(This OregonPEN is published early to allow the staff to celebrate a 32nd wedding anniversary on its usual Saturday delivery date. Normal delivery will resume on the following Saturday.)
Claims that program must cut benefits is attempt to undermine it by destroying its popular support
Steven Hill has a knack for being right about wonky important things that require real insight and original thought, instead of just repackaged conventional wisdom. For example, with Rob Richie, Hill founded Fairvote, originally known as the Center for Voting and Democracy, which has done important work on reforms to make U.S. elections better, advocating for the national popular vote, proportional representation, and ranked-choice voting (also known as "instant runoff voting." Fairvote is probably the leading non-partisan election reform nonprofit in the United States.
Hill has since applied his knack for original thinking to other issues, and his latest book is a timely look at Social Security system. Since Reagan, the war cry of the Very Serious People is that the US must have "entitlement reform" because . . . well, because all the Very Serious People say that we must! Their silent caveat is "because we refuse to cut the Pentagon and we have no intention of giving back any of the tax-cuts we stole since the Reagan years."
As Beacon Press (publisher of The Pentagon Papers) notes, Hill has made a habit of being ahead of the curve: Steven Hill is a Senior Fellow with the New America Foundation and a Holtzbrinck Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. He is the author of six books, including Raw Deal: How the “Uber Economy” and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers, which was selected by The Globalist as one of the Top Ten Books of 2015. His op-ed’s, articles and media interviews have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Politico, CNN, C-SPAN, BBC, Financial Times, Guardian, Bloomberg News, Fox News,National Public Radio, The Nation, Salon, Slate, Observer, Fast Company, Business Insider, HuffingtonPost, Le Monde, Die Zeit, Al Jazeera and many others. His other books include Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age and 10 Steps to Repair American Democracy. He is a co-founder of FairVote/Center for Voting and Democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @StevenHill1776 and visit his website.
The US retirement system, with all its components parts including Social Security at its core, has been the yellow brick road leading to a pot of gold at the end of most workers’ careers. Social Security has demonstrated its value decade after decade, and it has been one of the most successful government programs of all time. And yet it is threatened now more than ever by leading politicians, business leaders, and media pundits who insist, despite all the facts to the contrary, that Social Security benefits are no longer affordable and must be cut. To the extent that there is another “side” of this debate over whether to cut Social Security, it comes mainly from those who are on the defensive, fighting merely to maintain Social Security as it is, or those who propose incremental reforms to preserve the status quo—even though the status quo is increasingly inadequate. Neither “side” of this debate is addressing the reality of America’s retirement crisis.
The Governor's handpicked panel of non-visionaries put together to dream up a "vision" that allows for business as usual issued their report. OregonPEN will have lots to say about the plan fantasies later. For now, we will just document the panel's touching complex of beliefs that amount to "If we all close our eyes to trends (such as record-breaking droughts and temperatures, year after year), they can't hurt us."
Oregon is a state blessed with incomparable natural beauty and a strong economy prized for its agriculture commodities, forest products, and its technology goods and services. Its people are also renowned for their civic engagement and innovation in public policy. This is a place where people from all parts of the country want to live, and where Oregonians want to stay. We are here to raise families, do business, enjoy our golden years, and take part in our shared high quality of life.
Oregon’s Transportation: A History
The panel believes that the findings outlined in this report w a lasting and positive impact on the fabric of Oregon’s econ and security, as well as the vibrancy of our communities. We are also greatly encouraged that, from across Oregon, there is support for our shared transportation system and clear focus on the need to maintain the system we have today, address con meet seismic needs, and make appropriate investments in transit.
Between January and March of 2016, the Transportation Vision Panel held a series of eleven Regional Forums across the state.
Investing in Transportation
For decades, investments in transportation were grounded by the principle of ‘the user pays’ and supported by robust trust funds that both built and maintained transportation assets. In recent years, the revenue raised to support trust funds is no longer sufficient. The reasons for the shortfall vary. Even so, the need for adequate resources to maintain and improve a multimodal transportation system remains.
The "Oregon Transparency" website - lies, damn lies, and statistics
Dead reckoning – Part 2
Last week, OregonPEN published the first in what will be a series on Oregon's "dead reckoning" ability -- how well public agencies perform in terms of having a clear and accurate sense of their own performance at any given time. As any sailor knows, dead reckoning can be a life-saver, or a deceiver that guides you onto the rocks and disaster. The difference arises mainly from two things:
1) How carefully the navigator trying to steer a course behaves in terms of keeping track of the heading and progress actually made, without regard to hopes and wishes; and
2) Whether the navigator overcomes human nature and honestly incorporates the signs that internal problems and external forces are producing travel in directions other than the desired course.
Whether Oregon public agencies are any good at planning for the future is difficult to know; however, it seems likely that agencies that do a good job knowing what their past progress has been are the ones in the best position to plan for the future. So in this issue, OregonPEN visits a website that provides links to some of the Oregon state agency "annual progress reports" submitted to the Legislative Fiscal Office, just to get a rough sense of whether agencies take the reporting obligation seriously and try to make it useful for themselves and the public.
What stands out when sampling this site and the agency self-evaluation reports?
First, the progress report format seems designed to defeat or at least seriously deter transparency. Individually prepared reports that do not use a common set of agency metrics prevents comparison of agencies, despite the principle of “transparency” that is supposed to animate the whole effort. Worse, the progress reports themselves are scans of static paper reports containing inconsistent low-resolution black and white graphics, so that there are no live links and no connections to the underlying data. In other words, although these reports are prepared using digital tools that make it possible to provide inexpensive, real-time, vivid updates of all the key metrics, Oregon has instead chosen to force the data out of the digital realm and onto paper so that it is an information dead-end. Anyone trying to use these reports to assess agency performance against other Oregon agencies faces a hopeless task.
Second, even the ordering of the reports works against real transparency, because the reports are presented in the least useful order possible, alphabetically. This trivial point is actually not so trivial, because the way the agency progress reports are presented has a good deal to do with how likely they are to be viewed and considered, and how easy is it for an Oregonian to turn the data into usable knowledge.
The Accountancy Board is not ranked first in terms of importance to understanding what state government is doing. Absent a better plan, the agencies reports should appear according to budget size, or budget categories, with the major agencies grouped as one category, minor agencies another, professional licensing boards in another. The object should be to group like with like, to promote comparisons and , present the reports according to agency importance – how much that agency affects the people of Oregon. While this can be difficult to know (the DMV might be the agency with the greatest amount of contact with Oregonians), agency budget provides a reasonable index for ranking agency importance.
Another problem with the presentation is that the agency listing approach provides no warning about gaps. No matter how long they were given, few Oregonians looking at the Oregon Transparency website are likely to note that the Oregon State Bar, the organization responsible for licensing and regulating attorneys, is nowhere to be found there. Are reports from other important state entities missing?
Third, Oregon allows all agencies to create or propose their own performance metrics. That sounds reasonable until you seek to compare two agencies that serve similar functions, such as the Board of Accountancy, the Board of Dentistry, the Licensed Professions Counselors & Therapists Board, the Licensed Social Workers Board, the Medical Board, the Board of Medical Imagine, and so on down the professions. While the professional licensing boards are superficially diverse, they are essentially all the same – each one is the body that is supposed to oversee and implement the regulations that the state has deemed necessary to apply to members of that profession for the benefit of the public. A real transparency effort would require all similar agencies to use a “Common Core” of performance measures, supplemented by any agency-specific measures that are appropriate because they add value in terms of helping Oregonians understand what they are getting in return for the resources spent on that particular agency.
Fourth, related to the problem of allowing agencies to define their own performance measures, it is impossible to summarize the data using a common measure. That means that Oregonians have no simple way to judge performance of one agency against another, even when there are similar metrics being used that could be made comparable with some effort. Compare that to the way that the federal Department of Transportation auto mileage regulations create a common standard of comparison (mpg, or miles per gallon rating) for city and highway driving. Even though personal vehicles range from enormous SUVs and big pickup trucks to tiny two-seaters, every gas vehicle completes a standardized testing regime and is assigned a city and a highway mpg rating figure. Even if these DOT ratings are off in an absolute sense, because the tests don’t reflect real-world driving conditions, they are still valuable because a would be car-buyer can still rely on the ratings to rank the different cars being considered, since every car completes the same testing.
This same issue creates another problem, namely that of “standardless standards.” Without a common basis for comparison between agencies, it is impossible to assess which agency or board sets the standard to which the rest should aspire. Without common measures, there can be no cross-agency benchmarking. Without benchmarks, agency performance measures and goals reflect agency culture, morale, and history instead of realistically attainable results.
Wherever there are agencies and boards with common functions within Oregon, the performance measures should not just be comparable, they should also be compared, and all the agencies should be ranked against each other, measure by measure, and the best performing agencies on any given measure should be studied to determine what they are doing that the rest are not.
Where there are truly no in-state agencies with a similar function to compare against, each agency should be responsible for identifying out-of-state agencies to benchmark against.
Probably the most important problem with the Transparency website is the “streetlight problem.” The streetlight problem is named for the old joke about the drunk who gets kicked out of the bar and finds that he has lost his keys, but only looks for them under a streetlight where visibility is good. In this electronic world, it is relatively easy to get good visibility for a number of activities that are easily tracked and measured. What is important, on the other hand, is how well an agency’s chosen performance measures actually reflect something important about the agency’s product rather than its inputs, its ends rather than its means.
What separates dead reckoning from simply robotic recording of course and speed changes is that the navigator is continuously assessing how well reality compares to the idealized (estimated) track that would be traveled if the engine speeds ordered and the course headings chosen did not have to operate against hidden factors such as tides, currents, compass errors and wind. It is tempting for any agency to dispense with this assessment part, and to simply measure inputs and activities – investigations opened, investigations closed, delays, etc. – without ever bothering to look at whether the problems that caused the agency to be formed in the first place are being addressed or not.
Another way to describe the streetlight problem is the old saying that “When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it can be pretty hard to remember that you were actually sent there to drain the swamp.” Report after report on the Oregon Transparency website shows this perfectly: each report presents a handful of “key performance indicators,” or KPIs, that refer only to easily-measured busyness or internal agency activity, with no reference to any real-world outcome that would be meaningful in terms of the agency’s purpose.
In medical research, this is the “intermediate endpoints” problem, where researchers fail to remember that the goal is health or longevity, not some intermediate measure such as lower cholesterol. In the last fifty years, American medicine became fanatical in pursuit of lower cholesterol scores, and drug sales soared, even as heart disease and other chronic diseases soared apace.
For real transparency, the “key performance indicators” need to really be about performance in draining the swamp that the agency was created to drain, with a focus on results in the real world, outside the boundary of the given agency. And the measures actually need to be “key,” and not just easily keyed into a computer. That means selecting important endpoints about things that actually matter to regular Oregonians (health, crime, environmental quality, etc.) instead of the barrage of intermediate agency-centered midpoints such as how fast the agency responds to inquiries, issues permits, or conducts investigations.
A maxim of quality management is that “a crude measure of something important is better than a precise measure of something that’s not.” The Oregon Transparency progress reports are filled with precise measures of nothing important, mostly about agency internal process instead of about real world outcomes that affect Oregon, and all are presented in a way that masks and conceals deficiencies instead of providing actual transparency so that problems can be identified and addressed.
Many of the Oregon Transparency reports illustrate many of the shortcomings noted above, as well as others not mentioned. However, one agency report in particular exemplifies the problems with the entire project.
The progress report from the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission could be an “anti-Transparency” award winner, as it stands head and shoulders above the rest in displaying a commitment to obscure and excuse performance rather than to present it fairly. Not only are all four TSPC metrics all intermediate process/busy-ness rather than important outcomes in terms of the agency’s stated mission, the text accompanying the report flatly attempts to contradict the data in the report.
In any public agency, if the key performance indicators are actually important at all, then poor results cannot be ignored or minimized. In its claims that the agency is actually performing well, the TSPC report asks the reader, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own lying eyes?”
TEACHER STANDARDS and PRACTICES COMMISSION
The first specific indicator is simply responding to phone and email contacts within 3 days. This provides TSPC with an opportunity to look reality in the eye and deny it, stating that
"We do not have actual data, but in reviewing results with many of our neighboring states (through informal conversations), it appears that even though we are not meeting our own expectations, in the educator licensure arena, Oregon's office excels at customer service."
As with the 3-day response data, the data on the rates of licenses issued within 20 days is presented mainly to argue for additional resources; apparently, failing to meet performance targets -- even key performance measures -- year after year causes no introspection among management as to methods and processes. Instead, TSPC highlights its own failure to find real benchmarks, which continuing to insist that all is well: "Our customer service survey respondents tell us we are generally faster than California, Washington and Arizona when it comes to issuing licenses. We do not have data on how other state agencies fair [sic] in this area."
1. OUR STRATEGY
The next indicator is the TSPC's rate of closing investigations in 180 days. Again, TSPC ignores that its function is actually quite similar to that of many other regulatory and licensing agencies in Oregon, not to mention in other states. Yet, according to TSPC, "It is difficult to find agencies with similar staffing; similar procedures and similar numbers of investigations." As if the only fair or useful comparison is not with any agency that does not do exactly the same sorts of investigations with the same number of staff.
1. OUR STRATEGY
The graphic for the final TSPC performance indicator is a candidate for a special award in the "How to Lie with Excel Graphs" - one must not merely glance, but must look carefully at the graph to realize that the right-most bar is not the latest result, but is rather the claimed target, although presented as a bar on the chart. This is even leaving aside the quality of the data, which seems extraordinarily weak, as the text connected to the graph highlights.
According to the agency itself, even cherry picking the positive data is not enough to bring the overall satisfaction of customers (teachers) out of the range of abysmal; nonetheless, TSPC determines that the data is good because it "gives general perception of agency's above average performance."
What the agencies claim to have accomplished
Name of Agency Performance Progress Reports
Accountancy, Board of Progress Report
Administrative Services, Department of Progress Report
Advocacy Commissions Office Progress Report
Agriculture, Department of Progress Report
Aviation, Department of Progress Report
Blind Commission Progress Report
Business Oregon Progress Report
Chief Education Office Progress Report
Chiropractic Examiners, Board of Progress Report
Columbia River Gorge Commission Progress Report
Construction Contractors Board Progress Report
Consumer & Business Services, Department of Progress Report
Corrections, Department of Progress Report
Criminal Justice Commission Progress Report
Dentistry, Board of Progress Report
District Attorneys and Their Deputies Progress Report
Education, Department of Progress Report
Employment Department Progress Report
Employment Relations Board Progress Report
Energy, Department of Progress Report
Environmental Quality, Department of Progress Report
Fish and Wildlife, Department of Unreported
Forestry, Department of Progress Report
Geology & Mineral Industries, Department of Progress Report
Government Ethics Commission Progress Report
Governor's Office Progress Report
Higher Education Coordinating Commission Progress Report
Housing and Community Services Progress Report
Human Services, Department of Progress Report
Indian Services, Legislative Commission on Unreported
Judicial Fitness and Disability Commission Unreported
Justice, Department of Progress Report
Labor and Industries, Bureau of Progress Report
Land Conservation and Development Department Progress Report
Land Use Board of Appeals Progress Report
Lands, Department of State Progress Report
Legislative Administration Progress Report
Legislative Counsel Progress Report
Legislative Fiscal Office Unreported
Legislative Revenue Office Progress Report
Library, Oregon State Progress Report
Licensed Professions Counselors & Therapists Board Progress Report
Licensed Social Workers Board Unreported
Long Term Care Ombudsman Office Progress Report
Marine Board Unreported
Medical Board Progress Report
Medical Imaging, Board of Progress Report
Military Department Progress Report
Mortuary and Cemetery Board Progress Report
Naturopathic Medicine, Board of Progress Report
Nursing, Board of Progress Report
Occupational Therapy Licensing Board Progress Report
Oregon Health Authority Progress Report
Oregon Liquor Control Commission Progress Report
Parks and Recreation Department Progress Report
Parole and Post-Prison Supervision, Board of Progress Report
Pharmacy, Board of Progress Report
Psychiatric Security Review Board Progress Report
Psychologist Examiners, Board of Progress Report
Public Defense Services Commission Progress Report
Public Employees Retirement System, Oregon Progress Report
Public Safety Standards & Training Department Progress Report
Public Utility Commission Progress Report
Real Estate Agency Progress Report
Revenue, Department of Progress Report
Secretary of State Progress Report
Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Progress Report
State Police, Oregon Progress Report
Tax Practitioners, Board of Progress Report
Teacher Standards and Practices Commission Progress Report
Transportation, Department of Progress Report
Treasury, Oregon State Unreported
Veteran´s Affairs, Department of Progress Report
Veterinary Medical Examining Board Progress Report
Water Resources Department Progress Report
Watershed Enhancement Board Progress Report
Youth Authority, Oregon Progress Report
Overview of Oregon's Resilience Plan
A splendid 2015 New Yorker magazine article woke a lot of people up to the fact that here in Oregon, we're overdue for a catastrophe of Biblical proportion, an civilization-leveling earthquake likely to run from magnitude 8.0 or even ten times or more powerful at 9.0+ (quake magnitudes are logarithmic, so each ordinal step, such as 1 to 2 represents an increase in earthquake strength of 10 times).
The paper below is a good overview of the situation, with recommendations for response.
In January 2011, three Oregon earthquake safety advocates suggested in the pages of the Oregonian  that Oregon should take new steps to make itself resilient to a big earthquake.
The definition of (physical) resilience can be better illustrated with the resilience triangle diagram as shown in Fig. 2.
Of all the skills needed to take a nuclear submarine out to sea for months at a time and then bring it home safely, perhaps the most important one is the least heralded and very much the least “modern” of all skills used onboard these fantastically complicated vessels, with their nuclear reactors, sophisticated surveillance devices, lethal weapons, and complex life support systems.
It’s a skill that would’ve been familiar or even ancient in the time of Homer, and it has never not been in daily use all over the world, from shallow coastal waters to the deepest blue seas. It’s so simple that it’s almost overstating it to call it a skill–rather, it’s more of a discipline, a discipline that reflects that word’s root meaning in scholarship, because students of this ancient discipline learn to survive.
Dead reckoning involves keeping track of your course and speed throughout the voyage so that you can plot your best estimate of your current position on a chart. But that’s only the first step to the safe navigation of the ship. What makes dead reckoning work is that, as you plot your course for hours and days and sometimes even weeks, you draw a constantly expanding circle around the point that you hope represents your own true position. That circle of error grows larger and larger the longer you have gone without ”getting a fix,” which doesn’t have to do with drugs although it’s possible to see sailors craving a navigational fix with the same intensity.
Because safe navigation requires that you never let any part of that ever-expanding error circle touch any known hazards, such a shallow waters or submerged rocks. The only way to shrink that circle is to get a fix – to establish your true position with certainty, such as by finding multiple landmarks with the periscope and “shooting” bearings to those landmarks, and drawing the resulting bearing lines on your chart. With luck, the lines all converge at a point, the point where you must have been to view those landmarks from those angles. With such a fix, you can collapse your error circle for a brief moment … though it begins building up again immediately until you get your next “ground truth” fix.
Even more important than the temporary comfort of re-establishing your position with certainty for a moment is what else a fix allows you to do:
A fix after a period of dead reckoning lets you gauge – with real numbers – how good or bad your dead reckoning was, and the rate at which your estimate of your own position is degrading.
And since dead reckoning is pretty simple – the distance you travel in any given direction is simply how fast you are going times the length of time you head in that direction – when you get a reality check that makes you see just how far off your dead reckoning position estimate was compared to reality, what you are really getting a handle on are all the factors you can’t measure directly or control from inside a submarine: You are getting the integrated summation of all the errors and hidden forces that create a difference between your theoretical (dead reckoning) position and reality: ocean tides, deep currents, wind forces, instrument errors, and a hundred other, including the degree to which the sailor at the helm wobbles around the ordered course and the degree of astigmatism in her eyeglass prescription.
If, in the six hours between two fixes, you managed to put a nautical mile between where you thought you were at the moment of the second fix and where the second fix actually showed that you were, you just established what you should assume is your minimum error rate. And with that minimum error rate established, ship’s safety requires you to assume that you will continue to suffer that at least that same rate of positional uncertainty in the future, minute by minute, hour by hour. And that shows up as a bigger and bigger error circle around your position estimate.
That is, if you have found that you were off by a mile after six hours between fixes, then until you have hard evidence to the contrary, you have to let your position error estimate – the ever-growing circle around your dead reckoned position -- grow at the rate of 1 nm per six hours (.17 nm/hour). That’s even if you do nothing but simply sail in (what you believe to be) a straight line for six hours under what you believe to be perfect conditions with no tide, current, wind or wave effects. You learn, the hard way, that your “dead reckoning” position is not the point in the center of your circle. To the contrary, you must always assume that you are actually sailing at the very edge of the circle, on the side closest to the nearest hazard – the undersea mountain, the submerged cable, or what have you.
Without the humility of the error circle, dead reckoning is a recipe for running aground and causing the loss of the ship with all lives. And if fixes are easy to come by – if you’re sailing along a coast with lots of buoys and on-shore landmarks – it’s easy to keep “shrinking the circle” so that it never gets so large that it interferes with where you’d like to go.
But get well away from shore, or get socked in by bad weather such that visibility is nil, and the error circle keeps growing and growing, such that you can wind up unable to go in the direction you want to head because the huge positional uncertainty circle includes hazards in several directions. Until you get some ground truth that lets you shrink the error circle, you are stuck in deep waters, unable to approach the shore.
And that’s where things go wrong. Because it takes iron discipline – in the sense of toughness, not learnedness – to refuse to let your human ego and fondest wishes lead you astray. Humans are less rational creatures than we are rationalizing creatures. And humans in hierarchies are primed for groupthink, which is what leads to refusal to remain humble in the face of fervent desires. When people really want something, and when their superiors really want something, it’s quite difficult to resist the urge to start “shrinking the error circle” based on phony pretexts (rationalization). Nobody says that they want to shrink the circle because, if we don’t, we won’t be able to reach the harbor on time and they’ll miss the Super Bowl or whatever. Instead, they invent persuasive arguments to claim that the error circle was needlessly large, and that it can be reduced without risk.
What does dead reckoning have to do with Oregon, except for helping explain why some of the many ships lost off our coast found a hazard where they hoped for a safe harbor?
Just this: Public agencies – all public agencies, but most especially those that either make or rely on long-range forecasts -- need to learn both the humility and the discipline of dead reckoning, of having a constantly growing measure of uncertainty around every number that they forecast. We need for all government statements about the future to be qualified with the agency’s current dead reckoning error, using numbers that are based on past agency performance, not the hubris of the management.
When an urban renewal agency forecasts the dazzling results to be had from seizing private homes through eminent domain and lavishing cash on contractors and developers to build a new project, there are countless implicit forecasts made, and so the agency should have to show, for each one, how well the agency estimates have performed historically, and the largest of those historical errors should be applied to the proposed project outcomes, giving taxpayers a way to assess those sunny estimates against the wisdom of experience.
Imagine if Oregonians got accustomed to asking all politicians and public officials for the error estimates that apply to every public pronouncement.
Imagine the day when, after the politician proposes longer prison sentences and claims that these longer sentences will reduce crime rates, the citizens respond by pointing out that we know, with hard numbers, that the error in this kind of forecast is approximately infinite (because our prison sentences are already so excessive, longer prison sentences have roughly the same effect on crime as sentencing according to the astrological chart of the prisoner).
Better yet, imagine the discipline of requiring politicians and educators to report and apply their own error rates to their rosy forecasts about the benefits of the next round of “improved” standardized testing for students.
The Oregon Department of Transportation – which is best thought of as simply the Oregon Highway Department hiding under a flimsy pseudonym – is the classic offender of blind dead reckoning without feedback.
They have the dead reckoning part down – they apply a simple formula to draw a straight line from a past known position (say, measured traffic volumes) to a foregone, forecast conclusion (that we have to pour more concrete and asphalt and build more bridges).
But ODOT and other agencies never do is determine their own rate of error expansion and apply that to future estimates.
One measure of autism is the degree to which an autistic person is unable to recognize social cues from others – the feedback from other people about how the autistic person is perceived. Public agencies are positively autistic in their spooky, otherworldly ability to be fantastically wrong in their forecasts, year after year after year, and never have that message penetrate into the part of the agency responsible for forecasting.
That chart is the government equivalent of a ship's navigator who regularly finds that the ship’s true position is actually 20 miles or more outside the fix expansion circle (error uncertainty estimate), the circle that is supposed to be the maximum possible error in the ship’s estimated position. But instead of heading for deep water and safety until the cause of this huge error is understood, this navigator simply sets the error estimate to zero and goes back to dead reckoning (making the same errors in the next forecast), never once asking why reality is so vastly different from the forecast.
From roads and bridges to prisons to energy facilities, from tax policy to spending programs justified by projected returns on investment – for any expensive, long-lived project that takes a long time to plan and construct or implement – the most important thing to a for a planner – and for taxpayers – should be in forcing the planners and politicians to study their own tendency to err, and to include that tendency in all subsequent forecasts. And they must be forced to identify whether that tendency is random or is biased in one particular direction, like the DOT estimates that always, always, always, always shoot high, which just happens to be the direction that requires lost more highway projects.
The other thing that anyone who forecasts or who pays taxes should keep constantly in mind is the way that forecasting requires humility, because it takes humility to admit that your estimates have errors, and that those errors increase with time. And staying with this humility requires great discipline, because it’s demoralizing to have to confront the fact that most of what we actually know is much smaller than we like, and the uncertainty about what we do often dwarfs the amount we can have confidence in.
This discipline is critical because the effect of the errors grow as the size of the decisions grow, and government tends to deal in large decisions. A tiny 1% (0.01) error estimate in the ship’s measured speed is a much bigger problem at 20 knots rather than 5 knots. And a 5% overestimate of traffic demand compounds year after year, producing an estimate that is twice the actual demand in just 14 years.
Just as a ship’s navigator who wants to get home safely must be obsessed with understanding and minimizing the accumulating position estimate errors, citizens who want government to work well must become obsessed with getting government to adopt the discipline of measuring and applying its own forecasting uncertainty to all its programs and projects.
(To be continued.)
Why is Corporate America still in sackcloth and ashes over the death of the late Justice Antonin Scalia? More than anything else, it's because they operated for nearly 30 years under the protection of Scalia's Curse Against America, which was made up of his unyielding commitment to serving corporate power and ensuring that ordinary Americans could not possibly get a level playing field in disputes with corporations.
Scalia was the most radical jurist of the 20th Century, and his unique racket was to pretend to be a faithful servant to Constitutional constraints, while actually acting with complete abandon to junk precedent and tradition whenever it suited his pro-corporate agenda. Scalia was the Donald Trump of the Supreme Court, a truculent child who liked to bully and belittle anyone who opposed him or his agenda, and to hell with the "losers" (regular Americans) shortchanged by it.
But the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Senator Elizabeth Warren's brainchild, is working on lifting Scalia's Curse Against America with new rules, rules that will let regular people band together against abusive and predatory lenders and hold them accountable in real courts.
Below is a piece by Paul Bland, Executive Director of Public Justice, a public interest nonprofit that has worked tirelessly and heroically to educate America about Scalia's Curse and to restore to America the idea that no one -- not even a powerful corporation -- is above the law.
Oregonians already benefit from the work of Public Justice and the countless other groups that have fought for years to pry open the courthouse doors shut tight by Scalia's Curse, but the real benefits will come when the rules go into effect. Expect more wailing and gnashing of teeth on Wall Street, with the declining corporate media here in Oregon echoing their cries and predicting that the sky will fall if a regular Oregonian can actually get a day in court.
Banks and payday lenders have had a good deal going for a while: They could break the law, trick their customers in illegal ways, and not have to face any consumer lawsuits. Armed by some pretty bad 5-4 Supreme Court decisions, they could hide behind Forced Arbitration clauses (fine print contracts that say consumers can’t go to court even when a bank acts illegally), even when it was clear that the arbitration clauses made it impossible for a consumer to protect their rights.