Most of the Republican arguments against the stimulus bill have been sore loserism and cheesy politics at the least appropriate time–a moment of crisis. And many of the arguments Christopher Caldwell makes in this piece reflect the defects of the Republican position–spending money on education isn’t “welfare.” Indeed, if done right, it’s a form of infrastructure building, as David Leonhardt argues in this magisterial NY Times magazine piece today. But I’d make three additional points:
1. If there is going to be a bailout of inner city education, the schools should face the same sort of government nudge toward best practices that the automakers are getting. If the price of an auto bailout is higher fuel efficiency standards, the price for a Title I school bailout should be higher teacher efficiency standards–and one very easy step in the right direction would be to require school systems that take the federal money to abolish teacher tenure, a foolish practice that has made the firing of inept or corrupt teachers near-impossible. I know the teachers’ unions have all sorts of alternative plans–peer reviews and so forth–but none are credible. It is argued that teachers may be fired unfairly. True enough. Journalists, refrigerator repair people, lawyers and chefs are fired unfairly all the time–but in the overwhelming preponderance of cases, they’re let go for good cause. I also don’t buy the perennial teacher-shortage argument, especially now. The collapsing economy means that some very talented people may be looking toward teaching as their next profession.
2. I do agree with Caldwell, as a general matter, on the need to exclude Medicaid expansion from the stimulus bill. We should be thinking about–and enacting, without delay–a system that makes Medicaid (and Medicare, for that matter) obsolete, a universal system of the sort that Hillary Clinton proposed during the campaign (Obama’s plan is very similar, but not universal) that would put the poor and elderly into the same managed care system as the rest of us.
3. If that makes for a smaller stimulus bill, so be it. Stimulus shouldn’t be seen as a one-shot deal. The health care reform that Obama has promised is a form of stimulus. The Apollo project to gain energy independence is going to require constant feeding, beyond the $23 billion included in the current bill. The important thing is to use this crisis as an opportunity to reform some of the broken systems we’re saddled with–education, health care, energy and so forth. It would be a shame if the money merely reinforced bad practices that exist today, as the first $350 billion of the bank bailout apparently did.