American Elephants

The Problem of Regulation: The USDA Lays An Egg. by The Elephant's Child

The Obama Administration is absolutely opposed to requiring photo ID to cast a ballot. But the administration’s  latest bright idea comes down as a rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requiring the nation’s farmers to prove the identity of every chicken that is transported across state lines. What? This is Ethel, Genevieve and Mabel — Henrietta is the red one.

A flock that is hatched, fatted and butchered as a single unit may be transported from state to state with a “group identification,” but chickens of varying ages and sources may be mingled. In that case, under the law, they will have to attach sealed and numbered leg bands to every bird they transport.

The feds say the regulation is needed to improve the “traceability” of livestock in order to control animal disease. However the Regulatory Impact Analysis that comes with the proposed rule lacks “any quantification of benefits of the very real costs. Nearly 9 billion chickens went to market last year, moving from hatcheries to farms to slaughter houses. Life expectancy for broilers is only five to eight weeks. In that time  their IDs would have to be changed several times  — with documentation — to accommodate leg growth. The USDA wants all such records to be maintained for five  years.

I wonder who owns the factory that produces the “sealed and numbered leg bands” and accompanying documentation forms. As they always say: “Follow the money.”

A few years back, I thought the ultimate bureaucratic boneheadedness had been achieved when the EU required farmers to write the name of the chicken and the farm on each egg sent to market. I never read of the results of that one, or if it endures. This would seem to equal the stupidity.

Benefits? Non-existent.  Any evidence of disease  typically results in the destruction of the flock. Only healthy birds are eligible for slaughter and resale. But keeping records on previously deceased chickens for five years is absurd.

This regulation clearly demonstrates that there are way too many federal employees who don’t have enough to do, and departments can be slashed or eliminated with a clear conscience. Way to go, Secretary Vilsack. You’ve just proved something many of us have been claiming for years, and demonstrated the regulatory burden that government places on small business.

These Are, They Tell Us, Obama Voters. by The Elephant's Child

Some Days Are Like This, Or It Never Rains But it Pours. by The Elephant's Child

Chaos in the house. My refrigerator died an unplanned-for death, and getting a new one is a lengthy process, involving a lot of discarded food and acquisition of many blocks of ice. Concurrently, I had to call a plumber with a clogged drain beyond ordinary home remedies. Drain reamed out, but the refrigerator drama continues.


The Higher Education Revolution Has Begun. by The Elephant's Child

Student loan debt has reportedly reached over $1 trillion. More than 50 % of college graduates cannot find jobs, and the default rate is increasing. At the national level, average college tuition costs over the last 25 years have increased 440 percent.  Nationwide, college tuition and student loan debt are increasing at unsustainable rates, and family incomes are declining.  For the first time college loan debt has passed credit card debt in totals. Graduates with big loans and unemployable majors in the humanities are in trouble.

But why the escalating cost? Teaching loads have fallen sharply — between 1988 and 2004, it is estimated that teaching loads fell 42 percent at research universities. At private liberal arts colleges that pride themselves on their attention to instruction, loads fell 32 percent. Faculty promotion and prestige are based in large part on publications that enhance a college’s reputation, and play a role in a college’s ranking in U.S. News Best Colleges. Teaching awards are apt to be a once-in-a-career thing.

Numbers of administrators and staff have grown faster than faculty numbers, and their salaries have increased significantly, a trend that continues in 2012. The median salary paid to a president of a doctoral degree-granting institution  was $325,000 by 2007. It is unsurprising that 57 percent of potential students nationally say that the higher education system no longer provides good value for the cost, and 75 percent say that college is unaffordable. That bodes well for meaningful reform.

In Texas, Governor Rick Perry has called for a four-year tuition freeze, outcomes-based funding, and increased fiscal transparency for students and their parents. And he renewed his challenge for public colleges and universities to develop degrees that cost no more than $10,000. There was, of course much scoffing,

But a year after the governor first issued his challenge, ten Texas public colleges and universities have launched or announced $10,000 degree programs. There is still much scoffing and suggestions that you get what you pay for. Last year, an important national study of collegiate learning, Academically Adrift, to measure what undergraduates actually learn in four years. Thirty-six percent showed small or non-existent gains in critical thinking, analytical reasoning and writing skills after four years of college.

In 1961, a student studied about 24 hours a week. Today’s average student studies about 14 hours. Yet the proportion of A grades has increased dramatically, roughly 43 percent of all letter grades are As, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960. College students are studying less and getting better grades, but quality of learning is plummeting. Teachers are being asked to spend more hours in the classroom.

The usual response has been to try to lower the interest rate students pay on their loans, which just lets them borrow more, and allows college costs to go up. Glenn Reynolds has written about the education bubbleThe Revolution. Change is coming. What form it will take is yet unknown, but experimentation in the states is leading the way. Texas’s $10,000 degrees are only the first shots fired in the American people’s revolt against the higher education establishment. The revolution is just beginning.

ADDENDUM: I said above that more than 50% of new graduates have been unable to find jobs. That includes those who are working in retail, or in fast food, who may have a job, but not the job their degree might warrant, and those who got a degree for which there is no demand. I realize I may have created a false impression with what I wrote.

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