Friday, December 3, 2010

My Top Ten Ways to Improve the World

#10. Radical election reform: Replace bought politicians with wisely selected ones. I'm undecided between two approaches:

1. All campaigns would be two to three weeks long, 100% publicly funded, and consisting only of a neutral body such as C-Span or Consumer Reports posting the candidates' voting records and positions on key issues, plus a broadcast debate followed by a simulation of the candidates running a meeting.

2. Our government officials would be selected using passive criteria, like a stock index fund. For example, it might consist of the most newly retired of the nation's 10 largest nonprofits, a randomly selected CEO of the S&P MidCap 400, the Police Officer of America's Cop of the Year, the School Principal of the Year, the most award-winning scientist who finished her/his Ph.D. in the last decade, plus five random citizens.

You protest, "The incumbents would never allow it--the foxes are guarding the hen house." My approach would be to get the media to urge voters to vote against candidates that oppose a fairer electoral system.

#9. Replace ObamaCare with NemkoCare. Patients having (ahem) skin in the game is key to cost control: the invisible hand of 300 million people voting with their feet. So, all but the truly indigent would pay fee-for-service except for catastrophic care, which they'd pay for with private insurance.

To empower consumers to make good decisions, all health care providers would be required to post patient satisfaction rates and success rates for procedures, adjusted by severity of illness.

Caring for the millions of currently minimally cared-for patients will require more doctors, nurse practitioners, etc.
To provide them while improving quality, provider training would be shorter and practical--wrested from the university and provided by master practitioners. Physicians, let alone nurses, do not need a year each of college-level inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, calculus, and physics. Their training should be provided by the finest clinicians, not by academics, who mainly do research on esoterica.

#8. Replace curricular esoterica with essentials. Kindergarten-through-grad-school curriculum has long been selected primarily by professors, a group that has deliberately opted out of the real world and loves esoterica. Hence today, nearly all high schools students, even those reading on a fifth-grade level, must study the doppelganger, quadratic equations, stoichiometry, the Peloponnesian Wars, etc., even if that means they leave school unable to make change, critique an editorial, resolve conflicts, or prioritize ethics over expediency. Essentials must be prioritized over esoterica.

I'd wrest curriculum choice from the academics and replace them with a diverse panel of people from plumbers to CEOs, nurses to, okay, professors, who have been issued the following mandate: That which is most important for living must be taught and learned before teaching the less important.

#7. Require schools and colleges to post their report card. We require students to receive report cards every few months. We even require tires to have "report cards" molded into their sidewalls.

Well, if education is as important as everyone claims, shouldn't schools and colleges be required to post a report card on themselves? For example, shouldn't they be required to report their students' average annual growth in reading, writing, critical thinking, and mathematical reasoning, compared with national norms for schools with similar student bodies?

Shouldn't colleges additionally be required to post their four-, five-, and six-year graduation rates (disaggregated by high school record and SAT score,) and the actual average total cost of a degree, after financial aid, broken down by family income and assets? Shouldn't all schools and colleges be required to post the results of a student satisfaction survey and a summary of the accreditation visiting team's report?

#6. Replace a nation of variable-quality teachers with online top teachers. The nation has, for example, 30,000 high school math teachers, some magnificent, most not. Why not have ten of the nation's best teachers team-teach courses on video, available on the Internet, with local paraprofessionals or even teachers on site to answer student questions and provide the human touch. That would enable every child, rich and poor, urban and rural, to be taught by a dream team of teachers.

Of course, the reason that hasn't happened is that the teachers' unions have used their mammoth political clout to quash such proposals. Perhaps movies like Waiting for Superman will start to awaken the public that the teachers' unions are children's enemy.

#5. Create an Assistance Army. This would solve the employment crisis while improving America's quality of life. The government should fund a series of public service announcements encouraging people to hire a tutor for their children, personal assistant for themselves, and companion for their elderly relatives. Encouraging that Assistance Army would create millions of ethical, society-improving, widely doable jobs with minimal expenditure of our tax dollars, unlike with government-created jobs.

#4. Replace the media as brainwasher with the media as fair informer. Much wisdom resides left of center but much also exists right of center. Yet, except in the increasingly marginalized Fox News, the largest mindshare, especially among the influential class, is held by liberal media outlets: for example, CNN, New York Times, the TV networks, even Google searches, which on sociopolitical topics, in my experience, generate heavily liberal results, unlike the results of Yahoo! searches, which seem more even-handed.

The media has enormous power to affect our thinking and in turn, public policy. Not long ago, most members of the media felt a near-sacred obligation to present the full range of intelligent views on an issue or candidate. Today, with their professors' encouragement, most journalists consciously or unconsciously manipulate their audience into believing what they believe. And what they believe is overwhelmingly liberal thought because most journalists, like professors, have opted out of the real world and thus have been exposed mainly to the leftist thought hegemonic in universities and especially in prestigious journalism schools. Journalism schools should encourage their students to pull on ropes of restraint and make all efforts to fairly present intelligent perspectives from both right and left of center.

#3. Replace legal advocates with legal fact finders. In our legal system, two advocates devote their considerable intelligence and energy not to getting to the truth but to getting their side to win. That means that the side with the better lawyer has an unfair advantage. I believe that greater justice would be served if, as in the European Court of Justice, along with the judge, the two attorneys were charged with getting to the truth, not advocating, a priori, for one side.

#2. Embrace behavioral genetics. Real solutions to social problems require us to acknowledge that they have both environmental and genetic roots. Just as a VW Bug cannot run like a Ferrari no matter how well tuned-up, a person won't behave intelligently and responsibly unless both genes and environment are sound. Every mother of two or more children knows that each child emerged at birth with a distinctive, enduring personality: No matter how much effort parent and schools make, laconic infants rarely become high-energy, retarded toddlers rarely become intelligent, hyperactive children rarely become laid-back adults.

So we must not reflexively reject genetically oriented approaches to reducing social problems. We tend to viscerally reject such approaches because they evoke comparisons with the horrific Nazis' attempts to create a master race. But there's an infinite difference between the Nazis, who wanted to kill all non-Aryans, and a society that would, for example, attempt to reduce teen pregnancy by making available in schools not only comprehensive sex education but abortion and birth control, including new implantables such as the easily-insertable/removable five-year-lasting Jadelle.

We should even consider, fair-mindedly, the wisdom of funding research that would give parents the uncoerced option, subsidized for the poor, to ensure that their children be born without strikes against them: with high cognitive ability, immunity to cancer, and even perhaps the ability to love.

#1. Legislators must steward our tax dollars as carefully as their own. As every triage medic knows, we must prioritize investing our resources not in those with the greatest deficit but in those with the greatest potential to benefit. Yet we often don't. For example, our hearts reach out to children who are most at-risk, those with the biggest deficit: special education children, inner-city kids, etc. So we've reallocated huge percentages of education spending from the now-eviscerated programs for gifted kids to the lowest achievers. We've spent literally trillions of dollars in a failed attempt to reduce the achievement gap: everything from Early Start to Head Start, No Child Left Behind to dropout prevention, adult literacy to job retraining programs.

Perhaps the most blatant example of poor stewardship of our tax dollars and of our freedoms is that government is making ever more massive efforts to attempt to cool the planet with insufficient analysis of the likely extent of benefit, the opportunity costs, etc. Environmentalism has moved beyond science to religion.

If legislators and policy makers were investing their own money, I predict they'd invest differently.

I welcome your comments.


Marlo said...

I'm not sure that behavioral genetics hasn't already been embraced. It's a very popular field of research among geneticists and cognitive psychologists. Whether or not the public embraces it as good or bad doesn't seem to have any bearing on the advances of the research. Any controversy over behavioral genetics is probably fueled by companies that falsely claim that they can--at present, or in the very near future--genetically engineer designer babies to have traits and characteristics that aren't very well understood yet.

I agree with some of#'s 6,7 and 8. But my ideal college would only require a course in basic math or practical logic, and english comp. From there, students would be free to pursue their major courses...which would be block scheduled in 4 to 6 week terms.
I think students get more out of formal education when they focus on a single subject at a time.

Lightning Bug's Butt said...

All good. I really love numbers 7 & 9.

Serge said...

A few objections about NemkoCare:
In theory fee for service works great, but in practice people will tend to either pay the closest clinic even if another one is much cheaper, because they are in pain and want to get better ASAP (like I tend to buy over the counter medicine when needed at full price, whereas virtually everything else on sale)

Other people will postpone important procedures because they will not be able to afford the latest dress or video game. I know it's irrational, but who said that humans are always rational? Medical bills are no fun, and I myself postponed some dental procedures so I can buy some fun stuff instead!

Regading global warming: what about the precautionary principe: a false positive (we slow down the economy when no global warming occurs) is much less risky than false negative (we don’t slow down the economy when global catastrophic change occurs)

Marty Nemko said...

Serge, re your comment on NemkoCare, sure, there are times people will choose to go to pay more for the convenience of a local provider but, in the end, the invisible hand of the market will keep costs far lower than under ObamaCare.

And the advantages of excess paternalism (having a patient-proof system to avoid people who'd buy a dress over preventive health care) are outweighed by the costs. Some individual responsibility is required lest the responsible pay heavily for the irreesponsible.

The precautionary principle is a horribly simplistic. Far wiser to weigh the actual risks and costs versus the actual benefits, the actual probabilities, as well as to remember that you can always change course if new data justify new decisions.

Anonymous said...

#11: Reinstate the draft or implement some form of national service. Unlike the WW2 and Vietnam drafts, this effort should offer few exemptions (for severe hardships/disabilities). It should also include both men and women. While military service is a big part of this, other forms of national service, such as medical service, tutoring, or infrastructure.

Lucymarie said...

#3:WikiLeaks is showing that Legal FactFinders face dire consequences. It's not simply a matter of getting the factual information, it's also about maneuvering around all the powerful people who want to block that information from being exposed. It's disappointing that WikiLeaks is being villified here in the U.S.

#7: I agree that schools need to be graded. But it's easy to inflate student's scores. I would suggest that the grade be based on how well the alumnae are getting along in society. If a college is being rated then such things as alumnae annual incomes and how long it took them to find jobs can be tracked.

Anonymous said...

My #1 (the others aren't even close): Stop massacring innocent foreigners in the Middle East. Withdraw all U.S. troops immediately.

Michael R. Edelstein