They Don’t Make Trade Associations Like They Used To

For those of us who tire of witnessing British Petroleum apologize for being in the oil business, or roll our eyes over Chevron PR campaigns dedicated to telling us how we can and should buy less of their product, it may seem that it was always thus. But it was not. Check out this 1956 short film produced by the American Petroleum Institute. Now THAT’S what a self-confident, take-no-guff industry looks like. Someone should tell “Big Oil” to take it’s thumb out of it’s mouth and start defending their right to exist.

Waiting for FEMA

The New York Times reports on a new production of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” which “implies that that the mysterious, perpetually awaited Godot, often thought of as God, is actually the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

Which makes sense, since too many people in the theater and allied worlds think that the federal government is God.

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“Underpaid Teachers” Richly Rewarded

Everybody knows that teachers are underpaid, right? Actually, we don’t know what teachers should be paid because individual teachers aren’t allowed to negotiate their pay with the people using their services–unions and politicians do the bargaining. Still, a few stats in a Washington Post article about a proposed contract for Washington D.C. public school teachers suggest that, if anything, many D.C. teachers are overpaid.

Using salary information in the article, we see that under their current contract D.C. teachers must work 7 hours a day for 192 days, and their starting salary is $39,000. Per-hour, that comes to $29.01, which beats the mean hourly pay for all D.C. residents by 59 cents.

Under the proposed contract, the starting salary would become $42,500 to work 7 ½ hours for 196 days, actually dropping the hourly rate by 10 cents. Importantly, though, the four extra days would be dedicated to “training,” and the extra half-hour to “planning,” so there really wouldn’t be much work added to the teachers’ load.

As impressive as these starting salary numbers are, though, the real eye-opener is at the top of the teachers’ salary ladder.  Currently, the highest rung on the ladder is $75,000, or a hefty $55.80 an hour. Adjusting that to 40 hours per week for 50 weeks a year (roughly what most people work) the highest paid teacher would get an annual salary of $111,600 – not bad! Under the new contract that would become even more generous, with the unadjusted salary rising to $87,000, the new hourly rate hitting $59.18, and the “normal” annual salary reaching $118,360!  And, of course, none of this includes teachers’ benefits, which are generally considered to be more generous than what’s available in the private sector.

Now, before anyone starts calling for my head, as happened the last time I wrote on this topic, let me say I don’t doubt that that many teachers work beyond their contracted hours. Of course, there’s also no question that lots of people work in excess of their time “on the clock.” With that in mind, the hours in the teachers’ contract are what teachers have agreed to, so it is the only fair basis on which to calculate their remuneration.

So let’s put this in perspective. As mentioned, a starting D.C. teacher makes more per hour than the average wage for all D.C. residents. Even more surprising, under the proposed contract a teacher making the top wage would get $12.16 more per-hour than the average D.C. citizen in a management position, including sales managers, marketing managers, and IT managers. Indeed, the only managerial group that would make more than teachers on an hourly basis would be the absolute head honchos – chief executives.

And here’s the kicker: What have D.C. teachers produced to deserve all this money? According to the Post article’s main point, a school system so decrepit that parents are leaving it in droves.

More Socially Responsible Consumption

Joanna of Fey Accompli reminds us of two outstanding recent articles on virtuous consumption. From the March issue of Reason, there is Kerry Howley’s abundantly informative Absolution in Your Cup: The Real Meaning of Fair Trade Coffee. And in the handsomely redesigned new Doublethink, you can find Katherine Mangu-Ward’s amusing The Virtuous Eater: Self-Improvement Through Conscientious Consumption. You won’t regret consuming either of these.

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Unnecessary Restrictions Are Holding HSAs Back

Federal law requires consumers to have a “qualified high-deductible health plan” before they can open a tax-free health savings account (HSA).  Today, Sarah Rubenstein of the Wall Street Journal reports that those rules make HSA-compatible coverage more expensive than necessary. 

In a recent paper, I argued that Congress actually requires HSA holders to have a “high-but-not-too-high-deductible health plan,” and that Congress should let consumers choose their own health insurance.

Calling All Parents

For months, a battle has raged in New York City over whether students should be allowed to have cell phones in public schools. In fact, in April the city ran something of a dragnet operation in schools looking for weapons and instead ended up confiscating 129 phones at one school alone.

Parents say their children need the phones to keep in touch with them on the kids’ way to or from school. The Bloomberg administration counters that having the phones in schools can be disruptive, that they are sometimes used for cheating on tests, and are even employed in gang activities. And now the dispute has reached the point where the City Council is getting involved, promising to pass legislation permitting children to carry phones.

All of this, of course, is ridiculous. Gangs operated in school for decades without cell phones, and for years NYC schools have successfully practiced a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that let kids carry phones as long as they didn’t go off in class or get used for nefarious purposes. But this is what happens when you force everyone to support a single, government-run, school system: People fight over everything because only one group’s values and opinions can ultimately become policy. The result: All kinds of stupid arguments, and schools that are constantly paralyzed by politics.