The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


The always reliably blue state of Illinois is in deep financial trouble. A overwhelmingly Democratic legislature, along with a long line of governors have underfunded the state's pension obligations, made irresponsible concessions to public sector unions, encouraged crony state contracts ... the usual litany.

Enter Chicago State University (CSU)—a small inner city school that serves a predominantly African American community. Because the state is running out of money, the school's funding is being cut, and it is in jeopardy of closing. At a human level, the students will suffer.  Liberal media throughout Illinois are properly lamenting that fact. But as Walter Russell Mead notes, the media fails to mention that "Chicago State has the highest administrator-to-student ratio of any state school in Illinois—one for every 17 students—and that it spends up to 45 percent of its total payroll on those administrators." Forty Five percent in administrative overhead! Welcome to the blue model.

Mead writes:
Airbrushing inconvenient truths out of the picture is standard operating procedure for sentimental reporters writing stories about the problems of the poor. We’ve heard much more about the suffering imposed on Puerto Rico’s municipal employees than about the decades of cronyism and dysfunction that produced a bloated, inefficient government that can neither provide needed services nor pay its own bills. One could read the New York Times for decades without hearing warnings about how one-party Democratic rule has entrenched patterns of corruption and sloth in major American cities. It’s much more fun to wring our hands about the problems of the poor, and blame everything untoward on Republican racist tightwads. John F. Kennedy once said that Americans were willing to do anything for Latin America except read about it; one often feels that a certain type of contemporary liberal will do anything for the poor that doesn’t involve thinking.

But that doesn’t let Republicans off the hook. Just because deep blue Democrats prefer sentiment over analysis and let their allegiance to vested interests trump their concern for the poor is no excuse for Republicans to treat the students of Chicago State with indifference. It’s fine to say “hold the line on taxes and starve the beast”—and there are times when this is necessary. But doing that alone is not a plan for better governance. Illinois’ budget woes are a direct result of years of terrible decisions and the absence of serious planning at both state and local levels. And the chief victims of this neglect of duty are poor people—those who depend most on government for services.

Where are the plans for a revitalization of Illinois and Chicago? Where are the proposals for changes in the way Illinois is administered, its higher ed system organized, its pension burdens managed and rationalized? How will the built-in cost structures that make cities like Chicago so difficult to operate in be reduced? How will the costs of interacting with the regulatory state be reined in, and the process simplified for businesses and homeowners? How will the miserably failing school systems of Chicago and other communities be revived, and labor relations in the school system detoxified? And, among these larger questions, how will the students at Chicago State finish their coursework and get their degrees?
Among the many casualties created by a culture that worships at the alter of political correctness is good ideas. Unless any innovative idea conforms to the PC narrative it cannot be uttered, and if it is, the ideas are immediately branded as "racist," or "bigoted," or "uncaring" or "misogynistic" or a "unfeeling" or ... you get the picture.

So both Dems and the GOP maintain the status quo and continue the failed narratives that lead to even more of the same—economic decline, stressed budgets, unnecessary grow in the public sector, private sector flight, population decline, among many negative effects.

Mead continues:
Vain and self-aggrandizing politicians deserve a lot of the blame for not trying to tackle the problems sooner, but they are far from being the sole guilty parties. After all, politicians can’t fight for solutions that don’t yet exist. And that there is so little creative thinking about these issues is the fault of think tanks, public intellectuals and academics. It is the cognitive elite that has let the country down.

The Republicans, who are much less well represented in the academy, and who benefit from fewer sources of traditional philanthropy (like the Ford Foundation and its friends), have done more at this point with less. This is not because they are somehow more virtuous and civic minded; rather, it is because the orthodox liberal pieties that the intellectual establishment holds as eternal truths pretty much block any serious thinking about the crisis of American society today. The liberal establishment is both politically and intellectually committed to the conservation of an unsustainable status quo. Republicans, on the other hand, instinctively loathe the redistributionist nanny state and intuitively perceive its growing dysfunction; they therefore have an easier time thinking about theoretical alternatives.

This is why right-wing think tanks have on the whole done a better job at developing some creative ideas than their larger and better funded competitors on the left. But neither side has done enough. The budget problems at all levels of government are going to get worse as the pension bills come due, deferred maintenance and infrastructure deficits take a higher toll, health care costs inexorably rise, and as the institutions of blue model governance further corrode.
"Making America Great Again" or "Feeling the Bern" or "TrusTed" or whatever cynical, poll-tested catch phrase Hillary Clinton is using at the moment do nothing to remedy the problem that Walter Russell Mead defines. We're screwed!