Category Archives: Government

Buggy Whip makers, analogies of struggling governments

rough thoughts here

Article raises some analogies to governments failing to make the transition to the digital age

This is the central quote

It’s unlikely that we would even refer metaphorically to buggy whip makers if it weren’t for Theodore Levitt, a Harvard Business School professor. In 1960, he wrote about their plight in a Harvard Business Review article, “Marketing Myopia”; hundreds of thousands of reprints have been sold.

In the article, Mr. Levitt said that businesses should concentrate on their customers’ needs, not on specific products. If only the buggy whip makers had thought of themselves as being in the personal transportation business, providing a stimulant or catalyst to an energy source, Mr. Levitt wrote, they might have survived into the automotive era.

Then this article about voter unrest in California suggests how legislatures are struggling to reform government under current budget pressures.  Perhaps most important, the reforms are merely trying to make the old model work cheaper.  No reforms proposed to “trash” the old model and bring in something completely new.

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Cost of Information

Chronicle reports on recent court decision stating, effectively, that a public employee can’t exercise first amendment speech rights if the credibility of the speaker is based upon the employee’s position (yeah, take that whistleblowers!).

First the context:

As an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, Mr. Renken says he felt obliged to speak out about his belief that administrators there were mishandling a National Science Foundation grant to him and several colleagues. When the university subsequently reduced his pay and returned the grant, he sued, alleging illegal retaliation.

Because he is a tenured faculty member, and he viewed the public university’s use of public funds as a matter of clear public interest, Mr. Renken figured his complaints qualified as legally protected free speech.

Now the punch line:

“In order for a public employee to raise a successful First Amendment claim, he must have spoken in his capacity as a private citizen and not as an employee,” the court said.

The professor, the AAUP, and others see this as a breach in the wall of protection they claim is provided by Academic Freedom.  However, referring to the 1915 Declaration of Principles, I do not see a case to be made here, as the utterances were within the confines of the professor’s job. Continue reading

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Science and democracy have always been twins.

A simple statement with a magnitude of implications.  From an essay in today’s NYT by Dennis Overby:

It is no coincidence that these are the same qualities that make for democracy and that they arose as a collective behavior about the same time that parliamentary democracies were appearing. If there is anything democracy requires and thrives on, it is the willingness to embrace debate and respect one another and the freedom to shun received wisdom. Science and democracy have always been twins.

Then, in the Post, an article concerning Wayne Clough’s vision to make the holdings of the Smithsonian available to all using the internet.  The curators of the Smithsonian are having some difficulty understanding what their role will be if everything is available for anyone to see.  The gatekeepers ask, “Who will guarantee the quality of knowledge?”  To which, Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired, replies:

“Is it our job to be smart and be the best? Or is it our job to share knowledge?” Anderson asked.

Sharing knowledge, sharing information — that’s what makes democracy work.  And, sharing information makes markets more efficient.  I think the philosophers and economists can agree on that point.

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Inertia, Public Participation and low probability of a consensus

Our founding fathers warned of a “tyranny of the majority“.   The city of Grand Junction thought they had an idea the people would endorse — a means to fund public safety projects.  However, the voters of Grand Junction failed to endorse the measure.  Here are reasons why:

  • In focus groups, 9.6 percent said the initiative may have failed because of its tie to overturn TABOR for a nonspecific amount of time, which many said was an unpopular move in Grand Junction.
  • Another 13.7 percent said the project was misunderstood, and 7.8 percent said the poor economy didn’t help.
  • Nearly 9 percent said people who voted no distrusted the city or didn’t believe the city couldn’t find the money another way, and
  • 6.7 percent said people didn’t approve of the way the city spent money in the past, such as on roundabouts of the Seventh Street and Colorado Avenue projects.

Question : If the public can’t agree on how to fund a public value – is that a public value failure, or a market failure (lack of information)?

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Increasing Access — Enhancing Public Values to Increase Market Value

Change.gov represents President-elect Obama’s efforts to involve everyone in his efforts to change government. Can this approach work?

{Note to self — study this}

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Information Asymmetry – the Disease

Or more of what you don’t know will hurt you.

Seems we will have even less science journalism:

CNN is eliminating its seven-person unit covering science, the environment, and technology, saying its “Planet in Peril” programs do the trick. Curtis Brainard, who assesses environmental coverage for the Columbia Journalism Review online, in a comprehensive piece on the move, said: “[T]he decision to eliminate the positions seems particularly misguided at a time when world events would seem to warrant expanding science and environmental staff.

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Public Values – Legislation

A letter to the editor in the AJC (which does not support permalinks — so this link will die) raises some issues about a law in Georgia requiring a “comprehensive character education program” (see O.C.G.A. § 20-2-145).

(a) The State Board of Education shall develop by the start of the 1997-1998 school year a comprehensive character education program for levels K-12. This comprehensive character education program shall be known as the “character curriculum” and shall focus on the students’ development of the following character traits: courage, patriotism, citizenship, honesty, fairness, respect for others, kindness, cooperation, self-respect, self-control, courtesy, compassion, tolerance, diligence, generosity, punctuality, cleanliness, cheerfulness, school pride, respect for the environment, respect for the creator, patience, creativity, sportsmanship, loyalty, perseverance, and virtue. Such program shall also address, by the start of the 1999-2000 school year, methods of discouraging bullying and violent acts against fellow students. Local boards shall implement such a program in all grade levels at the beginning of the 2000-2001 school year and shall provide opportunities for parental involvement in establishing expected outcomes of the character education program.

(b) The Department of Education shall develop character education program workshops designed for employees of local school systems.

HISTORY: Code 1981, § 20-2-145, enacted by Ga. L. 1997, p. 1386, § 1; Ga. L. 1999, p. 362, § 2; Ga. L. 1999, p. 438, § 2.

Jonathan Herman wrote the letter, and, among many points, he says:

To be fair, I should say that of the 41 values and character traits articulated in the guide, many of them struck me as innocuous. I don’t really have any problem with “cleanliness,” “fairness,” “honesty,” or “respect for others.”  Others bothered me only slightly, though they left me a bit confused. Why was “moderation” listed, but not “passion?” Why was “cooperation” listed, but not “leadership?” Why are both “honesty” and “truthfulness” included? Are these somehow understood as different qualities? Is it really the charge of public educators to instill
“cheerfulness” in the student? And what on earth do they mean by “virtue?” Aren’t the other forty traits supposedly “virtues?”

Trying to understand which “values” drive what “policy” can be an interesting test of detective skills.  But, what of legislation that directly reflects public values within the text.  You can’t be more explicit than the bill that created OCGA 20-02-145.  And, you cannot have a more explicit example of public values failure than when you measure the outcomes of such legislation.


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