Pri­vate sec­tor (but not gov­ern­ment) pays for its in­com­pe­tence

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Two un­re­lated news sto­ries on the same day show the con­trast be­tween gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions and pri­vate de­ci­sions. Un­der the head­line “Fore­closed Homes Sell at Big Dis­counts,” USA To­day re­ported that banks were sell­ing the homes they fore­closed on, at dis­counts of 38 per­cent in Ten­nessee to 41 per­cent in Illi­nois and Ohio.

Banks in gen­eral try to get rid of the homes they ac­quire by fore­clo­sure, by sell­ing them quickly for what­ever they can get. Why? Be­cause banks are forced by eco­nomic re­al­i­ties to re­al­ize that they are not real es­tate com­pa­nies.

No mat­ter how much ex­per­tise bank of­fi­cials may have in fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions, that is very dif­fer­ent from know­ing the best ways to main­tain and mar­ket empty houses.

Mean­while, there was a story on the Fox News Chan­nel about schools that are us­ing their time to in­doc­tri­nate kinder­gart­ners and fourth graders with po­lit­i­cally cor­rect at­ti­tudes about sex.

Any­one fa­mil­iar with the low stan­dards and mushy no­tions in the schools and de­part­ments of ed­u­ca­tion that turn out our pub­lic school teach­ers might think that these teach­ers would have all they can do to make Amer­i­can chil­dren com­pe­tent in read­ing, writ­ing and math.

Any­one fa­mil­iar with how our chil­dren stack up with chil­dren from other coun­tries in ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion would be painfully aware that Amer­i­can chil­dren lag be­hind chil­dren in coun­tries that spend far less per pupil than we do.

In other words, teach­ers and schools that are fail­ing to pro­vide the ba­sics of ed­u­ca­tion are branch­ing out into all sorts of other ar­eas, where they have even less com­pe­tence.

Why are teach­ers so bold when banks are so cau­tious? The banks pay a price for be­ing wrong. Teach­ers don’t.

If banks try to act like they are real es­tate com­pa­nies and hold on to a huge in­ven­tory of fore­closed homes, they are likely to lose money big time, as those homes de­te­ri­o­rate and can­not com­pete with homes mar­keted by real es­tate com­pa­nies with far more ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­per­tise in this field.

But if teach­ers fail to ed­u­cate chil­dren, they don’t lose one dime, no mat­ter how much those chil­dren and the coun­try lose by their fail­ure.

If the schools waste pre­cious time in­doc­tri­nat­ing chil­dren, in­stead of ed­u­cat­ing them, that’s the chil­dren’s prob­lem and the coun­try’s prob­lem, but not the teach­ers’ prob­lem.

Sex in­doc­tri­na­tion is just one of in­nu­mer­able “ex­cit­ing” and “in­no­va­tive” self-in­dul­gences of the schools.

There is no bot­tom line test of what these boon­dog­gles cost the chil­dren or the coun­try.

In­ci­den­tally, con­ser­va­tives who think that schools should be teach­ing “ab­sti­nence” miss the point com­pletely.

The schools have no ex­per­tise to be teach­ing sex at all.

We should be happy if they ever de­velop the com­pe­tence to teach math and English, so that

Hav­ing spent years ru­in­ing the hous­ing mar­kets with their in­ter­fer­ence, lead­ing to a hous­ing melt­down that has taken the whole econ­omy down with it, politi­cians have now moved on into mi­cro-man­ag­ing au­to­mo­bile com­pa­nies and med­i­cal care.

our chil­dren can hold their own in in­ter­na­tional tests given to chil­dren in other coun­tries.

Schools are just one gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tion that take on tasks for which they have no ex­per­tise or even com­pe­tence.

Congress is the most egre­gious ex­am­ple. In the course of any given year, Congress votes on taxes, med­i­cal care, mil­i­tary spend­ing, for­eign aid, agri­cul­ture, la­bor, in­ter­na­tional trade, air­lines, hous­ing, in­surance, courts, nat­u­ral re­sources, and much more.

There are pro­fes­sion­als who have spent their en­tire adult lives spe­cial­iz­ing in just one of these fields. They idea that Congress can be com­pe­tent in all these ar­eas si­mul­ta­ne­ously is stag­ger­ing.

Yet, far from pulling back, as banks or other pri­vate en­ter­prises must, if they don’t want to be ru­ined fi­nan­cially by op­er­at­ing be­yond the range of their com­pe­tence, Congress is con­stantly ex­pand­ing fur­ther into more fields.

Hav­ing spent years ru­in­ing the hous­ing mar­kets with their in­ter­fer­ence, lead­ing to a hous­ing melt­down that has taken the whole econ­omy down with it, politi­cians have now moved on into mi­cro-man­ag­ing au­to­mo­bile com­pa­nies and med­i­cal care.

They are not go­ing to stop un­less they get stopped. And that is not go­ing to hap­pen un­til the vot­ers rec­og­nize the fact that po­lit­i­cal rhetoric is no sub­sti­tute for com­pe­tence.

Thomas Sow­ell is a se­nior fel­low at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion, Stan­ford Univer­sity.

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