Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.
A federal government that is $15.6 trillion in debt is currently using its “bully pulpit” to run 16 different programs to teach citizens “financial literacy,” according to the Government Accountability Office, the accounting agency of the U.S. Congress.
Previously, relying on a study by the RAND Corporation, the GAO had reported that the federal government operated 56 programs to teach citizens “financial literacy.” However, it subsequently determined that 16 was a better count of what it called the government’s “significant financial literacy programs.”
Even among these 16 federal programs that teach citizens “financial literacy,” the GAO found that there is some duplication of efforts and no definitive way to measure the programs’ effectiveness.
The GAO said it held a forum last year where people concluded that the federal government enjoyed a unique “bully pulpit” from which it could preach to citizens about handling their money.
“At our forum last year on financial literacy, many participants said that the federal government had a unique role to play in promoting greater financial capability,” Alicia Puente Cackley, the GAO’s director of financial markets and community investment’ told a subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security Committee in written testimony submitted Thursday. “They noted that the federal government has a built-in ‘bully pulpit’ that can be used to draw attention to this issue.”
At the close of business the day before the GAO submitted this testimony, the federal debt stood at $15,623,285,528,454.41, according to the U.S. Treasury. In its latest Monthly Budget Report, released on April 6, the Congressional Budget Office said the federal government ran a deficit of $777 billion in just the first six months of fiscal 2012 (October 2011-March 2012).
“In prior work, we cited a 2009 report that had identified 56 federal financial literacy programs among 20 agencies,” the GAO told the subcommittee. “That report, conducted by the RAND Corporation, was based on a survey that had asked federal agencies to self-identify their financial literacy efforts. However, our subsequent analysis of these 56 programs found that there was a high degree of inconsistency in how different agencies defined financial literacy programs or efforts and whether they counted related efforts as one or multiple programs. We believe that our count of 16 significant federal financial literacy programs or activities and 4 housing counseling programs is based on a more consistent set of criteria.”
The GAO testimony indicated there were some questions about the efficiency of the federal government efforts to educate Americans on handling their own money efficiently.
“In our recent and ongoing work, we have found instances in which multiple agencies or programs share similar goals and activities, which raises questions about the efficiency of some federal financial literacy efforts,” said the testimony. “For example, four federal agencies and one government-chartered nonprofit corporation provide or support various forms of housing counseling to consumers—DOD, HUD, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of the Treasury, and NeighborWorks America.”
The GAO testimony also described for the subcommittee the difficulty in discerning whether the financial literacy programs were effective.
“In prior work we have noted the importance of program evaluation and the need to focus federal financial literacy efforts on initiatives that work,” said the GAO testimony. “Relatively few evidence-based evaluations of financial literacy programs have been conducted, limiting what is known about which specific methods and strategies are most effective.”
Just heard this on the news:
“The best way to make smart decisions about money is to do something smart with your money before you have a chance to do something stupid with it.”
Society is more and more technology-driven. We hear how America lags other countries in math and science education. We’re in a prolonged recession with half of all college graduates unable to find jobs. So what does the University of Florida do for its over 40,000 students?
Wow, no one saw this coming. The University of Florida announced this past week that it was dropping its computer science department, which will allow it to save about $1.7 million save about $1.4 million. The school is eliminating all funding for teaching assistants in computer science, cutting the graduate and research programs entirely, and moving the tattered remnants into other departments.
Let’s get this straight: in the midst of a technology revolution, with a shortage of engineers and computer scientists, UF decides to cut computer science completely?
Students at UF have already organized protests, and have created a website dedicated to saving the CS department. Several distinguished computer scientists have written to the president of UF to express their concerns, in very blunt terms. Prof. Zvi Galil, Dean of Computing at Georgia Tech, is “amazed, shocked, and angered.” Prof. S.N. Maheshwari, former Dean of Engineering at IIT Delhi, calls this move “outrageously wrong.” Computer scientist Carl de Boor, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and winner of the 2003 National Medal of Science, asked the UF president “What were you thinking?”
Read more here.
However, one benefit of being too busy to blog, is that things keep happening. Seems like the outcry made Florida change its mind:
University of Florida officials have dropped a controversial plan to dismantle the computer science department after mounting opposition from students and others.
“The proposal has been met with overwhelming negative response, much of which I believe has been based on misunderstanding,” UF President Bernie Machen told students in an email Wednesday. “It is clear that the University of Florida must figure out a way to make it through these financially difficult times in a productive manner. I am optimistic we can do that.”
Still, you kind of have to wonder – what were they thinking?
I hate to diet. I’m lazy and don’t exercise much. But I hate cancer more:
Cancer survivors should exercise more and improve their diets to help prevent the disease from coming back, the American Cancer Society said in releasing new guidelines Thursday, saying there’s now enough evidence to strongly recommend physical activity and better nutrition for survivors.
The message: For many cancers, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and eating a healthy diet can reduce the risk that cancer will return.
Two other groups have issued similar advice, but the cancer society’s endorsement is expected to have greater impact. It’s the nation’s richest charity in both donations and volunteers and the largest non-governmental funder of cancer research.
“[M]y life as an economist has been the source of much pleasure and satisfaction. It’s a fascinating discipline. What makes it most fascinating is that its fundamental principles are so simple that they can be written on one page, that anybody can understand them, and yet that very few do.”
April 17 was what is sometimes called “Tax Freedom Day.” Here’s an interesting article by Chris Edwards from Cato@Liberty about Milton Friedman’s concept of “Personal Freedom Day.” Looks like May 17 is the big day. In the meantime, happy Tax Freedom Day.
The Tax Foundation reported that Tuesday was Tax Freedom Day (TFD), which is the day that Americans stop “working for the government” through their tax payments and start working for themselves.
TFD is calculated by taking total federal, state, and local taxes and dividing by national income to get a ratio representing the share of income that the average person pays in all taxes. That ratio is applied to the 365-day calendar. This year the ratio is 29.2 percent, which translates into April 17 for TFD. Time to party!
But maybe not quite yet…
When I worked at Tax Foundation in 1993, I mailed a letter to Milton Friedman asking about his view on TFD. He kindly responded with a letter and a 1974 Newsweek article in which he proposed a “Personal Independence Day.” That day would be based on total government spending, which is larger than total taxes, and thus our day to celebrate freedom from the government hasn’t yet arrived this year.
In his letter to me, Friedman stressed that total spending is the important variable in assessing the burden of government: “If government spends an amount equal to 50 percent of the national income, only 50 percent is left to be available for private purposes, and that is true however the 50 percent that government spends is financed.” And while some economists focus on how government borrowing may “crowd out” private investment, Friedman said, “What does the crowding out is government spending, however financed, not government deficits.”
In its TFD report, Tax Foundation includes a supplemental calculation looking at spending. The thinktank figures that Americans will work until May 14 this year to be free from the burden of federal, state, and local spending. The Foundation is lacking a snappy name for that important day, but now we are reminded that Friedman has already suggested one.
Friedman hoped that “Personal Independence Day” would complement our national Independence Day of July 4. The latter is the day we celebrate independence from the “Royal Brute of Britain,” as Tom Paine called him in Common Sense. But for Paine and the other Founders, the deeper goal of July 4, 1776 was to create a limited government to ensure the maximum space for the exercise of individual freedom. As Paine noted, private “society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil.”
So Milton Friedman’s Personal Independence Day can be our annual reminder that while our forefathers gave the boot to the “crowned ruffians” of Old Europe, we’ve still got work to do in limiting the power grabbing of our own elected ruffians in Washington.