Jane Galt has a series of excellent
posts on hurricane Katrina and the devestatin, tragic aftermath in New Orleans.
Firstly, the makes the uncomfortable point that, in the US the poor are poor
1) The don't finish high school
2) They have children outside of marriage
3) They have more than two children
4) They don't work full time
They make these choices because they are not good at making good decisions, they live in social groups that have (and enforce) damaging norms, they have personality problems. I may be putting words in her mouth, but I'd phrase it as, 1) on the margin, bad culture exacerbates bad personality traits and 2) some people are going to have bad traits and those people have to end up somewhere.
These problems are, to a large part, intractable by governments, at least in a way that's humane. Think of the incentives you would have to put in place to improve these metrics:
1) School is actually improvable -- more on this later. But in general, you would further penalize high-school dropouts (although how, I'm not sure).
2) Delegitimize children born out of wedlock just as they did in the bad old days. Deny government payouts, and shun. The bulk of this cost will need to be borne by women.
3) Penalize poor people who have more than two children, perhaps by not providing any state child support at all. Again, the bulk of this would need to be borne by women.
4) Clinton's welfare reform increased workforce participation rates for poor people. Cut the minimum wage and welfare even more, and see that number improve more.
All of the above are basically finding someone who is down and kicking them some more -- very hard to support politically and morally repellent as well. As a society, we give stuff to poor people because the are poor and try not to think about how much additional poverty those transfers are creating (this may be a lot, this may be a little, I don't know the marginal elasticity for stupid decision making).
Returning to the topic of education, one argument against vouchers is that they will enpower poor parents who care about their child's schooling to take their kid elsewhere, leaving a concentrated pool of neglected children with no positive role models at all. I think its morally dubious to place the cost of socializing neglected children on the poor (and their parents) but there is also the very real risk that parents unable to take their children out of bad peer groups will end up having their (good) kid assimilate into that peer group instead of the group becoming more virtuous. The net effect of this policy could be more undersocialized, undereducated children, not less.
Kids that are seriously neglected need more (and different) stuff from a kid who is just poor. If the merely poor students can use their voucher to go to a good school somewhere else, it enables the remainder (children who have had the misfortune to be born to parents who don't give a damn about them) to get more specialized care. These kids need fewer classes in history and more classes in life skills.
Other good Jane posts:
Jane throws a fit at some smug
European. I was informed by my own brother the other day that the Gulf Stream was broken due to global warming and catastrophe was imminent. Implicit in all of this is how bad the US is for not supporting Kyoto, even though Kyoto would do nothing to stop global warming, and the US pollutes because it produces. The irony is that my brother lives in Copenhagen, and so ought to at least know the discussion around environmental change in the local Consensus.
This post by Jane on the ignorance of left-wing commentators
is also excellent. She points out that the area devestated by Katrina is as large and the United Kindgon, and that power was knocked out of the eqiuvelent of Ireland and France.
In particular, I liked
Y'all apparently don't even need the "natural" part to produce the disaster. A heat wave that wouldn't even make a New Yorker reach across the sofa to turn up the fan killed as many people in France as the worst-case scenario for American losses to Katrina. They were apparently not saved by Europe's admirably high fuel prices, its finer moral sensibilities about the poor, its stronger committment to taking care of its citizens, or [COUGH] its enlightened attitudes on matters of race and ethnicity.
When I first came to the US I was ignorant about the country in the same way that foriegn commentators are now. I had no idea of its dynamics, scale, or breadth. There is nothing stupider than one who has been educated by sitcomes and blockbusters.