Poop, Poverty and American Priorities

I am the proud parent of two teachers, both of whom have Masters degrees relevant to their chosen profession. So, you can imagine my shock when I recently read that the average salary for a worker on the San Francisco “Poop Patrol” is $71,760.00. When combined with benefits a member of this squad can make $184,000.00 per year! Neither of my children make anywhere close to this amount of money annually.

If you are unfamiliar with the Poop Patrol, this is a group of city workers who are dispatched to clean up human feces left on streets, sidewalks, and storefronts by the city’s estimated 8,000 homeless. I guess you can think of them as first responders of fecal fracas - San Fran’s shitstorm troopers.

It is not my intent to make light of homelessness, but the average American student spends about 6 hours per day in school not including after school extracurricular programs. Not enough time to learn if you ask me, but this still adds up to approximately 20 percent of a child’s total annual waking hours which are spent with teachers. Teachers who are often highly educated and motivated to teach, mentor and even act in loco parentis. Teachers with four or more years of college and countless hours spent in certificate programs and in-service education designed to make them better at their profession and therefore better for our children. Teachers who go home and spend a couple of hours grading papers and preparing teaching plans. Teachers who on average (in San Francisco) make about the same as member of the Poop Patrol and much less when you include benefits.

It is fair to say that most children spend more productive time with their teachers on a daily basis than their parents. So, what are we to make a society that places an equivalent value on a college educated professional who is entrusted with preparing your child for life after high school and someone who picks up human feces for a living? How the hell did we get here?

As a teacher myself, albeit part-time, I am often accused of being “politically forward” in class. Well, I am not sure how you can teach business without delving into economics, or how you can delve into economics without delving into politics. The reason for this is that economics is an imperfect and complex science in which economists attempt to build models to predict future events. Sounds good until you realize that they are sometimes paid by politicians to come up with specific conclusions. Even without political influence they are often wrong. Take for instance the belief that you can’t have full employment without runaway inflation. Wrong. Then you have large businesses who pay lobbyist to convince politicians to curb competition. All of this serves to stymie entrepreneurship.

The answer is for government to get out of microeconomics and focus on macroeconomics. In other words, stay focused on sensible regulations that keep us safe while promoting competition, but not attempting to pick winners and losers. In short, we need even less regulation to solve our biggest challenges, not more. I believe this to be doubly true in the case of public education.

Whenever the government gets involved at the micro level the results are poor. Look no further than this chart that I have referenced in a prior post. The chart shows that since 1997 Americans have experienced deflation in the cost of most goods and services consumed with the exception of hospital care and education. Hmmmm…aren’t these both focal points of policy proposals from those running for the Democratic nomination for President? Hmmmm…aren’t these both services that are regulated to death by federal and state governments? Hmmmm…aren’t all of these Presidential candidates attacking profit makers on a daily basis and calling for more government control of healthcare and education among other businesses. Even Keynes, with whom I rarely agree, understood the role of entrepreneurship and the importance that profit played as a cure for inequality.

This is not to say that our current form of capitalism is without issues, but government control of entire industries will not result in competition and the innovations required to solve inequality and the public education crisis in America. Forgiving student loans and the promise of free education will not make education better and less expensive, just as government intervention in healthcare has not improved outcomes, access, or cost. Has anyone bothered to ask why we have a student loan crisis? How did college get so expensive in the first place? What is driving the cost of education? Why aren’t schools focused on efficiency in the same way that businesses have been for the last two decades? And how will forgiving 90% of student loan debt prevent student loans from rising to the same level in the future? Why only 90% forgiveness? What did the remaining 10% do to not deserve forgiveness? Government needs to get out of the way and allow free enterprise to work.

Government has run education long enough and the result is a country that puts poop pick up on the same level as the continued education of our progeny. Unleashing the animal spirits of entrepreneurship on the problem will result in many ideas and while a large percent of them will fail, those that survive can’t possibly be worse than what we have now.

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