Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts 

By Patrick F. Cannon

Money in Politics

Complaining about how Federal elections are funded is a fruitless exercise. Unless the Supreme Court finds a way around the First Amendment by reversing itself in its decision that political contributions are a form of speech, then the only real way of reforming the system is to amend the Constitution. Good luck with that. It is interesting, though, that the average voters seems to be getting immune to all the sleeze tossed in his or her direction. Maybe the only true beneficiaries of all this PAC money are the broadcast media.

Pension Facts

I was curious, so I found that the average Chicago teacher pension after 28 years of service is $42,000. I got this number from the folks who run the retirement program. The maximum Social Security benefit at the regular retirement age of 66+ is $31,956. To receive that benefit, you would have to pay the maximum withholding tax for 35 years. While the rate of 15.3% (including Medicare) – shared equally between the employer and employee – has not changed since 1990, the maximum taxable income has risen from $51,300 to $118,500, and can be expected to continue to increase in the coming years.

I understand that Chicago teachers are paying a 2% share of the pension tax, as opposed to the 7.65% withholding that Social Security mandates. Chicago teacher retirees are also guaranteed a 3% annual cost of living increase. Since 2010, the average cost of living increase under Social Security has been 1.2 percent.

Promises, Promises

Donald Trump wants to build a humungous wall along the Mexican border. Forget for a moment that there has been a net outflow of illegal Mexican immigrants in recent years. Trump claims that his negotiating skills will force the Mexican government to pay for the wall. To accomplish this, he will stop US residents from sending money back to Mexico. If, through some miracle of bi-partisanship, he manages to get Congress to go along with this, two things will happen: Western Union and the other companies who handle these transfers will scream bloody murder as they go out of business, and a new black market will replace them. How about a rational new immigration law instead?

One of Bernie Sanders’ more appealing ideas is free tuition at public colleges and universities. The cost to the taxpayers (that’s you) has been estimated at $75 billion per year. Frankly, I think it would end up being much more. While the Federal government already provides some funding to most colleges and universities, I wonder if people are aware of the sheer number of schools involved. For example, each state has a primary university, usually the one established by the land grant program of the 19th Century. Illinois has its main campus in Urbana-Champaign and satellite campuses in Chicago and Springfield. It also has a second system that includes Northern and Southern Illinois universities, among others. There is also an extensive system of community junior colleges. All are already supported by Illinois and local taxpayers.

The countries that do provide free tuition limit the numbers who get this benefit by a rigorous competitive examination system. This is one reason, I think, for the high number of foreign students in American colleges and universities. If you graduate from high school in this country, you are almost certain to find a place in at least a community college. A better answer, in my view, would be an increase in outright grants to the poorest students and an overhaul of the student loan program.

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Copyright 2016, Patrick F. Cannon

2 thoughts on “Random Thoughts

  1. The money spent on federal elections in this country is appallingly absurd. Equally absurd is the length of these frickkin elections. They never end! Shorten them!! To put a new chief executive in place should require no more than six weeks. As it is, by the time the new president takes office, and starts work on his or her glorious legacy, campaigning for the next election has already begun. No wonder these things eat up so much money.

    Chicago teachers’ pensions, from the numbers you quote, hardly seem extravagant. Trouble is, taxpayers fund pensions not just for them but for the cadres of administrators and staff who populate the public school system and no doubt outnumber actual teachers. The CTU is proud of those numbers.

    I saw a study not long ago that showed how government college aid actually caused college tuition costs to go up. I also took a look at the balance sheet of our state university system. It is a very wealthy and prosperous organization. Many of the graduates are not faring as well, though Purdue under Mitch Daniels has instituted innovations to put more value into the quality of outcomes.

    The city colleges of New York used to be free. My sister graduated from Queens College and her late first husband got his degree from Brooklyn College. As you note regarding free schools in other countries, the city college system was then very competitive to get in. Back in the sixties the political left attacked the system as being discriminatory against minorities, and forced the college to drop academic admission qualifications. The colleges still operate, but at nowhere near their former academic level. And tuition is no longer free. The Bern is living in the Roosevelt era.

    This sort of brings us to Trump and the Teddy Roosevelt era. If by some cosmic turn of perversity this guy manages to bluster his way into the White House, we will witness the greatest federal train wreck since Mussolini. By the end of six months into his term they will need to build a wall, north and south, to keep American citizens from getting out. Perhaps in that sense Mexico may be willing to pay for its share.

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