PSA: shun TurboTax and H&R Block

Since I wrote in 2019, the biggest tax prep companies continue to spend tens of millions to prevent making tax filing simple and easy. They’ve been fined for bait-and-switch, hiding the Free File service they were paid to offer, and overcharging Free File eligible taxpayers. Instead of giving Intuit another nickel, use taxes, a local preparer, or file paper returns.

Is a change of political climate in the air?

On May 21st,  leaders representing 6.5 million companies in 130 countries called on policy makers to shift towards low-carbon economies including carbon pricing and an end to fossil-fuel subsidies.

Yesterday, June 1st,  Six oil and gas “Majors” called on the UN Convention on Climate Change to introduce carbon pricing and markets.

If this keeps up, Fox News will admit climate change is real, Rick Perry will admit that government can create jobs, and lions will lay down with lambs.

The value of belief: anti-vaccine body count

I’ve always been a believer. As a young man, I held very strong beliefs and I was seldom shy to tell you about them. Along life’s journey I erred and learned much from experience. In all my years, the single most valuable thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter how strong something is believed, it only matters how correct the belief is.

The most critical of beliefs are those which, by definition, affect life and death. The Polio virus doesn’t care what you belief, only whether or not you and your loved ones were vaccinated. And yet here we are in the USA where vaccines are available to all, required of nearly all as schoolchildren, and yet 1,299 persons have died of vaccine preventable illnesses. Too many of them are children who are dead or mangled because their parents believed incorrectly. Please, example your beliefs, and don’t be one of those parents.

Are charter schools good public policy?

From the paper How the worlds best performing schools come out on top by McKinsey:

Though the best charter schools demonstrated significant improvements in student outcomes were possible, and certain chains of charter schools showed that reliable models could consistently deliver improvements in a succession of schools, in the aggregate, the results of the charter schools did not significantly outperform those of other schools. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) went so far as to suggest that students in charter schools slightly underperformed their counterparts in public schools, even after allowing for student background (Exhibit 4).

The most compelling argument against charter schools is that they don’t deliver better outcomes. Even after cherry picking the best (or as often, wealthiest) students out of the public school system.

They also measured the effect of simple fixes like throwing money at the problem (in the form of teachers) to reduce student teacher ratios.

Education spending versus student performance

Reduced student teacher ratios didn’t help. Other attempts at decentralizing educational policy ranged from ineffective to disastrous. So what does wok?

The highlights of the study are that, “To improve instruction, these high-performing school systems consistently do three things well:”

  • They get the right people to become teachers (the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers).
  • They develop those people into effective instructors (the only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction).
  • They put in place systems and targeted support to ensure that every child is able to benefit from excellent instruction (the only way for the system to reach the highest performance is to raise the standard of every student).

This paper highlights findings I’ve read elsewhere–Finland and Singapore didn’t create the best educational systems in the world by segregating the students. They focused on improving the quality of instruction for every student. The difference between the best performing students in Finland and any OECD nation are comparable. The top systems are better because of how far up they bring their lowest performing students.

Our National Debt

This graph makes it easy to see what’s driving our increasing national debt.

causes of national debt

Being able to visualize the causes makes it easier to understand what a proper solution would be. Ending the Bush tax cuts as soon as economic conditions allow would have the biggest impact. Ending the wars is the next biggest fiscal gain.

Margin Call

Last night we watched Margin Call, a thriller whose script is a clever copy and paste of real events during our financial crisis. Because the plot elements have nearly all been publicized in the past few years, I found no suspension of belief required to completely engage.

There is however a problem with the movie. Despite the admirable attempts to make the plot comprehensible and educational while entertaining, the movie is still littered with barely explained acronyms (CDO, CDS, MBS), unexplained concepts like leveraging models, reserve requirements, and other financial jargon. We paused the movie several times as I was asked to explain. It’s a fun movie, but I’d first recommend that people first watch Inside Job and Wall Street.

For something quite educational, Bill Moyers has a great series of educational videos called Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned its Back on the Middle Class (On Winner-Take-All Politics, Crony Capitalism, How Big Banks are Rewriting the Rules of our Economy).

Translation of Texas “representation”

This week in Washington, the House passed the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act (H.R. 1633) to ease the federal regulatory burden on farmers, ranchers and rural businesses in order to restore confidence and create jobs.

Barack Obama and the big bad gubberment are taking away jobs from red-blooded Americans! Never mind that farmers and ranch owners will not pay a living wage so long as they can hire illegal aliens for a fraction of the cost of an American.

I was proud to vote for this bill, yet another jobs bill put forth by House Republicans to empower small business owners and eliminate burdensome Washington regulations that prevent job creation and hinder economic growth. This bill prevents the EPA from issuing new dust regulations. Additionally, it gives states the flexibility to address any rural dust issues rather than the federal government.

For political reasons, I’m obstructing Obama’s attempts to create jobs for US citizens through infrastructure investment. For other political reasons (big farmers write big campaign donation checks!), I support job creation for illegal aliens because that’s good for my contributors.

We hear a lot about the need to protect our air quality and the need to ensure clean air for future generations. As the grandson of a farmer, I know the value and importance agriculture producers place on protecting the soil and water they use to grow quality food to feed the country. I would argue there are no greater stewards of the land than farmers, and that additional rules on these hard-working Americans to regulate rural dust are not only unnecessary, they can be detrimental.

I’m hoping you have a Texas education and haven’t learned that the very reason we have farmland dust regulations is because the farmers turned the west into a dustbowl in the 1930s.

Yours respectfully,

Jeb Hensarling
Member of Congress

I hope you’re dumb enough to believe everything I just said.