Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mystery Of The Day: Teacher Edition

Yep, a new semi-regular filler feature for days when I can't think beyond a paragraph or so. It's called "Mystery of the Day."

And since I'm married to one, here's a mystery for all you public school teachers out there. I'm confident you can all identify with this one. But really, it's a one-size-fits-all mystery, because if there's one constant to the human condition, it's injustice without reason...

So without further ado, I give you my inaugural "Mystery of the Day."

Personally, I couldn’t care less about the fundamental mysteries of the universe or existence. The forces behind things like quantum physics, metaphysics, dark energy, extraterrestrial life, unified field theory, the source of John Boehner’s weird skin glow, what went with Schrodinger's cat, the name of Glenn Beck's home planet or any of our other great scientific and philosophical imponderables are completely lost on me.

To me the greatest mystery, the most vexing question of human existence and the human condition is not who we are or why we are or what we are or whether we got this way by crawling up out of the primordial ooze or the result of some divine plan. I’ll leave that for those who care about such things.

What I wonder is simply this: Why do a relative few undeserving shit-asses get ahead in life while so many good, decent, unappreciated people doing good, important work don't?

If science can figure that one out, then maybe there’s hope for the rest of it...


  1. Well if you every do figure it out let me know. I am a little confused about the teacher part though. However most of us here at Briary River are teachers and feel the same as you.

  2. BRW, it's just an example of my out-of-touch populist political leanings, and considering the current political climate it'll probably lose me a big chunk of my mostly single-digit readership...

    I used teachers as an example because teachers perform a vital function in society, said function's intrinsic worth to that society (educating our children) being way, way out of proportion to the compensation they receive, despite what some would have you believe about how "lavish" public school teachers are paid...

    On the other hand, it seems that many people whose contribution to the good of society is a matter of debate (I'll just throw out "Hedge Fund Manager" or "Political Talk Show Host" or "Congressman" as a few examples) receive compensation that is - like teachers - way, way out of proportion to the function they perform.

    Simply put, teachers get paid very little for an extremely important job and then, inexplicably, get criticized for it by those who make millions doing nothing.

    But it's not just teachers. You could make the same argument about any number of occupations. I personally rate any blue-collar occupation much more valuable than my repesentative or senator...

  3. Chad, I too often ponder this very issue. It's also one I believe the "unworthy" refuse to address. If they did, they'd have to contend they're paid more than they're actually worth.

    To make myself feel better I play a little game in my head called "end of the world". I imagine what the earth would be like if we were forced to live as we did 200-250 years ago. Who'd survive? My guess is there are way more people in the world who's employment has them doing nothing they could translate into real skills. The hedge fund manager isn't gonna (probably) going to know the first thing about food gathering, cultivation, roughing it in general, nor have any skill set which would make him valuable in any labor based society. In short, when money is valueless, and skills valued, we'll be the wealthy. It makes me feel better knowing that when chips really are down I've got a much better chance at hanging on to my life.

    Anyway, most people are missing the point, and don't know the true wealth that comes with owning a good birddog.

  4. Dear Chad--

    I enjoy bird hunting and fishing. I have a gun collection a newspaper would call an arsenal. I own a small farm in Kansas and like to think I know a little about food production. I work on my own cars and do simple plumbing and electrical work around the house.

    I'm a hedge fund manager in Denver. Prior to the hedge fund business, I was a tax lawyer for 30 years.

    I always felt that representing people, mostly just regular people, with their problems with state and federal tax predators was a worthwile endeavor. I think most of my clients agreed. Same with our small hedge funds--we help people protect their savings and keep up with inflation. We don't borrow money from the Federal Reserve; we don't use any material leverage; we don't cheat; we work nights and weekends to keep up; our results have been very good and we charge very modest fees. I'm kind of proud of what we do.

    I attended public schools in Oklahoma. There, I had a few very good teachers and some mediocre ones, but mostly people just putting in their time. Just my opinion, but I think teacher unions have evolved to protect the mediocre teachers at the expense of the very good teachers.

    Probably OK to generalize about politicians, but not teachers and hedge fund managers--there are too many good ones and bad ones to paint them all with the same brush.


  5. John,

    No shit? You mean a real live hedge fund manager reads (or at least one post) my blog? I thought the only people who read this thing were family, the terminally bored or people being punished...

    I don't agree that teacher's unions have evolved primarily to protect mediocre teachers at the expense of good ones. I think teacher's unions are value-neutral in that their function is to protect teachers period, regardless of worth, as a matter of due process.

    However, we could debate that all day. I'd rather get to your defense of hedge fund managers because quite frankly, I've used them as a punching bag for so long that I'm flummoxed one of those mythical creatures found my blog.

    So you say that not all hedge fund managers are greedy Gordon Gekko types out to screw the system?

    Really? Is there some sort of cut-off in terms of the fund's capitalization and geographic location and target clientele, below which everyone's real good folk but above which everyone's greedy super-rich SOBs?

    I'm not being flippant, I really want to know...

  6. Dear Chad--

    yeah, a real hedge fund manager, I guess.

    I can't say I know many other fund managers (and I include mutual fund managers in the same pot because mutual fund managers and hedge fund managers are pretty much the same). Most of the ones I know, especially the older ones, are OK. I don't hang out with them socially as not many of them enjoy hunting and fishing and drinking beer.

    Everyone who works for us is first rate. With two exceptions, we've never lost a client except by reason of death. The two exceptions were clients who suffered large losses in investments they made with Bernie Madoff--investments they made on the advice of others.

    Some fund managers who've never been thru a bear market still have rough edges, but that's true in every field--it was certainly true in the practice of law. We're in Denver and I'm sure it's different on the coasts, like nearly everything is.

    There are no really large hedge funds in Denver, so I can't draw any conclusions regarding capitalization vs. honesty or congeniality. If you're looking for SOB's in finance, I'd look at those funds (or quasi-banks) that borrowed heavily from the Treasury under the TARP program and at those that seem to be operating a revolving door with the Treasury--you know the names. I'd also look at those individuals and institutions that contribute heavily to national political campaigns--that's not done for altruistic reasons.

    Getting back to teachers' unions for a minute, we may have a different take on due process and you may have a personal interest in teachers (I seem to recall your wife is a teacher). Doesn't it seem to you that many times teachers' unions do their darnest to protect even the worst of teachers, those that by all objective standards shouldn't be teaching? If children are the priority, shouldn't everyone support accountability and school choice? I'm a libertarian, too.

    If this post makes you crave a new punching bag, I have several suggestions.

    I do enjoy your blog (or most of it).

    your obedient servant,