Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Whenever poor public school performance is highlighted, there is a chorus that brings up funding shortfalls as the explanation. But there is now considerable evidence that it's not so simple. When we do spend more, we still get poor outcomes because of (among other things) poor management. I suspect, however, that the academic research has worked its way into popular discourse and the "underfunded" mantra is now seen by increasing numbers of voters as special pleading by teacher's unions and their allies.

But we are not yet there where when it comes to infrastructure. The second nature presumption among many is still that we have lousy highways (among other things) because we do not spend enough. The problem of mismanagement of the spending that we do have is seldom brought to light. This is why President Obama can still gain political points by promising another $50 billion to be spent on "infrastructure". Baptists and bootleggers, anyone?

A timely new book by Clifford Winston presents the evidence that (as with the public schools) it is more a case of misspending than underfunding. Winston makes that case that this amounts to a $100-billion-a-year loss. Well conceived and carefully targeted deregulation and privatization, he shows, could help us re-coup some of that.

Only in the world of politics would anyone argue for stimulus "multipliers" (whatever these may be) attached to negative-NPV projects.