Sunday, June 11, 2006

Fisking the Hatch home page

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:09 PM |  

Okay. In the previous post I took on the GOP for not offering more than bullet points in response to Mike Hatch’s web site. Although more difficult than simply going with “Hatch is an ass,” it’s not all that tough to pick apart Hatch’s positions. Let’s start with a little fisking of his home page letter.
Dear Fellow Minnesotan:

In the book “The World is Flat,” Thomas Friedman describes the global economy as a race between the lions and the gazelles. The gazelles must run faster than the lions or they'll get eaten, and the lions must run faster than the gazelles or they'll starve.

In the past, Minnesota played the role of the lion when it came to medicine, computers, medical devices, banking, finance, and technology. It did so by innovation and education. Unfortunately, Governor Tim Pawlenty has been a slow-moving gazelle in positioning Minnesota for the global economy. Under Governor Pawlenty, health insurance premiums--the largest tax paid by business--skyrocketed 50 percent. Minnesota has lost ground as a bioscience leader. And, for the first time in recent history, Minnesota lags in the growth of sustainable jobs.
Let’s start here. This is pretty much BS in that it’s part truth, part misleading and part fabrication and not at all interested in the truth. It’s only purpose is creating the impression that everything wrong in the world is Pawlenty‘s fault and that for every problem, government ought to be part of the solution. Just looking at the jobs issue -- Pawlenty counters with a bullet point “We helped business create 75,000 new jobs.” Hatch doesn’t dispute it; he simply dismisses the job growth as “unsustainable” without any substantiation. That’s BS.
Our state looks better as a lion than as a gazelle, and to that end, we should engage in some economic surgery to put the roar back into Minnesota 's economy. Following Mr. Friedman's analogy, we'll call it “Operation Northern Tiger:”
I am nitpicking here, but I confess there is sometimes a certain amount of glee derived from arrogance. Friedman’s uses lions and gazelles metaphorically. He is definitely not making an “analogy.” An analogy is a comparison like “A lion is to a tiger as an eagle is to a vulture” -- they of the same species, but not the same animal, which means “Operation Northern Tiger” doesn’t really follow Friedman’s metaphor. But then we are talking the party that brought us the Profile of Learning.
1. No Minnesota high school graduate should cite “money” as a reason for not going to college. Our past economic success was based on our educated workforce. The Itasca Project reports that soon, two out of three students will not have the financial, academic or family structure to go to college, but that our economy needs these college-educated kids to fill the positions vacated by retiring baby boomers. We could turn back the 50% college tuition hikes that occurred under Governor Pawlenty by closing the corporate tax loophole created by a Supreme Court decision which permits corporations to exclude passive investments in offshore companies.
More BS. First, there is no widespread inability to find money to go to college. One might ask the question why has the cost of “big education” gone up faster than the profits of “big oil?” One reason is the plethora of government money available to finance college. Money for college is not the education problem we ought to be solving; readiness for college is.

Here’s the first place the GOP has the opportunity to refute Hatch and offer a counter vision. It doesn’t do any good to push college on students that wind up taking two years of remedial courses and then dropping out. Let’s focus on real K-12 reform. Let’s remove government imposed barriers that keep low-income families from seeking educational opportunities outside the monopoly government school system. Let’s look to ways to motivate private scholarship funds rather than assume a state burden for financing higher education. How about college savings accounts with pre-tax dollars? How about looking for a free-market alternative?

Corporate tax loophole? More BS. It’s not a “loophole.” The legislation to which Hatch refers does exactly what it was intended to do, which is help American corporations compete on a global scale. Now, if you want to repeal that legislation, and accept the inevitable consequences that some corporations will simply move off shore and others will pass along the lost profit to consumers, then do so. But don’t try to characterize the legislation as a “loophole,” which it is not. That’s BS.
2. We should invest in embryonic stem cell research. The State is losing its standing as a bioscience leader. The University of Minnesota and Medical Alley combined to spawn companies that both created jobs and products that saved lives. We should once again become a bioscience leader. The Legislative Auditor recently issued a scathing report on the lax auditing practices of the Minnesota Department of Revenue, finding that basic audit procedures could collect an additional $1 billion of revenue that is already owed. Some of this revenue should be used to fund embryonic stem cell research at the University of Minnesota .
I can see this one shaping up. The GOP will try to make it a stem cell research issue -- bad policy and bad political strategy. This should be tackled on purely economic grounds. First, why should Minnesota be a bioscience leader? No reason why it should and no reason why it shouldn’t, but it’s not for government to make that decision, which, by the way, is exactly what the Pawlenty administration pushed -- a government solution, not on the economic or scientific merits of bioscience, but in order to shore up support for the GOP in the Rochester area.

The point here is government should not be determining what industries succeed or fail in Minnesota in any other way than removing government imposed barriers to their development.
3. We should invest, either through a public/private partnership or on our own, in a fiber optic system that wires up regional cities and makes them attractive for technology development. Our competitors in Asia would be embarrassed to have a communications backbone composed of broadband and DSL. We could recoup any public investment by leasing the system to private telecommunication companies.
This is the kind of idea that showcases Hatch as a visionary -- and it is why he is so wrong and so dangerous. The idea sounds good., but then reread that first sentence -- “We should invest, either through a public/private partnership or on our own.” “Or on our own.” That’s Hatch’s worldview -- what government can’t achieve “voluntarily,” it mandates.

The question Hatch fails to ask, and the GOP should ask to develop policy, is “Why isn’t the private sector building fiber optic networks?” Chances are at the root of the problem are government regulations that make it unprofitable. What are those barriers and how can government remove them? That’s the GOP opportunity.
4. Our higher education facilities should train students to fill vacant jobs that pay sustainable wages. Companies pay headhunters $40,000 for nurses recruited from Nigeria or the Philippines . Yet, some of our colleges have two year waiting periods in their nursing programs. We need to train 1,000 welders to fill positions left by retiring workers. Our higher education system must be made relevant to our globalized economy.
I addressed this earlier by urging the GOP to look at what barriers stand in the way of free-market solutions to these problems. The philosophy behind the Hatch approach is the old “School to Work” program of the Bush I/Clinton years that sought to combine a U.S. industrial policy with a U.S. education policy that would use the latter to ensure an adequate supply of workers. Grade school students were required to start career paths. The whole notion that government can begin to predict what kind of workers will be needed is patently silly if not frighteningly soviet-like.

Hatch does raise a real problem; the GOP ought to answer with a free-market solution.
5. We should acknowledge that our transportation system is a mess and is stifling job growth. Whoever heard of asking road contractors to use their credit card to finance construction? Yet, that is exactly what is proposed for the Highway 62 Crosstown proposal, costing $10 million more in finance charges and limiting bidders to mega-firms like Halliburton. We need to establish a metropolitan transit district to finance and build a mass transit system.
More BS. There are two things to understand about mass transit -- no one in government knows how to create a system that works; there are people out there that do. The GOP should be pushing policy that eliminates barriers to free-market mass transit solutions while continuing to upgrade existing infrastructure -- bridges and roads -- not subsidizing public transit that doesn’t solve real transportation problems like how a single mom drops her kid at daycare and then goes to work using public transportation.

And come on. Halliburton? More pure BS.
6. We should alter our way of thinking about drugs. We should develop treatment programs and refortify the State Gang Strike Force to stop the growth of gangs that transport and are financed by methamphetamine. European drug companies should be held accountable for dumping drugs on our shores which they do not sell in Europe.
Not enough meat here to really criticize, but that means there’s room for solid GOP policy. Start with Hatch’s premise, which is correct -- we need to alter our way of thinking about drugs. The “drug problem” was, is, and always will be a demand problem. The life or death risks of distributing drugs posed by competing sellers have more dire consequences for drug dealers than any law government can pass and drugs still flow. More laws to curtail supply are not the answer.

In developing a drug policy, the GOP should start with the legitimate government function of protecting its citizens from irresponsible drug use (and production in the case of meth) -- including alcohol -- and work from there. Let’s take the next step up the chain and focus on neighborhood sales. While big busts and grandiose lawsuits like Hatch would chase make news, the reward to risk ratio for drug cartels is so great that such actions are hardly deterrents. Attack the problem from the end of the chain where altering the risk/reward ratio makes a difference. Reduce demand.
7. We should challenge University engineers to devise a plan to convert the Ford plant to other productive uses, whether it be making wind turbines or energy efficient cars. The more innovative, the better. We have to start thinking big in this State, and the Ford plant seems to be a place where some public/private/academic coordination would be in order.
There’s that private/public partnership BS again. By all means, look and see what government policies and regulations might have contributed to the Ford plant’s demise. Get rid of them. But it’s not up to the state to devise a plan for the Ford plant. “Thinking big” means getting government out of the way and setting great minds free to innovate.
8. We should make our health care system accountable. Health care is the biggest tax paid by employers, and the biggest cause of bankruptcy for people. We need to attack the cost of health care. We cannot afford to be twice as expensive as other countries yet rank only 40 th in quality of care. We need to better allocate limited resources. It is foolish to have every hospital claim to be a heart center when none do mental health very well.
First let’s once again get that medical bankruptcy issue out of the way. Yes -- 50 percent of all personal bankruptcies are due to medical expenses and 70 percent of those people have health insurance. Sounds scary, which is what BS is intended to do, but the reality is, from the same study that the 50 percent number comes from, medical bankruptcies affect 2 million people -- the filer, spouse and children -- in the United States every year. That’s about seven-tenths of one percent of the population. That’s not a crisis.

More BS -- 40th in quality of care. I don’t know where that particular number comes from, but those types of numbers are a combination of apples and oranges that don’t speak to the real health concerns of individuals.

You can’t reasonably compare, say infant mortality rates from a relatively homogeneous racial and economic society and the diverse racial and economic United Staes. You can no compare countries where rationed medical care limits services, like delivery of very pre-mature babies (which are recorded as miscarriages) with the United States where high-risk premature children are delivered daily, many of whom survive, but many that don’t.

A personal example; my daughter was able to have an MRI within 48 hours of a medical problem that confirmed the problem was not serious. No treatment resulted from the MRI, and it did not affect her mortality prospects. But it went a long way to relieving all of us about her condition. That is medical service that matters.

And once again you get the Hatch worldview that government can better allocate resources than the market. Government can no more effectively allocate health resources than it can determine the number of red and yellow polo shirts Target and Wal-Mart should stock come September.

But for Hatch, the positive is he is proposing a solution. Our managed care system is a mess and people know that. Hatch has a plan, the GOP does not, at least not one it is willing to fight for. Hatch wants to move toward more government control. The GOP needs to solidify around a free-market plan and then sell it with some conviction and risk some political capital on it.
9. We should work on reducing classroom size, getting the federal government to rethink the No Child Left Behind program, and implementing preschool education programs.
Still shoveling. Reducing classroom size is the DFL equivalent of Pawlenty’s 70 percent of education dollars to the classroom (that’s an analogy for those supporting the Profile of Learning). It sounds good, but is not the problem it is made out to be. Sure, cutting from a class size of 40 to 20 is a good deal, but realistically, available funding is not going to cut class-size by more than one or two kids.

No Child Left Behind -- I tend to agree. There’s no constitutional authority for the federal government to be involved in education, and it is in even a less better position to determine what kids in Moose Breath, Minnesota, need than is the state MDE. But don’t overlook the two major impacts of NCLB. First, it highlighted the inexcusable achievement gap between white students and students of color. Second, it proved that when schools and students are held accountable, performance improves.

It’s interesting that liberals accuse President Bush of being anti-science, but they overlook his data-based positions on education in non-definable characteristics like “ability to learn” and “self-esteem.”

And finally implementing pre-school programs. On MPR, former St. Paul DFL mayor George Latimer was pushing this the other day and cited the work of the Federal Reserve Board’s Art Rolnick. Rolnick is a strong supporter of pre-school education and has done some really great work showing the economic return. DFLers like to quote that. What then never quote is Rolnick’s point that benefits don’t occur from “any pre-school education.” Programs must be held accountable to specific standards.

The GOP needs to differentiate itself from the DFL on pre-school education, and in my opinion to a degree from Rolnick. His plan includes a private/public model that walks a fine line between the state as advisor to parents and the state in control of what pre-school children are taught an how they are taught it. In the absence of a GOP alternative, Hatch’s idea again looks deceptively good.
10. Our governor should keep the Legislature engaged. Instead of sending menus to legislators with a press release, the governor should individually meet with each legislator and exchange common goals. Legislators run for office to improve our state, not to engage in an annual food fight. Meeting legislators to exchange ideas is an important way the governor should lead.
And he should wear matching socks. Pure BS except for the point that “legislators run for office to improve our state.” I’d phrase that a little differently -- “Legislators run for office to implement their visions of what our state should look like.” The same reason Hatch is running for governor. That’s scary.

Given the GOP positions on social issues, it will be tough for the party to claim differentiation on this point, but in a perfect world, the GOP should be the party that says we don’t know what Minnesota is or should look like in 20 years. We’re not that arrogant. We don’t necessarily have those answers, but we know there are people out there that do. The GOP’s job is to govern in such in way that the people of Minnesota are free to pursue their own lives and thereby create a vibrant Minnesota.
As governor, I'll work hard to deliver on Minnesota 's promise. But to get there, I need your help. I ask that you send a contribution of $100, $50 or whatever you can afford to Hatch for Governor. Working together, we'll put the roar back into the economy of our great state.
It’s time for the GOP to start working as well -- not on searching out more Hatch flip-flops from the 1980s or creating yet another web site to inform us only that “Democrats are asses,” but developing some policies in the GOP tradition of free people and free markets.

(I’ll will gladly accept any contributions from converted Hatch supporters.)