Friday, March 03, 2006

Jeremy Zilber Speaks! 
Here's Jeremy Zilber, author of "Why Mommy is a Democrat," answering my post from the other night. He posted in the comments section, but few people actually read the comments, so I owe it to him to move his rebuttal to the main page. Here's Mr. Zilber, verbatim:

Sorry you find me so vapid and obtuse, but for someone who claims to be interested in accurate research and facts, you sure are misrepresenting what I said. My argument wasn't that private schools pay higher salaries; rather, I said private schools have more money to spend on teachers, facilities, etc. I said private schools are able to hire MORE teachers (which is one of the reasons they tend to have smaller class sizes) and attract BETTER teachers (in part due to the smaller class sizes, better equipment, nicer buildings, etc.). It's true that public school teachers make higher salaries on average, but they also have heavier workloads, and, I suspect, are more likely to teach outside their fields of expertise. I should add that private school teachers are much more likely to receive subsidized or free housing. In other words, you can't judge a school's wealth simply by looking at its teachers' salaries.

You also claim that I'm "such a craven puppy" that I "can't even own up to the idea that the elephant represents Republicans." Really? When I was asked the question, "So you've actually got a page in the book where the Republican elephant squashes the bench of the homeless man?" my response was "That's right." How is this not owning up? I did say that children wouldn't understand the elephant's symbolic meaning, but that's a far cry from suggesting the elephant isn't meant to represent Republicans.

Obviously you don't like my book or me. So be it. But if you're as right as you think you are, and I'm as obtuse as you think I am, then you ought to be able to prove it without having to distort or fabricate.

Fair enough, and thanks for writing in, though I don't think I'm fabricating anything. But I will be more specific about my objections to a book LIKE this, as well as to this book in particular.

My reference to the Nazi era anti-semitic children's book "The Bad Mushroom," while flirting with a violation of Godwin's Law, was deliberate; Both books are meant to indoctrinate children against their fellow countrymen. Both books are meant to divide, and not unite. While the Mushroom book was focused on singling out Jews - in the most vile and reprehensible way imaginable - a reader today could see right through it. But Zilber's book, while much more subtle, because the recipient of its venom is more dispersed, is insidious in its own right: Zilber's aim is to indoctrinate children into the ways of class warfare. If the text wasn't enough, then Zilber overstates the point by placing a stereotypical poodle into the hands of a woman meant to symbolize "the economic elite."

No, Zilber won't say they're meant to represent Republicans. He's coy about it in the interview, saying "draw your own conclusions."


But as any student of history knows, class warfare has a horrendous bodycount of its own. And at its root, European anti-semitism is itself a displacement of class warfare and class resentments, distilled into ethnic charicature. Anti-semitism in Europe (and to the extent it exists in the U.S.) is itself an outsprout of class resentments against landlords, money lenders (since midieval Christians were prevented from charging interest on loans, but Jews had no such provision, Jews became a source of credit - and all the irrational resentment that goes along with it, and thus was laid the kindling for a thousand pogroms throughout Europe through the centuries.)

Zilber's reflexive rhetorical class warfare is of the same stripe as historical "soft" antisemitism. But soft antisemitism has frequently been converted to hard, violent antisemitism. All it takes is a charismatic leader to turn a simmering resentment into blood in the streets.

Zilber's book is kindling for an insidious fire. And the fact that it is a children's book makes it all the more objectionable, because by targeting children with his poison, Zilber is trying to infuse his own class resentments directly into the cultural DNA.

One of Zilber's remarks, at about 3:40, is particularly telling: Zilber explains why he wrote a children's book because he doesn't want children to grow up "saying I'm a Democrat because I hate Republicans or because that's what my family is."

The very fact that this guy can make such a construction with a straight face: "I'm a Democrat because I hate Republicans" belies the poison that has infused itself into the activist left: "I hate Republicans." Silber does nothing to discourage hate. Silber recognizes the instinct. But he's part of the machine that sews this hatred, so he can't reject it. He can't use his children's book to work against hatred. His book is steeped in it.

No, there's no getting around it: Hate is a primary motivator in the Democratic party today. The leader of the Democratic Party himself, Howard Dean, has publicly stated "I hate Republicans and everything they stand for." There's no softening or sugarcoating possible. You can't argue that Dean was taken out of context. "I hate Republicans. Res ipsa loquitur. "The thing speaks for itself."

A fish rots from the head down - and every organization eventually assumes the personality of its leader. And Silber's set of cultural assumptions, and his failure to challenge them, places him very high up on the DNC cultural spinal column.

Silber, at about 4:30: "A lot of Americans don't know why they are Republican or Democrat. All they know is that they are what they are, and they hate the other party, and I don't think that's healthy for a democracy."

Ok, Mr. Silber - If you don't think it's healthy, then why do you create a book in which an elephant tramples a homeless man's bed, and in which you depict those who have been sucessful economically - those who've been PRODUCTIVE - poodle-hugging charicatures of selfishness and greed?

And if you don't think it's healthy for a democracy to hate the other party, will you join me in calling for Howard Dean to step down as the Democratic Party Chairman?

Silber at 7:25: "For those who have the resources to help those without the resources.

Hmmm. Where have we heard that before? Oh yes..."From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."

History has shown that if you just leave it to the free market, the poor just get poorer."

That's a pretty big statement to make. I don't think it's true. I will concede that the wealthy will come into a greater fraction of the available wealth, because they simply are able to invest. But investments work because they create new wealth. No investment can work, in the aggregate, without a wealth creation engine somewhere. And because of that wealth creation engine, everyone who participates has the chance to better his condition. The poor don't get poorer under a free market system. The poor get richer. They just don't get richer as fast as those who own the means of production. A pure free market economy would likely quickly revert to a high Gini factor. But the standard of living at all rungs of the socioeconomic ladder has relentlessly increased since the dawn of the industrial revolution - and not because of redistributionism, but because of labor-saving innovations like running water, sewage, electric light, and modern appliances.

As for the elephant, here's what Zilber has to say:

Host: The picture shows this big, menacing an elephant going down the path and the mother squirrel is shielding her children from this menacing elephant. Did you mean to suggest that Republicans are dangerous to children.

I mean to suggest that...I mean, that's partly tongue in cheek, and not something that children are going to be picking up on. A young child...is not going to have any idea of the symbolism of an elephant.

Yes. And that is precisely what makes this book so manipulative and vile. Zilber admits he relies on the hermeneutic relationship with an adult reader to buy into the symbolism of the elephant. But that, in an adult reader, is a conscious and ultimately voluntary act. The adult reader can give his informed consent to allow himself to be manipulated in that way. The child, on the other hand, cannot give his informed consent. This isn't Bugs Bunny cartoons with Ish Kabibble singing "In Der Fuhrer's Face." The elephant is meant to symbolize other Americans.

Zilber also tries to deny that the preservation of the legality of abortion is a core position of the Democratic Party, proving that denial ain't just a river in Egypt.

Zilber: I would oppose any children's book that goes out of its way to teach children that people with an opposing political philosophy as somehow evil.

How very rich. Of course, Zilber excepts his own book, on the grounds that children don't equate the elephant with the Republican party. But Zilber doesn't just use elephants to make his point - he uses wealthy white people to connote evil. They aren't anthromorphed animals done Richard Scarry style. He equates what he calls "the wealthy," "the economic elite of this country" with evil.

Zilber also points out, at about 25 minutes into the interview, that the Social Democracies of Europe, with strong Socialist parties, have much smaller gaps between the rich and poor, and that many Europeans when they come to the United States are aghast at the poverty that exists here. I guess that's why they recently sent more than 300 French towns up in flames.

Zilber then goes on to say that American income taxes, relative to the rest of the world, are quite low, "and I don't think that Americans appreciate that." What Zilber also doesn't seem to appreciate, though, is that American unemployment rates are a fraction of those in France and Germany and elsewhere in Europe, and American economic growth - the real engine of wealth generation - is much more robust in the United States. Zilber also fails to appreciate that Gerhard Schroeder pushed very hard a few years ago to lighten Germany's business tax burden - in some cases, cutting business taxes by 50% - in order to make his country more competitive.

Zilber also makes no mention of the lack of career options for women in European economies, recently highlighted by Newsweek magazine, as a result of the onerous mandatory benefits for new mothers, which make young women almost unhireable for smaller businesses who cannot afford to grant them months of paid maternity leave. As a result, European women are condemned to a life of part-timing and underearning, even as their counterparts in the United States are nearing economic parity, once you adjust for time spent away from the work force.

Host: Jeremy, is there anything about freedom in your book?

Zilber: Well...um....there's a page about playing by the rules.

Really, I don't think that ought to be that hard a question to answer. Unless freedom is no longer a Democratic value.

On the education funding question:

Zilber: ...The Republican budget has cut Pell grants, and cut other funding for schools. Bush refuses to fully fund the No Child Left Behind Act.

Host: We don't want to go too far down that path, but Federal spending on Education has increased what? 70, 80, 90 percent under this Administration?

Zilber: And Democrats keep asking for more?

Host: How much is enough?

Zilber: When our schools say they have enough money.

Mr. Zilber displays an astonishingly naive view of the education industry. At its heart, it is no different than the military-industrial complex. It will expand to fill the available budget, and still find the need for more. There is no bureaucrat on the planet who will tell you he has enough money to do everything he wants to do and cannot productively use another dollar. Indeed, if you simply replace the word "schools" in Zilber's statement with the term "military-industrial complex," the fallacy of his position is drawn into bold relief, and even a liberal would be able to understand the bankruptcy of Zilber's analysis. Which brings us to one of the most shockingly stupid statements I've seen anywhere:

Zilber: one of the reasons that college costs are rising is because the Federal government doesn't give enough money to the states.

What!?!?!?! Where on God's Green Acre is the constitutional logic in that screwball pitch? Is the federal government supposed to be the tit for everything? The states have the power to levy taxes, including income taxes. The states also have the power to prioritize their own spending. The states are free to set their own fiscal policy. If the states choose to fund their pork barrel politics at the county level and not prioritize their own state college systems, and choose to cut back on their subsidies, that is NOT the fault of the federal government. Nowhere in the constitution does it say that post-secondary education is a federal responsibility. Indeed, the 10th amendment specifically reserves that function to the states or to the people. The fact that a college professor who ostensibly holds himself out to be an expert on American politics cannot discern this very basic tenet of federalism is a scary thing, indeed.

Not only does Zilber's argument fail politically and constitutionally, but it fails on economic grounds, as well. The fact is that if subsidies for post-secondary education increase at ANY level of government, that will not decrease the cost of a state school education. It will only serve to hide that cost. Indeed, costs will only increase, because the relationship between supply and demand will be uncoupled. Demand will artificially increase because education will APPEAR to be free. But in reality, every dollar that goes to subsidize education must be carved out of the backs of a working man, or out of the capital gains of someone working hard and taking risks to get ahead.

This is not to say I oppose such subsidies. But let's be realistic about their cost.

The illusion that a subsidized benefit is free - or that ANYTHING is free (except a risk reduction through diversification under Modern Portfolio Theory) - is a uniquely liberal fallacy. And a very basic one. I usually hope that college professors have the fund of information and critical thinking skills to recognize this. Especially ones with an area of emphasis in American Government.

Perhaps I expect too much.

Lastly, let's visit one of the areas where Mr. Zilber specifically objects to my characterization of his words. Here's Zilber, at about 35 minutes into the interview:

One of the reasons private schools outperform is because they charge high tuitions, wealthier kids go there, and they are able to hire better teachers, or more teachers, more to the point, they have smaller class sizes, better equipment, and a lot of it comes down to having more money.

Holy buck-toothed tree-dwelling rodents, Batman, we have the solution to the problem! If, as Mr. Zilber concedes, private schools deliver better results, and if, as Mr. Zilber himself argues, that's because private schools are able to hire better teachers, and if, as Zilber again argues, that is in part because of the smaller class sizes that private schools are able to offer, then it's time to cut teacher salaries. Cut them NOW. Cut them to the same level as private school teachers - by as much as 40 percent. In the aggregate, they shouldn't mind. Because when you use the savings to hire more teachers, you can reduce class sizes, thus providing teachers with a intangible benefit that should more than offset the cut in pay. After all, if this were not true, then Zilber's argument collapses.

In this way, you should be able to attract better teachers to the public schools. By Zilber's logic, the ones who would quit would not be the ones you want to retain, anyway, since the better teachers are NOT motivated by money, but by the better working conditions and smaller class sizes offered in private schools.

Mr. Zilber, will you join me in calling for an across the board reduction in teacher salaries? If not, why not? Whose side are you on? The teachers unions? Or the students themselves?

Or is it not really a matter of "class sizes," anyway?

At any rate, Zilber's argument collapses altogether on this point: It's not a matter of teachers' salaries at all. The reality is that teachers are subsidized by nonteacher spouses). Zilber concedes, in his letter to me, that private schools are able to provide MORE teachers, BETTER teachers, SMALLER class sizes, and BETTER equipment. But they do all of this with a per pupil budget significantly lower than those of public schools, almost across the board. I'm left scratching my head wondering why on earth Zilber can be defending the incompetent halftards who put together our educational system. They cost more, and deliver less benefit to the student. Frankly, they're underperforming their peers. But Zilber, and the rest of the American left, continues to make excuses for and enable the undereducated class that produces Education colleges so dumbed down that many students don't bother buying textbooks and creates people who continue to believe that the word "certificate" is a verb.

So there are my objections to the premise of Zilber's book, to some aspects of its execution, and to Zilber's specious reasoning, in more specific form.

Splash, out


I should add that private school teachers are much more likely to receive subsidized or free housing.

Say what? I have never heard of a private school teacher receiving a housing subsidy. I cannot believe there are significant numbers of private school teachers who receive this.

When our schools say they have enough money.

How about a little ACCOUNTABILITY first - so that we can associate a given level of dollar inputs with measurable educational outputs.

one of the reasons that college costs are rising is because the Federal government doesn't give enough money to the states.

College costs are rising faster than inflation because cheap credit is available - low-interest loans backed by the government. Colleges know that they can charge more tuition, and students can and will borrow more money in order to pay. This is the same motor that's been driving the housing bubble...

I'm flattered that you feel I'm worthy of so much attention, but I'm afraid I don't have time to respond to all of your points. I think you're wrong about almost everything, but let me just hit a few of my favorites.

First, as for the Dean quote: it only serves to make my point stronger. As I said, I wrote a book that tries to give Democrats a positive alternative to educating their kids about the party. The other alternative, which apparently you are advocating, is to let Democrats' kids learn about political parties by watching people like Dean and Mehlman trading insults on TV. Then, when little Johnny hears his parents screaming something about Mehlman and the Republicans being a bunch of lying jerks, he'll know he's a Democrat. How, I wonder, is THAT going to reduce the level of anti-Republican hostility in future generations?

And then there's this:

Me: "A young child...is not going to have any idea of the symbolism of an elephant."

You: "Yes. And that is precisely what makes this book so manipulative and vile. Zilber admits he relies on the hermeneutic relationship with an adult reader to buy into the symbolism of the elephant."

Ok, so now you've done a complete 180. First (according to you) I was saying the elephant isn't supposed to symbolize the Republican party, and now (according to you) I was saying that parents are expected to explain the symbolic elephant to their children. In fact, I said neither. I specifically said that the elephant is meant to represent the party, but that children wouldn't get it, which is why this is a positive book as far as the child reader is concerned. If parents are inclined to go out of their way to explain the symbolism to their kids, then I suspect their kids are going to receive that message with or without the book. Check out the testimonials on my website. Do any of them say anything like "Finally -- an easy way to explain to my kids why Republicans are evil!" No. And none of my customers have suggested anything of the sort. You may be an expert on any number of things, but you clearly know nothing about my intent or my customers' intent.

And I just can't let this one go without commenting:

"Zilber also tries to deny that the preservation of the legality of abortion is a core position of the Democratic Party..."

What I actually said on the air....
"I certainly agree that Democrats are pro-choice, by and large, but that is a far cry from saying that the Democratic party supports abortion."

In what way is this dishonest? Had someone asked me, "does the Democratic party promote the preservation of the legality of abortion," I would certainly have said yes. But that's not what I was asked. It's easy to make someone look bad if you take their answers out of context and/or snip off the parts you don't like, but what's the point? I could just as easily say about you: "Jason thinks anyone who reads this book to their children is basically a Nazi." But, that would completely misrepresent the spirit of your comment, which is something I wouldn't do. You -- who, somewhat ironically, claims to be interested in uniting -- seem to have no problem undermining my statements in precisly this way.

Let's look at a final example of distortion. Here's your version of an exchange:

Host: Jeremy, is there anything about freedom in your book?

Zilber: Well...um....there's a page about playing by the rules.

And your interpretation of this exchange: Really, I don't think that ought to be that hard a question to answer. Unless freedom is no longer a Democratic value.

And now... here's s the COMPLETE exchange, including the parts that you apparently don't want your readers to know:

Host: Jeremy, is there anything about freedom in your book?
Me: Well (a few uh's and um's) there are certainly messages to 'live and let live.' There's an emphasis on playing by the rules -- a page devoted to playing by the rules. There's a page devoted to being nice to people who are different. So I think... I don't use the word 'freedom' or 'liberty' explicitly in the book... but I think there are implicit messages that freedom is a good thing."

And let me point out that immediately before this exchange, I said to a caller (who'd suggested that Republicans care more about freedom and Democrats care more about equality): "I think there is truth to that. I think both parties ideally would like to have freedom and equality, but I think when push comes to shove... I think Democrats do tend to favor giving up some degree of economic freedom at least, in order to make sure that the poorest of the poor are taken care of, and Republicans tend to not to be willing to give up nearly as many economic freedoms. I think that's probably a fair generalization."

And after hearing all this, you come up with: "Really, I don't think that ought to be that hard a question to answer. Unless freedom is no longer a Democratic value." And you do this while claiming to be concerned about the potential for my book to divide Americans?

Excellent critique of Zilber [I listened to the podcast also]. I noted that you're well informed on education issues. Other resources you may find useful are the 2005 Cato Journal: "Creating a Competitive Education Industry", which has a dozen excellent articles, and my post "Education reform: hope for high schools" [the Gates Foundation is up to some good].
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What's most disturbing about this Zilber guy is that he is a college professor, and as such perhaps a fair representation of the kind of unbiased, thought-provoking, "critical thinking" that is endorsed on our campuses. I (stupidly) wrote him to comment on the questionable choice of promoting an "us against them" mentality in children who were too young to comprehend the limitations and distortions of any political system. He pieced together several unrelated elements of two different emails to prove that I was incapable of forming a coherent argument, all the while repeatedly refusing to address the main points relating to the illustrations in his book. He also chose to ignore my question as to why, if it was meant as a reinforcement of "positive ideals" he didn't simply leave out the depictions of evil, rich people blocking entrance to private universities and just include his nice squirrel drawings. This guy is an example of someone who's read enough to form a coherent sentence, possesses a decent vocabulary, but chose to curtail his "bigger picture" thinking as soon as the world became too complex and frightening to safely exist with his "partner" and "cat" while simultaneously keeping his eyes open.
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