Whiting column: Perennial problems aren’t solved with traditional solutions
Traditional approaches seldom solve the difficult.
It’s tempting to attempt to solve long-standing problems by adapting unsuccessful past solutions or giving up. Looking “outside the box” to something never attempted or considered impossible may be a more productive strategy.
Elections reduce the productivity of elected officials from the average citizen’s standpoint. The 2024 election already dominates the media. It’s time to attach a time limit to campaigns. For Senators and Representatives, 90 days of personal campaigning and advertising. For the President, zero days campaigning and 90 days advertising. This shortened period would reduce the millions spent and encourage our elected officials to spend their time working on our behalf instead of theirs. Campaigns would also be based more on what has been accomplished than on additional sound-good promises.
Presidential executive orders are supplanting the legislative process. Established to facilitate a President responding quickly to an emergency, they aren’t specifically mentioned in the Constitution. Their precedent was established by George Washington and reinforced by all that followed. There isn’t a limit on their number or a sunset provision and are now primarily used as a method to bypass Congress or other constitutional checks and balances.
Obama utilized 276, Trump 220 and Biden 113. There haven’t been over 600 national emergencies requiring instantaneous action. A limit of 12 per year, six-month expiration unless ratified by Congress, might be a reasonable solution motivating more thought into their use.
Getting federal tax dollars to reach the people in the form of services has become difficult. A significant percentage of the funding is spent on the federal bureaucracy that administers the money. For example, in 2022 the federal budget allocated $102 billion for K-12 education; $667B was spent from all sources, of which 8% ($54B) was supplied by the federal government and reached the states. So, $102B minus $54B means $48B was spent on administration.
Why not give the money directly to the states reducing federal administration to writing 50 checks. Another $48B would be available to enhance learning. The same waste exists in federal funding for higher education. Each state understands its educational needs better than they do in Washington, D.C. and can more effectively hold individual schools accountable for expenditures. The same strategy would be applicable and increase the effectiveness for most of the other 14 federal departments.
The same difficulty has emerged locally. In the last 15-20 years, the trend in public schools has been to expand the number of non-teaching personnel at a rate far greater than the increase in enrollment. For example, Colorado’s total K-12 enrollment went from 721,000 in 2000 to 883K in 2022, a 25% increase. The number of teachers went from 50,614 to 55,511, a 5% increase, and the number of principals/assistant principals increased 73% and the number of administrators working in non-classroom capacities in district offices increased 132%. All these non-teaching positions are paid, most at a level more than teacher’s compensation.
As is the temptation in all tax-funded organizations, there is a tendency to look at niceties as opposed to only necessities — creating a position first and then hiring for that position, rather than determining the necessities that must be accomplished and determining who already on the payroll can accomplish them. It’s a process with which business is already familiar. If increased learning is the goal, the money would be better spent on the teachers who are the ones creating relationships with students and individualizing teaching to facilitate learning in the classroom every day.
China is overtly controlling an increasing amount of our economy. They hold $860B of US Treasury bonds we sold to them as part of financing our annual federal deficit. Because they do not have the same constitutional financial constraints of our system, they bought them by transferring money from a ledger account; nothing of tangible value. If they want to spend more money, they just add numbers to this account. Consequently, they manipulate the exchange rate of the yuan to the dollar to their advantage.
Beyond balancing the budget, another helpful strategy would be requiring China to use our Treasury bonds as payment when purchasing our imports. The bonds wouldn’t disappear, but at least would be held by a U.S. company, so the funds and requisite interest payments would be facilitating the multiplier effect in our economic system instead of theirs.
Higher education costs have risen at a rate greater than inflation, necessitating universities’ need to increase revenue and decrease expenses. Given the popularity of football and the profits generated, using a portion could help. The Denver Broncos made $143M profit last year. Their nonprofit distributed $1M to charities. If they contributed $43M to Colorado colleges, it would still leave them $100M. With tuition in Colorado averaging $12,000, it would provide 3,500 full-tuition scholarships each year. CU football made $28M last year. It wouldn’t be illogical to allocate a portion to reduce tuition costs.
To decrease expenses, universities could require professors to teach more. Professors average nine classroom and six office hours per week. Eighteen in the classroom and 12 in the office wouldn’t seem outlandish, especially given the average semester has 72 instructional days. This would require greater emphasis on quality teaching, but that would be a positive. Many professors have research requirements, but the time has come to separate the teaching/research functions. Realistically, most are not top-notch at both.
When difficult issues are involved, it’s our personal responsibility to be willing to look outside the box. Everything seems impossible until it’s done.
Bryan Whiting feels most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of non-partisan economics rather than government intervention. Comments and column suggestions to: email@example.com.
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