in student test scores.

More than a decade ago, policymakers made a multi-billion-dollar bet that strengthening teacher evaluation would lead to better teaching, which in turn would boost student achievement. But new research shows that, overall, those efforts failed: Nationally, teacher evaluation reforms over the past decade had no impact on student test scores or educational attainment.

The research is the latest indictment of a massive push between 2009 and 2017, spurred by federal incentives, philanthropic investments, and a nationwide drive for accountability in K-12 education, to implement high-stakes teacher evaluation systems in nearly every state.

Prior to the reforms, nearly all teachers received satisfactory ratings in their evaluations. So policymakers from both political parties introduced more-robust classroom observations and student-growth measures—including standardized test scores—into teachers’ ratings, and then linked the performance ratings to personnel decisions and compensation.

“There was a tremendous amount of time and billions of dollars invested in putting these systems into place, and they didn’t have the positive effects reformers were hoping for,” said Joshua Bleiberg, an author of the study and a postdoctoral research associate at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. “There’s not a null effect in every place where teacher evaluation [reform] happened. … [But] on average, [the effect on student achievement] is pretty close to zero.”

The evaluation reforms were largely unpopular among teachers and their unions, who argued that incorporating certain metrics, like student test scores, was unfair and would drive good educators out of the profession. Yet proponents—including the Obama administration—argued that tougher evaluations could identify, and potentially weed out, the weakest teachers while elevating the strongest ones…

A team of researchers from several universities analyzed the data, starting when states adopted the new teacher evaluations incorporating student test scores. They looked not only at changes in scores but high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates.

Tougher teacher-evaluation systems can work, Petrilli said—but there was no political will to act on the results at the time of the reforms. Teachers’ unions resisted firing teachers who received poor results, and districts were unwilling or unable to pay great teachers more, he said.

At a time of acute teacher shortages, what school district is eager to fire teachers based on their students’ test scores?

The failed reforms were in large part a response to the demands of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top, which required states to adopt test-based evaluation to be eligible for a share of $4.35 billion in federal money. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised such teacher evaluations loudly and frequently.

As I wrote in my 2020 book SLAYING GOLIATH, test-based teacher evaluation was never tried before it was imposed on almost every state in the nation. It had no evidence to support its use. Many scholars and professional groups warned against it, but Duncan plunged forward, belittling anyone who dared to disparage his Big Reform.

Obama and Duncan found support in a 2011 study led by Harvard economist Raj Chetty, but his glowing predictions about the benefits of test-based evaluation didn’t pan out. His paper on value-added teacher assessment won him a front page story in the New York Times, a story on the PBS Newshour, and a laudatory mention in President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address. Chetty et al concluded that better teachers caused students to get higher test scores, to graduate more frequently, to earn more income over their lifetimes, and—for girls, to be less likely to have out-of-wedlock births. As one of the authors told the New York Times, the message of our study is that bad teachers should be fired sooner rather than later.

But despite the cheerleading of Arne Duncan and the seemingly definitive conclusions of Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff, value-added teacher evaluations failed.

How many good and great teachers left their profession because of this ill-fated “reform”?

The Economic Policy Institute unabashedly advocates for workers and unions and publishes accurate data about inequality. It recently revealed that CEO pay rose by 16% between 2019 and 2020, while the average worker saw a pay increase of only 1.8%.

In 1950, the average CEO was paid twenty times the wages of the average worker.

By 2019, the average CEO was paid 320 times as much as the average worker.

In some companies, the CEO is paid 1,000 times more than the average worker in that company.

Bloomberg.com reported on the CEO-worker pay gap, in an article titled “Is a CEO Worth 1,000 Times the Median Worker?”

Chipotle recently became the latest company to voluntarily raise worker pay, announcing that many of its 76,000 hourly employees would get a bump to $15 an hour. This occurred shortly after the company disclosed that CEO Brian Niccol had made nearly 3,000 times the median employee salary in 2020, up from 1,136 times in 2019 and among the top ten highest pay ratios among companies in the Russell 3000 stock index, according to research firm Equilar.

Coincidence? Or is the pay bump for the rank and file a sign that the most highly compensated senior executives are starting to feel a tinge of shame? 

For the past four years, the Securities and Exchange Commission has required publicly traded companies to disclose something called the CEO pay ratio — the amount the CEO receives in relation to the annual salary of the median employee. At many companies, especially large companies with thousands of low paid workers (think retailers, restaurants and tourism), it’s not uncommon to see a number like Niccol’s, with the CEO making more than a thousand times the salary of the median employee. According to Equilar, there are 57 such companies in the Russell 3000. Auto-parts company Aptiv PLC topped the list: CEO Kevin P. Clark’s total 2020 compensation of $31 million was more than 5,000 times that of its median employee, who made less than $6,000, according to Aptiv’s proxy.

The mere disclosure of the pay ratio is something of an achievement in itself, given how red-hot an issue compensation remains. The SEC took five years to write and nearly eight years to implement the rule, which was part of the Dodd-Frank legislation that then-President Barack Obama signed into law in July 2010. It has yet to complete rules on four other compensation-related topics, which were clearly not a priority under former SEC Chairman Jay Clayton. When the pay-ratio rule was first proposed in 2013, it attracted nearly 200,000 comments. It should come as no surprise that the overwhelming majority of companies were opposed, citing complicated business operations and unreasonable costs, while shareholder advocates and investors were eager to see the ratio disclosed.

Open the article to see the list of companies where the CEO: worker pay was largest.

Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin insulted environmental activist Greta Thunberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos, saying she should study economics. Although I’m no economist, it seems to me that the cost of intensified earthquakes, hurricanes, rising seas, and the health risks associated with extreme climate events far outweighs the profits of the fossil fuel industry. But then, I’m no economist.

The Washington Post consulted an economist:

Speaking to reporters at the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering in Switzerland, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was asked about calls from climate change activists such as Greta Thunberg for investors to pull their money out of fossil fuel stocks.

Mnuchin jokingly pretended to be unfamiliar with Thunberg, who even while still a teenager has become a leading global proponent of addressing the warming planet. Last year, she was Time magazine’s “Person of the Year.”

Is she the chief economist or who is she? I’m confused,” Mnuchin said of Thunberg. He questioned her credentials to offer solutions: “After she goes and studies economics in college, she can come back and explain that to us.”

The Washington Post contacted someone who did study economics in college and asked him to explain it to us. Gernot Wagner is an economist who has a joint A.B. in economics and environmental science in public policy from Harvard University, a master’s degree in economics from Stanford University, a master’s in political economy in government from Harvard, and a PhD in political economy and government from Harvard.

According to Wagner, Thunberg doesn’t need to go much further than Economics 101 to make her case.

Speaking specifically about calls to divest, Wagner pointed to a letter released this month by BlackRock chief executive Larry Fink. In it, Fink announced the asset management firm he controls will divest — move investments away — from companies like those that are centered on fossil fuels and contribute to climate change.

The evidence on climate risk is compelling investors to reassess core assumptions about modern finance,” Fink wrote in the letter, according to the New York Times. 

It’s precisely this scenario of having fossil fuels go the way of tobacco that makes fossil fuel execs the most nervous,” Wagner told The Post. He noted that Shell Oil Co. predicted the rise of activists focused on climate change — back in 1998.

But, again, the question is economics, not politics.

Wagner, who spent nearly a decade working for the Environmental Defense Fund, explained the economic argument for applying pressure on oil companies.
“It’s Economics 101 that tells us that when there is a difference between private costs and costs to society, that difference ought to be included in one’s decision-making,” Wagner said.

“And when I say ought, of course the private individual won’t; it’s up to somebody in a position of power — let’s say the secretary of Treasury — to want to guide economic policy in the right direction.”