’13 Prescriptions


In my recent post on the Sandy Hook shooting I wrote that “Real progress is not a movie-friendly month of intervention and epiphany, but a slow grinding of years and small moments whose efficacy is not seen for years, or decades.”  Since it’s easier to throw stones than pick them up and build a wall I offer the following; a dozen ideas for how contemporary American culture could be made more healthy and sustainable.  In no particular order.  The thirteenth is up to you.

1: Lay manifest destiny to rest at last

The American dream as it was first written has run out for my generation.  The idea, as expressed by Horace Greeley, was always that hard work combined with effectively unlimited natural resources would not only create material wealth for the individual, but moral and spiritual health.  Now that the limits of our physical (and thus economic) resources are becoming ever more acute, it is time to decouple material success and moral virtue.

2: Eliminate middle school

I’ve not been able to uncover who first thought putting 6-8th grades together in one building was a good idea, but they owe the 12 year olds of the United States a great karmic debt.  These are most difficult, most crucial, and most depraved years of anyone’s social development.  Being in the presence of younger children encourages mentoring and good behavior.  Being in the presence of age-peers only aggregated from many schools encourages bullying, isolation, and social problems which last through high school well into adulthood.

3: Smaller schools

No K-8 school should have more than 500 students.  No high school should have more than 1000.  Simple.  Yes this and the above idea will cost more in staff and facilities, but in the long term such savings in other areas will more than make up for the difference.

4: Free the free market

It does not take more intelligence and ability to manage a bank or hedge fund than it does to teach second grade well, but our twisted economic system has ingrained the opposite for so long that the virtue of being in a profession which makes money is unquestioned.  State funding of primary education and the necessarily short-sighted budgeting therein is probably the best place to start changing this.  Pay experienced teachers low six figures and evaluate them on real metrics (not standardized tests) and within 50 years we’ll have schools to be proud of.

5: High school graduation as a requirement for a driver’s license

16 year olds do not have the emotional maturity to be driving cars.  A high school diploma should not be compulsory, but it should be a prerequisite for one of the most important privileges in modern America.

6: 28 day waiting period for firearms purchase

Background checks are well and good, but they’re not going to catch those who are only contemplating their first crime.  A lengthy waiting period would not be too onerous for the masses and remove firearms as a factor in many crimes of impulse and passion.

7: Longer Congressional terms

Given modern fund-raising requirements and the effects of 24 hour news, members of Congress are too tied to the immediate effects of policy.  Good laws are voted down too often for this reason.  Terms in the House should be 4 years, 8 in the Senate.

8: Real sex education

Creepy as it is, anything less than full safe-sex education beginning in 5th grade is no longer responsible for our government to support.  The economic and moral costs of abstinence-only have been catastrophic.  If no one in America had kids before 25 countless social ills would be eliminated or vastly diminished.  This is the least-unpalatable way to facilitate this.

9: Non-profit health insurance

Common decency should have dictated long ago that some things are not appropriate venues for cultivating profit.  Health insurance is one of them.  Eliminating this as a legal practice in the US would internally fix many of the current issues with run-away health care costs.

10: Reform social security

A century ago the most impoverished demographic in America was the elderly.  Thanks to social security this is no longer the case, it is now children.  If I had to pick one or the other it would be an easy choice, but perhaps we could have some sort of future security to improve the odds of children becoming healthy members of society.

11: Welfare state oversight

While many of the protestations concerning people exploiting the welfare state are discriminatory, many are true.  Unfortunately underfunded and/or inefficient state systems rarely have the staff to adequately monitor those receiving disability, TANF, WIC, and so forth.  This is another area where short term budget savings costs more in the long run.  Anyone on public assistance should be have a case manager to ensure the money is appropriately spent, review the validity of current diagnoses, etc.

12: Put the NCAA on probation

The status of college sports, especially football, has corrupted the culture and mission of universities.  The ongoing rape scandals concerning the University of Montana football team is but one example.  This system is beyond immediate repair.  Anything beyond intermural football should be banned in American universities for the next forty years, when perhaps a new generation can make it work.


12 responses to “’13 Prescriptions”

  1. 13. Substantial, progressive, and permanent dismantling of the military-industrial complex. The money to pay all those new teachers has to come from somewhere.

  2. I tend to agree, middle schoolers can be quit good at mentoring younger kids if they are shown how to do it. How about condensing high school down so a reasonably smart and hard working kid could graduate at 16? If we did that our 16 olds might actually be emotionally mature enough to drive. But actually fail students who don’t perform so they have two years to catch up if they want to waste time.

  3. My primary issue is with the driver’s license – while I agree with the theory, incentivizing high school in terms high schoolers understand, I believe it would be an unfair burden on rural kids, would encourage more underage girls to date older guys, and various other random bad things that don’t seem obvious. I would agree to not allow full licenses until graduation, but do something like Iowa does, where there is a graduated system, and you can get school, work, and farm permits which allow driving with limited numbers of passengers, only during certain hours of the day. You’d only be allowed said permits if you maintained attendance in school.

    I also agree with Luke – for smart kids a lot of high school is a waste of time, and there should be accelerated programs that would allow for early graduation and early license procurement. While I did do some stupid things in my car when I was 16 and 17, I also had to drop out of high school so as to access programs that allowed me to attend and finish college early – there was no early college route if I stayed in school, only if I dropped out – and your program would have put me without a car, which would have prevented my attending community college and finishing my high school diploma that way (attending community college required a half hour drive to school which I can’t imagine my parents chauffeuring) .

    If there isn’t an in school alternative for a lot of kids, they would drop out anyway, and then suffer more extensive economic hardships for having to rely on friends and family for transport in the majority of the country that doesn’t have sufficient public options.

    It’s a good idea, it just needs tweaked.

  4. One comment on non-profit health care.

    Folks like to say we have the best health care in the world and that that has to do with our for-profit and insurance system… but what makes our health care great is our system of medical schools, and research universities – which are non-profit, and which rely heavily of grants from the government (NIH, CDC, etc) and non-profits. It’s the non-profit and government sectors of our system that make it great, but… whatevs.

  5. “6: 28 day waiting period for firearms purchase.”

    That would do nothing to reduce gun violence. The introduction of the federal waiting period with the IBHVPA in ’93 and it’s replacement with the instant NICS in ’98 both had zero statistical impact on national gun violence rates. States that have state-mandated waiting periods, like California and New York, have not seen their gun violence drop relative to states that don’t have waiting periods. There’s actually some statistical evidence that waiting periods actually increase the rates of crimes like domestic abuse, rape, and aggravated assault. There simply aren’t that many “crimes of passion”, at least not among people who don’t already have possession of, or access to guns. If going to a gun store, selecting a gun, filling out the paperwork, waiting for the NICS check to be made, paying for your purchase, and then driving back home isn’t enough time for you to rethink your desire to kill someone there’s a good chance that your lack of impulse control / moral compass has already gotten you in trouble with the law before and you won’t pass the background check anyway. The “mass shootings” that get the media attention are almost exclusively crimes that were planned weeks/months in advance. None of the shooters that I can think of bought their guns legally in the days before their crimes.

    If we really want to look at reducing gun violence we need to look deeper than meaningless gestures like waiting periods, magazine sizes, or banning “assault weapons” (which is an almost purely aesthetic definition of a class of guns that is used in less than 1% of the incidents of gun violence). The root causes are much deeper than that. Look at the numbers:

    The overall firearm homicide rate in the US is 3.7 (per 100K) Compare that other developed countries and it looks pretty bad. Switzerland and Canada are about 0.5, Sweden is about 0.2, UK is about 0.04. But break it down and you see how disproportional the US rate is: In the US as whole less than 10% of the population has a felony arrest record, but as much as 90% of the firearm homicide victims have felonies on their record. In the US African-American males make up ~5% of the population, yet account for more than 40% of the firearm homicide victims. The homicide rate for black males aged 20-24 is a staggering 98.6! That’s 26 times the rate of the rest of the country, 10 times the rate of Mexico, 4 times the rate of Columbia. (I don’t want the inclusion of the African-American rates to be construed as racist, that’s not the intention, but it’s one of the few statistics that demonstrates the differences of rates of gun violence among American subcultures)

    If you’re in the US, and you’re not an African-American male or a convicted felon your chances of being a victim of a firearm homicide drops to ~0.20…on par or lower than overall rates in developed countries that don’t have a gun violence problem.

    So yes, we have a gun violence problem in the US, but it’s largely a crime problem, and an urban culture problem. Adding laws that affect only the people that are least likely to use guns to commit crimes is not going to fix anything. Criminals won’t be affected by waiting periods or background checks, there’s already a thriving illegal gun trade market tog o around those. Changing #6 to “Ending the Endless War on Drugs” would be a big step towards reducing the underlying causes of the violence. Fixing our education system to give young people options besides crime and violence would be another.

    1. Rusty, I’ve been looking for this statistical information for a while. Can you post some citations. I have access to a university library/databases if the sources are not online. Thanks

  6. I’m glad to see so many of your points related to education. It’s another one of those areas where we should swallow the bitter pill and accept the fact the current system is not what it makes itself out to be and needs really fundamental drastic changes, not just minor tweaks. (How about some classes in how to be happy? How to be healthy? Integrity? And why are our children only qualified for minimum wage burger-flipping jobs after 12 years of so-called “education”? ) And the point regarding for-profit healthcare is really spot on and just seems like plain common sense.

  7. Reform of the educational system is at the heart of any long-term solution. The current educational system, in the US and other countries, is much like a mill, stones grinding individual kernels into a uniform powder. The linguistic root of ‘education’ is to ‘bring forth’ or ‘draw out’: specifically the particular talent and genius of each individual. Quite the opposite of the reductionist function of a millstone. Some countries in Europe have begun to recognize the current situation as a crisis and have started to look for innovative ways to reverse the decline.

  8. I think the way to fix education is to get the state out of it. Make parents pay for school and completely de-regulate it. Then you will see real change. It would not be that expensive to have well paid teachers and reasonable sized class rooms. It is the bulk that comes with the state that creates the huge cost. Look at PA, average cost per student is $14,400 say an average class size of 20, that is $288,000. If a teacher makes $50,000 where are the other $233,000 going?

    1. And what about the parents who can’t afford to keep the electric on? Do their kids just not go to school?

    2. The other $233,000 – lets see, textbooks, chalkboards, computers, heat, power, the building itself, buses and drivers, gym, music and art teachers, librarians and library books, classroom handouts, the paper to print report cards… let’s see, I can’t imagine anything else that gets paid for in a class room besides the teacher’s salary… what a ridiculous notion!

      Parents already pay for school, a tiny bit at a time, taken directly out of their paychecks, along with everyone else – it’s called taxes.

  9. I totally agree with M on both health care and education! The only thing I don’t agree with you on is reqireing a high school diploma for a driver’s licence. Do we really want teenagers not getting their licences until they go off to college? I know I want my kids to have a few years of driving experience under their belts before they are off on their own at college.

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