Political Animal


October 14, 2012 7:01 PM Most outrageous lie I’ve heard all week (and maybe all year) …

By Kathleen Geier

is this, from an editorial in The Economist:

no Wall Street financier has done as much damage to American social mobility as the teachers’ unions have.

How is this wrong? Let me count the ways. First of all, there’s the idea that teachers’ unions have a negative impact on student achievement. All too predictably, the Economist lazily does not provide a shred of empirical evidence to back up this claim. In fact the impact of teacher unionization on student achievement ranges from positive (see here and here, for example) to “mixed and inconclusive” (see here).

Secondly, there is no evidence whatsoever that, in and of itself, greater student achievement will magically make our society more equal. Student achievement in the U.S. has actually been making modest gains, but economic inequality continues to skyrocket. Social mobility has also been in decline.

Finally, the idea that the financialization of our economy has had no impact on economic inequality is totally bogus. There is an abundance of evidence out there that clearly demonstrates a strong association between the increasing financialization of our economy and growing inequality. And social mobility is demonstrably positively associated with economic equality.

Honestly, I wish our neoliberal elites who, in the name of “the children,” try to paint teachers’ unions as the root of all evil would just come right out and admit it: they despise unions, because they hate the idea of those grubby nonelite workers making decent money and having any real power in the workplace. At some level, I think these types just don’t like democracy very much. If they were truly interested in improving the lives of children, particularly underprivileged children, they would be ardent supporters of strong unions. Throughout history and across the globe, a powerful labor movement is perhaps the most effective anti-poverty program the world has ever known.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • acorelli on October 14, 2012 8:03 PM:

    Why "perhaps"?

  • howard on October 14, 2012 8:06 PM:

    i wonder what the economist position is on the states where there are no or weak teachers' unions and where the school system, freed of those odious unions, nonetheless didn't work miracles....

    however, let's be clear about something: there was a time when the economist had a legitimate editorial voice, but those days are over, over a long time ago. nowadays, the economist editorially is slightly more rational than the wsj, but only slightly.

  • sueprdestroyer on October 14, 2012 8:34 PM:

    And how does a strong union that demand that teaching assingment be based on seniority help poor children in Elizabeth Warren's "Bad schools."

    Having the poorest children who have the worst familiy situaiton being educated by the newest, least experineced teachers does not help anyone. Having a system where new teachers have to put in their time at the "Bad schools" before they can move on to the better schools does not help anyone.

    Also, refusing to allow higher pay for teachers in science in math does not help poor children. It also does not help all of the workers.

  • Kk on October 14, 2012 8:35 PM:

    I live in Long Island where I'd guess we have among the very best public schools in the USA. Guess what? We are unionized to the hilt. Also guess what? They negotiate in good faith, taking in the realities of the tax situation and absurd cap we now have on property taxes. I like the unions more then Gov Repub In Dem skin Cuomo. He must make his Daddy ill, at least I hope Mario opposes Howard Jarvis tax caps.

  • mercurino on October 14, 2012 8:49 PM:

    Kathleen also forgot to mention the positive impact on social mobility that teachers unions have had by making teaching a middle-class occupation.

  • Bruce S on October 14, 2012 9:34 PM:

    Hey - Don't go so hard on them. The Economist is the cream of those sh*tty elite mags that echo crap we'll end up hearing on Morning Joe.

  • GonzoG on October 14, 2012 9:44 PM:

    In this town, people are honestly jealous that teachers make ~$50000/yr. Most of the local industries have dried up and blown away--the "rich" relations are the ones that work as nurses in hospitals and teachers. They make about the same and have about the same level of education.

    For some reason, they don't spite nurses THEIR salaries, but chafe at what a teacher makes. They honestly think teachers are just babysitters and shouldn't be making more than minimum wage.

  • Robert Waldmann on October 14, 2012 10:24 PM:

    heh indeed. I like an analogy between neoliberals like the Economist's leader writer and communists (two models of a scientific approach to understanding society based on ruthless re-examination of evidence and not ideology).

    Consider Che Guevara all alone on the Communist mt Rushmore.

    Communists used to praise Stalin. The OK he turned out to be bad, but Mao was great. OK not so hot, but Lenin was fine (ooops history). Castro was cool. Uh maybe. Well how about Yugoslavia that showed autogestione worked better than state capitalism. Oops bit of a war there. But Che remains pure -- uncontaminated by actual results of his actually being in power since he went off to die in Bolivia.

    So for neoliberals who have praised tax cuts (and the Bush boom), welfare reform (have you checked the fraction of people living on less than half the poverty line recently) financial deregulation, Argentina just before the crash (I am thinking of Robert Barro in person in a bar) Iceland just before the crash, Ireland just before the crash and uh notice the pattern ?

    Yeah well teachers unions how about teachers unions.

    Two groups wearing their Che t-shirts and denouncing teachers unions (although not always two separate groups check the head of AIG financial products http://smg.beta.photobucket.com/user/rjw88/media/aigfp.jpg.html )

  • James E. Powell on October 14, 2012 10:30 PM:

    The corporate school movement, like the right-wing generally, works all day, every day, all year, every year, to persuade the public to agree with them.

    The teachers' unions, including the one to which I belong, does almost nothing to educate Americans about the challenges of public education, nor the benefits of maintaining a healthy public school system.

    The result is that the only thing that the general public knows about teachers' unions is that they prevent bad teachers from being fired.

  • Kathryn on October 14, 2012 10:47 PM:

    When the financial elite are finished destroying teachers unions, they'll come for the nurses and whoever else makes a nearly living wage. Police and Fire, don't think you'll be spared. Privatization, charter schools, profit for cronies, look at Louisiana and Jindal's half assed plans. The Koch, Adelson, Romney world plan has two classes, the really haves and the serfs. The biggest of all the tragedies is that millions of potential serfs are actively participating in their own demise. These are the foolish who resent the teachers, the nurses, etc., if they don't make a living wage, no one else should either, the downwardly unmobile.

  • Mimikatz on October 14, 2012 10:54 PM:

    The Next Big Moneypot for corporate America is the billions spent on public education. As Americans lose purchasing power as consumers, education is an irresistible target for profiteers. There are thousands of companies large and small that want to get their hands on this money. They need to destroy the unions because teachers are the ones who could blow the whistle on their expensive mostly bs. Some companies are sincere, but the rush of start-ups in this area plus older companies is staggering. Shame on the Economist and the Obama people on this one too.

  • jjm on October 14, 2012 11:22 PM:

    To Kathryn on October 14, 2012 10:47 PM:

    Indeed, that is precisely what a former executive from Bain said on Chris Hayes' morning show about a month ago. He said that outsourcing was wonderful and he was only sad that there are people in the US whose salaries are 'insulated' from offshoring: he mentioned nurses and firemen as I recall.

    So the alternative is to turn them into the lowest wage earners possible.

    Welcome to Romney's vision of our future.

  • James E. Powell on October 14, 2012 11:36 PM:

    @Kathryn - The teachers' unions are the only organized opposition to corporate schools. They are too weak to defeat the corporate forces. They have had no victories in recent years, only desperate rear-guard actions that leave them weaker and damage their public image. If there is any reason to be hopeful, I am not aware of it. I really feel that this ship has sailed.

    @jjm - Welcome to about half the country's vision for our future. They are either well-off and it won't matter, or they are ignorant of the consequences of their political support for the ruling class. I used to have hope, but after seeing that even the disaster the ruling class brought down on this country in 2007-2008, and how the nation rallied to support them and their party in 2010, I no longer have any hope for the future.

  • Paul Papanek on October 15, 2012 12:39 AM:

    Hey, thank goodness the Economist spotted the real cause of America's economic doldrums.

    Yep, now that they pointed this out, I can see that it was the teachers' unions that crashed the economy, cratered our 401(k)'s, ran up the deficit, allowed Wall Street fat cats to get even richer and escape jail, froze small business loans, and screwed over the interest rates on seniors' savings accounts.

    The Economist absolutely NAILED IT! Where do I subscribe?

  • R on October 15, 2012 8:34 AM:

    "...they hate the idea of those grubby nonelite workers making decent money and having any real power in the workplace." Exactly. Then there's the predominance of women in that workforce, especially in the elementary grades. If they're not kept in their place, they might actually help kids develop analytical skills so they can think for themselves, rather than filling in bubbles with #2 pencils without going out of the lines.

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  • cwolf on October 15, 2012 1:25 PM:

    If you think murkins are dumb now, just wait till all the boomer teachers retire.

    The next crop of teachers will be headed by individuals from a school system and employees union, that have been systematically bombed and strafed by money and power grab politics such as 1978' Prop 13 in California.

    The rise of social promotion, charter schools, home schooling and uber-religious institutions, has birthed a system that rewards quantity over quality, and in the extreme cases of institutions like Liberty Univ., the reward system insists upon charlatanism and outright indoctrination instead of an education.

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