A Mathphobe’s Worst Nightmare

July 27, 2007 at 12:25pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

University of Nebraska-Lincoln economics professor Greg Hayden thinks it’s time to scrap the state aid to schools formula and start over. Why? For starters, the formula runs 138 pages, according to Prof. Hayden. Ouch.

Professor Hayden says that such complexity keeps the public from understanding the formula, and thus they can’t intelligently debate its merits. He is right.

State Senator Ron Raikes, on the other hand, gets a little whiny in his defense of the current formula. He asks, “If it’s cumbersome now, what is something that is better?” How ‘bout something simpler and comprehensible, Senator? He adds, “there is no effort to make a positive contribution. I would hope to see something useful policywise, but I don’t see it. It seems sort of cynical to me.” Professor Hayden isn’t a policy wonk, he’s an economist. And of course Prof. Hayden’s work comes across as cynical. How can one not be cynical about a beast of a formula that nobody understands?

Ultimately Senator Raikes decides a strawman is his best chance to shut down discussion of the issue: “If short is good, I suppose we could simply divide the money by the number of schools.” Zing! You win, Sen. Raikes.

If Senator Raikes—or anyone—can accurately distill the current formula into a couple paragraphs that policymakers and the public can digest and discuss, great. That means the formula isn’t actually as complex as Prof. Hayden’s algebra implies. But if the formula really is so complex it takes at least 138 pages to express it, then how can we be assured that our policymakers know what the heck they’re talking about? And how can Jane Public be expected to generate a sensible opinion on the implications of the formula? We can’t, and she can’t.

Senator Raikes, why do you want to shut down debate before it has even begun? What’s in the formula that you don’t want us to talk about?

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The Comments

Jake July 27, 2007 at 3:47pm

amen

CP July 27, 2007 at 5:54pm

Debate good! Fire bad!

swoof July 28, 2007 at 4:28am

Greg Hayden was my favorite professor in all of undergrad so what he says goes!

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