Scenario Analysis

Best-Practices Management: Scenario Analysis

A common form of risk-reduction management in industries, like finance, where results matter, Scenario Analysis is increasingly being adopted to assess the impact of policy proposals on climate change, another field where growing consensus holds that real-world, in-situ results need to be optimized. There is also enough at stake in seemingly small middle-management decisions made within institutions that collect and house valuable public and private assets and income to warrant the adoption of Scenario Analysis to mitigate risks to the enterprise.

At stake: Reducing Perverse-incentive Spillover

One of the standard problems over the past half century of institutional reforms has been the adoption of Isolated Optimization analysis and decision making throughout institutions. In the Isolated Optimization management approach, variables that the policy designer can control are optimized in isolation from the context that they will operate in. Factors that the manager cannot immediately control are excluded from the analysis and the decision-making process.

It is one thing to distinguish controllable, “Close to Home” factors from environmental factors. It is a serious overstep to ignore those environmental factors, or dismiss them prematurely as unknowable, in a strategic analysis and in making organizational decisions. Analytical reduction generally can be a useful tool for making decisions; however, it would be a mistake to equate the Isolated Optimization analytical reduction with analytical reduction generally. Isolated Optimization is just one, excessively-parsimonious variant of analytical reduction, and the risks and costs associated with this reductive variant  over the past half-century have proven too high.

Isolated Optimization policies are generally understood to be the product of the best of intentions, including positive intentions expressed toward growth, efficiency, seniority, and diversity. The problem that Isolated Optimization policies create is not bad intentions. The problems they create when they hit the road include insufficient decision-making method, and resulting bad decisions and perverse incentives.

The perverse incentive epidemic we have lived through ranges from the tax reduction movement’s perverse incentivization of labour oversupply and wage and economic stagnation, to excess carceral build up on behalf of rationalization and its perverse incentives to war, concentration camps for immigrant children, and the far-reaching reduction of public, working class life-supports in expensive economies, to financial deregulation and socio-economically perverse incentives resulting from automatic state convertibility responses to financial failures. The empirical record of perverse-incentive spillover resulting from management optimizing “controllable” immediate variables in isolation from their context goes on and on and on. It is unfortunately the management aesthetic that we have known in our era. But we have enough data on the results to respectfully require  managers to adopt the more fully-specified cost-benefit risk-assessment and decision-making methodology that is used when resources are at stake and outcomes matter.

Scenario Analysis: The Benefits

Scenario Analysis by contrast is designed to mitigate the avalanche of unintended consequences of Isolated Optimization decisions. It can be particularly appropriate and beneficial for those institutions and organizations that have insufficiently accounted for their own access to assets, income streams, and benefits relative to that same accounting made by better-organized, for-profit institutions like finance and investment firms, tech and management firms, and management-directed accounting consultants.

By extrapolating the introduction of proposed policy changes to a fully-specified environment of institutional connections and their operational mandates, including and analyzing Best and Worse-case Scenarios within policy proposals, Scenario Analysis allows a decision-making collective to make better decisions–still optimizing controllable variables, but with respect to the context they operate within.

Key benefits include:

  • Future planning – gives public-sector stakeholders a peek into the expected returns and risks involved when planning to shift budgets.
    • The goal of any business venture is to grow–to increase revenue over time, and it is best to use informed calculations when deciding to begin a transfer of public budgets to private businesses.
  • Proactive – University communities can avoid or decrease potential losses that result from uncontrollable factors by being aggressively preventive during worst-case scenarios, by analyzing events and situations that may lead to unfavorable outcomes. As the saying goes, it is better to be proactive than reactive when a problem arises.
    • Worst case scenario example:In 2012 Bain Financial (owners of Dollar Stores, inter alia) famously identified regional (hinterlands) universities as under-tapped resources for investors wanting low-risk publicly-provided assets in their tranches and portfolio mixes. In 2019 the Republican government of Alaska reinterpreted the financial industry’s asset vein interpretation of universities to mean that the public was excessively larding universities with income and assets. In lieu of inter-regional income transfer, the conservative government of Alaska stripped 41% of university funding, targeting 1,300 university workers for layoffs.

      What will happen to 40% of each regional university’s budget over the upcoming years? Will it be diverted to investment portfolios and for-profit management and software sales/data-accumulation firms? Or will it be stripped by governments and converted into regional tax reductions? Can university stakeholders and managers identify strategies alternative to facilitating or  private v. public income and asset mining?

  • Avoiding risk and failure – to avoid poor budgeting, priorities, planning, and policy decisions, scenario analysis allows the university organizations and communities to assess prospects detracting from or fortifying institutional integrity and degrees of freedom. It takes the best and worst probabilities into account so that stakeholders can make an informed decision.
  • Projecting investment returns or losses – the analysis makes use of tools to calculate the values or figures of potential gains or losses of an investment. This gives concrete, measurable data that stakeholders can base the approaches they take for a better outcome.

Case Study: Replacing University Courses with Software Rental

Let’s take the scenario of a project by a regional university’s management to replace first-year university courses with renting educational software from an international for-profit Health and Education Management and Software corporation with national and regional offices. The Isolated Optimization management approach would both design and market the policy as optimizing controllable immediate, organization variables, while black boxing how those variables will perform within the context of the same business environment it institutionalizes. In the Isolated Optimization approach, management would be simply required to present outcomes of this policy that we would expect if the organization and institution were operating in a black box, rather than in a specifiable context.

Rose colored glasses: For example, sans context, the replacement of first-year courses with capital-intensive, reduced-labour costs training software could be expected to a) allow scholars employed by the university to better use their skills, concentrating on university-level education and research (assuming the university has previously established loose income-driven or immigration-driven admissions criteria, flooding first-year courses with seriously-underprepared education-credential consumers). Sans context, and less realistically, the replacement of first-year courses with training software might be hoped to be designed to b) professionally, neutrally, incrementally introduce students of all identities to the university experience and basic work expectations, or perhaps instead to c) efficiently, objectively weed out underprepared education credential consumers after they have contributed income to the university. Sans context, the replacement of first-year courses with capital-intensive, reduced-labour costs training software could be expected to d) allow management to institute a “cost-saving” (substituting capital for labour) managerial strategy recognized by the business community and its legislatures for its contribution to profits or economic control, or e) build strong, portable relationships within international Health and Education management and software market networks. In an Isolated Optimization analysis, the policy change is presented–marketed–as a win-win all-benefits proposition. It lacks a realistic accounting of probable costs in situ. Yet in a specifiable context that such policy change will help institutionalize and operate within, these win-win scenarios can very well fail to pan out, or even produce the perverse incentives that have been a hallmark of Isolated Optimization.

Financial management corporations such as the ubiquitous Bain Capital (owner of Dollar Stores, inter alia) are part of that identifiable context that should be incorporated in analysis and accounted for in decision-making. They have long advised that privatizing multiple functions and assets of regional universities and redirecting regional universities’ public funding into financial instruments channeling organization income into private investors’ income streams will permit investors around the world to expand their opportunities to earn income on their otherwise-underemployed wealth, while the financial advisors themselves enjoy income and profits from managing these privatized assets and innovating the financial instruments that are built upon investor credence that these assets will provide lucrative income to financial firm shareholders.

The perverse incentive characteristic of an era in which a small number of people around the globe own more assets than they can productively employ in wealth-generating production is that commonly–as in the famous case of Lehman Brothers inter alia–the real, amassed assets that global shareholders rely upon to deliver market-busting returns, such as those contained in the regional public university–are simply depleted, the debts owned by financial firms are transferred into the depleted organization, and that underlying productive organization feeding the financial-instrument strategy is allowed to die, stripped of assets and burdened with transferred debt.

Financial advisors identify regional universities in particular as promising sources of private income and debt sinks because global investors are thought to be distant from the effects of regional asset liquidation. The current financial system is awash in moral hazard. As well, dedicated to private wealth, legislatures can be relied upon to let the public resources die rather than restore the public institution by taxing the very investors (possibly beyond the jurisdictional state’s reach, and due to wealth transfer, increasingly wealthier and more powerful than regional actors) whose financial investment earnings were taken out of the public resources, and debts transferred to the public resources, to boost private wealth in the first place. Socially-rational taxation currently violates wealth entitlement. Under current conditions, the perverse incentive cascade can only be nipped in the policy proposal stage, for example with effective barriers to the privatization/expropriation of public budgets.

Fortunately, the management corrective to analysis overlooking these salient contextual factors is available. Organizations can require their management to pursue a more fully-specified analysis, the Scenario Analysis. The key is requiring management modeling to incorporate context research and specification, which management will deploy in crafting Best and Worst-case Scenarios concerning the policy innovation.

If organization members have adequate freedom to hold management to competent research into contextual factors and analysis of Best and Worst-case Scenarios, these scenarios will allow management to make more valid analyses, and will allow the organization to make better decisions preserving member goals and organization integrity, including as that integrity supports regional socio-economic integrity.

The Scenario Analysis Method

Identifying Optimization Parameters

The first step is asking the members of the organization what it is that they value about their work, in this case as scholars. Compiling these answers will inform the organization’s policy optimization parameters, which will be reintroduced after the contextual identification and analysis and the Best and Worse-case Outcomes analysis stages.

Contextual Identification and Analysis – TBD

An organization needs to understand the nature of the market-related risks and opportunities it may face.

  • Each organization faces a different blend of market-related risks and opportunities.
  • The enterprise impacts related to market change may vary significantly depending on the economic sector(s)/sub-sector(s) in which an organization operates.
  • Enterprise impacts may also vary significantly depending on the following:
    • the geographic location of the organization’s value chain (both upstream and downstream).
    • the organization’s assets and nature of operations.
    • the structure and dynamics of the organization’s supply and demand markets.
    • the organization’s customers.
    • the organization’s other key stakeholders.

Best and Worse-case Outcomes Analysis, Prep

There are 3 major categories of considerations organizations face in constructing scenarios and conducting scenario analysis: parameters/assumptions, analytical choices, and impacts.

Parameters/Assumptions

Discount rate – what discount rate does the organization apply to discount future value?, see Best-case/Worst-case Scenarios, below.

Labour & technology commodity prices – what assumptions are made about how labour v. technology prices would develop over time, including economic incentives and disincentives to the in-house or outsourced development and maintenance of the skilled v. deskilled or unskilled university labour force, and multiplier effects and their social and geographic distribution? How does the distribution of in-house v. outsourced skilled v. unskilled labour impact socio-economic inequality and attendant political shifts recursively impacting university funding? How does the distribution of multiplier effects impact socio-economic inequality and attendant political shifts recursively impacting university funding?

As technology inputs allow private for-profit companies to monopolize data on stratified consumer-products (students and their households) over time, how will private data pricing impact the cost structure, to the university, to the public financers, and to its consumer-products and their end-users, of the education commodity?

In the university enterprise, as with online media, the consumers are also the product. As management and technology allow higher-education and credentialing inputs to be standardized, optimized for efficiency, and cheapened, what conclusions does the organization draw about the development over time of quality and market prices for the student consumer-product outputs of public financing, private financing, labour, and technology? How might optimizing efficiency of production in regional universities, v. flagship national universities, impact the consumer-product’s capacity to penetrate the higher-value labour markets increasingly concentrated in metropoles in a period of declining economic mobility, or contribute to stagnation or exceptional economic dynamism in regional networks?

Work demand and mix – what would be the resulting total work demand and work mix across different sources of primary work (labour, technology)? How does this develop over time assuming supply/end-use efficiency improvements? What factors are used for work conversion efficiencies of each source category and for end-use efficiency in each category over time?

Macro-economic Variables – what public financing rate, consumer-financing rate, employment rate, and other economic variables are used?

Demographic variables – what assumptions are made about population growth, migration, labour mobility and its distribution, economic mobility, socio-economic network development, and socio-economic inequality?

Institutional, social and economic distribution of benefits and costs – to what extent are distributions of income and assets, efficiency (type specified) gains and losses, sovereignty and strategic degrees of freedom gains and losses, clean energy transition, and ecologically-driven regional physical changes incorporated into scenarios, priorities and planning?

Geographical tailoring of transition impacts – what assumptions does the organization make about potential differences in input and output parameters across regions, countries, asset locations, and markets?

Technology – does the organization make assumptions about the development of performance/cost and resulting levels of deployment over time of various key supply and demand-side technologies (e.g. education and research labour, and technologies in interested sectors including financial, managerial, data accumulation, and patent rentiers)?

Policy – what are assumptions about the strength of different private-public policy coalitions and signals, and their development over time and across jurisdictions (e.g. provincial university funding, university managerial independence, collective bargaining and organized labour, Academic Freedom, Collegial Governance; subsidies for technology; subsidies for construction; marketing budgets; accounting budgets; Black Budgets; managerial and other administrative budgets; the university as conduit for increasing the public funding of international private marketing, management, education services, social services, immigration services, and financial services providers). What can we assume about the upcoming likelihood of private-public growth political parties v. anti-public political parties and governments?

Expropriation sensitivity assumptions – assumptions of privatization increase v. taxation stagnation or decrease; increased demand by financial, technology, and managerial firms for income streams, public access; assumptions about university consolidation in Canada v. spinning off regional universities or their parts into online course credential sales?

Analytical Choices

Scenarios – what scenarios does the organization use for transition impact analysis and which sources are used to assess physical impact both for central/base case and for sensitivity analyses?

Quantitative vs. qualitative or “directional” – is the scenario exercise fully quantitative or a mix of quantitative and qualitative?

Timing – how does the organization consider timing of implications under scenarios e.g. is this considered at a decadal level 2020; 2030; 2040; 2050

Scope of application – is the analysis applied to the whole value chain (inputs, operations and markets), or just direct effects on specific organization units / operations?

Financial, tech, and managerial models/data sets – which models and data sets support the assessment of privatization-related risks?

Risks to scholarship, schools, and the university – when assessing market risks, which specific risks have been included, including tje severity of their probable impact? To what extent has the organization assessed the impact to its portfolio (e.g. largest assets, most vulnerable assets) and to what extent have risks been incorporated in future organization strategy?

To what extent has the impact on prices and availability in the whole value chain been considered, including knock-on effects from suppliers, infrastructure, and access to consumers?

Enterprise Impacts/Effects

Earnings – what conclusions does the organization draw about impact on earnings and how does it express that impact (e.g. as EBITDA, EBITDA margins, EBITDA contribution, dividends)?

Costs – what conclusions does the organization draw about the implications for its operating/production costs and their development over time?

Revenues – what conclusions does the organization draw about the implications for the revenues from its key commodities/ products/ services and their development over time?

Assets – what are the implications for asset values of various scenarios?

Capital Allocation/ investments – what are the implications for capex and other investments?

Timing – what conclusions does the organization draw about development of costs, revenues and earnings across time (e.g. 5/10/20 year)?

Responses – what information does the organization provide in relation to potential impacts (e.g. intended changes to capital expenditure plans, changes to portfolio through acquisitions and divestments, retirement of assets, entry into new markets, development of new capabilities etc.)?

Enterprise Interruption due to physical impacts – what is the organization’s conclusion about its potential enterprise interruption/productivity loss due to market impacts– both direct effects on the organization’s own assets and indirect effects of supply chain/product delivery.

 

Best case-Worst case Scenarios

When performing the analysis, managers and executives at a university, school or department will generate different future states of the university, higher education, and the economy. These future states will form discrete scenarios that include assumptions about supplier business plans, product prices, student-consumer data, operating costs, politics and public funding, and other drivers of the  enterprise.

Managers typically start with 3 basic scenarios:

  • Base case scenario – this is the average scenario based on management assumptions.
    • Note: When calculating the net present value, the rates most likely to be used are the discount rate, or the cash flow growth rate.
  • Worst case scenario – considers the most serious or severe outcome that may happen in a given situation.
    • Note: When calculating the net present value, one would take the highest possible discount rate and subtract the possible cash flow growth rate.
  • Best case scenario – this is the ideal projected scenario, and is almost always assumed by management to market and institute their pre-existing preferences.
    • Note: When calculating the net present value, use the least possible discount rate, highest possible growth rate, or lowest possible tax rate.

 

Preventing Garbage In, Garbage Out: Distributed Power in Organizations

While a significant improvement on Isolated Optimization, Scenario Analysis is not immune to GIGO–Garbage In, Garbage Out hazard. Though we would like to believe that all managers are competent at identifying and analyzing environmental factors and their likely interactions with policy, it also remains that managers can often have seriously-compromised incentive to constructing effective Scenario Analyses.

This is not just because Scenario Analysis requires more work of managers, but because the same firms with a business model tapping into public-organization budgets standardly also provide incentivizing career-building, income-enhancing, and network opportunities to helpful agents within the target organization. This business model has been particularly common within sales to the public sector, which labor market is subject to legislatively-imposed income compression, stagnation, and in the course of anti-public campaigns, status degradation. In fact, recognition of this standard business model–selling both products to organizations and managerial job opportunities to helpful agents within those organizations– should be built into the Scenario Analysis, as the business model itself imposes environmental costs upon the organization.


It is easy to identify whether this business model is an environmental factor: Does the firm selling the product also support helpers’ career advancement within customer organizations, or, more ostentatiously, hire helpful agents from within client organizations? Is the for-profit goods or service provider also a management or consulting firm? Huron Consulting Group is an example of such a firm (see appendix), advertising to cooperative health care and university managers and purchasers career-mobility opportunities in its own international management and sales network expansion.


An important cost of this business model to be analyzed in decisions to adopt their products, to transfer public funding to the private for-profit corporation, is that organization members serving as agents of private firm product adoption are opening exclusively for themselves a wider field of credible employment opportunities, an advantage in employment negotiations that can allow them to command a larger share of organizational resources at coworkers’ expense. These employment opportunities may also engage moral hazard by incentivizing predatory, organization-depleting decisions from which the facilitating agent is uniquely shielded by virtue of their employment mobility through their relationship with the management and product sales firm.

The integrity of the cost-benefit analysis requires that managers not be allowed to exclude this prevalent contemporary context from analysis, and regardless of whether organization intermediaries admit an intention to take advantage of perks on offer, no policy change proposal should be allowed to proceed until such cost-benefit distribution factors are incorporated in the Scenario Analysis and Best- and Worst-case Scenarios. After all, even respected and well-remunerated professionals like medical doctors have been known to overprescribe medications under pharmaceutical rep influence.

The safeguard against disincentivized, half-hearted, ineffective Scenario Analysis is an organizational structure of distributed power, wherein organization members have the capacity to push managers for analytical improvements and policy options based on fully-specified analysis.

This is also to point out another common contextual factor today: Because hierarchical decision making undermines the conditions required for effective, fully-specified Scenario Analysis, and so permits greater opportunities for predatory decision-making capture, interested corporations, such as financial, technology, and management-consultant firms, have an especial, compelling interest in supporting hierarchical decision making in the organizations whose income and assets they target, as Bain Capital has also indicated. Therefore, in universities, active Collegial Governance is an institution essential to fully-capacitated policy analysis and sound decision making.

 

References

Bain Capital. 2012. “The Financially Sustainable University.” https://www.bain.com/insights/financially-sustainable-university/

Corporate Finance Institute. “Scenario Analysis.” https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/modeling/scenario-analysis/

Kishita et al. 2016. “Scenario Analysis.” https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/scenario-analysis

Pistor, Katharina. 2019. The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality. Princeton.

TCFD. “The Use of Scenario Analysis in Disclosure of Climate-related Risks and Opportunities.” https://www.tcfdhub.org/home/scenario-analysis

 

Appendix: Tech Sales-Driven Management Goals, Stage One

The following images summarize institutional optimizations that for-profit management and tech sales corporations are geared to sell to universities via their managers. Recall also that most tech sales firms have a less-public, longer-term business plan to eventually monopolize and monetize the data (eg. on consumer-products) that they will gain through organizations adopting their technology; this typical, staged business strategy in the present era of private property law-making can create and lock in future increased–constraining and possibly prohibitive–costs for the technology-adopting (university) organization and its (student) consumer-product base.

Advertisements

Policy Proposal: Develop Alternative Paths from University for Immigrants Who Aren’t Scholars

Political Economic Context for the Policy of Immigration through Universities in the Anglosphere under Financial and Military Rule

Population growth is a requirement in societies dedicated to aggregate (undistributed) economic growth. Much as Anglo-American societies place far less emphasis on fostering developmental conditions than attracting, hosting, and taking a cut of wealth from around the globe, Anglo-American Settler societies continuously reproduce vulnerable, disrupted labor via import, immigration, not biological reproduction, which risks a working class with contributory claims on the wealth global elites are trying to amass and store. Functionally self-perpetuating, the Anglo-American empire requires continuous mass-disruption and dislocation of populations in strategic regions; thus, the US military functionally produces via war that traumatized migration central to the liberal Anglo social model’s growth objective. Culturally, liberal Anglo societies discount the reproduction of human capital in favor of reproducing working classes with weaker contributory claims; they discount human capital’s role in technological innovation, and they discount technological innovation as an engine of growth, in favor of raw, mass wealth accumulation and the capacity to dismantle rivalry and upstarts (See Gordon 2016).

With the restoration of financial leadership in the Anglosphere and the militarization of American society, financial and militarized policing interests have increasingly come to determine who will deal with the process of immigration to minimize the costs of migration and immigration to financial accumulation and the US’s other main work– surveillance, Military “Keynesianism,” and warfare. It is financial metropoles like the City of London and New York City that produce the accumulation-focused policy templates replicated–often irrationally–throughout its tributaries, from repurposing housing and urban infrastructure into a real estate repository for global elites’ surfeit wealth, to repurposing Trente Glorieuses social citizenship institutions like the build-up of university infrastructure from mass human development to commercial R&D and direct business subsidy, as well as immigration processing.

Universities as migration institutions is a policy and institutional incentive system that looks like it might make sense from a distance, but has a lot of fundamental structural flaws that the “front-line service workers” (as Anglo policymakers construct professors) are left to jury-rig in the 100-hour workdays (in the alternate reality of policy-makers’ minds) of teachers and professors/researchers and other atavistic remnants of democratic institutions. In Commonwealth regions that adopt the finance-oriented City of London’s policy models, including processing immigration through universities, professors can manage neither their own departments (This is optimal from the professional management interest.)–nor their own workloads (This incapacity to be accountable is suboptimal even from a professional managerial perspective). This dysfunction operates to the extent that the material professors are provided to evaluate students for admissions has been found to be mostly fraudulently produced, and inaccurately represents the students’ actual capacity or propensity for education and scholarly work. In such regimes, there is little fit between immigrants and universities. Nonsensically, the responsibility for this lack of fit is downloaded onto individual professors; perhaps it will eventually drift to departments or university management, who will doubtless attempt to implement more surveillance software on employees.

Should professors be saddled with the responsibility for making universities fit immigration, since universities are generally about finishing up adult newcomers, polishing them up for market and social contribution, and this is a many-faceted task? From the professor’s perspective, undergrad education is something of a gong show; but universities have always played an adult-transition “governess” role, among the many functions that have been delegated to universities. This great social contribution, like any such indispensable, feminized, developmental social reproduction work, is readily discounted in liberal Anglo culture–particularly as it reproduces non-elites and their work, versus directly reproducing elites and wealth. So by undertaking this important, complex work, professors, educators and researchers consequently can be portrayed as doing nothing in Anglo liberal cultures. But it is in recent years that Anglo-American politicians and university managers have coalesced to fill professors’ imaginary work “gap” by expanding the en loco parentis tradition into En Loco Department of Immigration.

In addition to their other responsibilities and contributions, now professors are saddled with processing population growth for aggregate economic growth. Professors are left holding the immigration bag for no logical reason, but simply because they are not that organized or powerful a constituency. Already internally riven by professional schools divorced from scholarly purpose and married to commerce, scholars are incapable of organizing and articulating how scholarship contributes to society. In lieu of clarifying scholarship’s contributions, disciplines simply competitively market their wares while giant university administrations fund-raise and manage the help.

The US Working-class Risk Model in Credential Consumption and Immigration-via-University

The distinctive institutional resource that allows universities to manage this prescribed misdirection of migrants and migration workload transfer in the US is that, in contrast to the British system, graduate students in the US are not guaranteed the services of professors. Advising, mentoring, working on graduate students’ committees is completely up to professors’ discretion in US universities. In the US system a strong percentage of graduate students unceremoniously fade away from the academic departments where they were accepted for study–They have to individually develop a new strategy and leave academia–because they cannot secure the faculty members to sit on their committee or get faculty to continue serving on their committees. Grad students in the US have the typical American individualized high-risk contract for workers, rather than the more favorable contract that the British tradition provides students as consumers.

On the negative side, this US model allows for plenty of personalized and institutional abuse of graduate students. On the more functional side, in the US the burden is not on professors, but on graduate students to demonstrate through their own work, to their professors, that they can do the more independent work that I think employers and communities should expect of someone with a graduate degree. This virtue is currently not true of graduate students in the British Commonwealth.

But I think that in the Commonwealth, you could retain the better treatment of graduate students while making a graduate degree a signal of the holder’s capacity rather than a reflection of her or his professors’ capacity. This reform would provide stronger information, a benefit, to employers.

Anglo Immigration through Universities, A Reform Proposal: Not Just the Boot But Settler Chutes for Immigrants

US-style professor discretion allows the on-the-ground “migration agents”–professors– to evaluate students as they do work rather than be forced into overwork connecting university education and research with the incongruous expectations and needs of a migrant pool, people already under high adjustment demands and often unwilling and unable to take on graduate-degree work expectations. Those of us who think that universities contribute massively to society without taking on the huge sideline of immigrant-processing work may suggest alternative departmental, institutional, regional or Anglo policy we could find from within the British traditions that would permit us to best preserve core university work within the Commonwealth. An alternative to that American student-risk model that the Anglo tradition has foregone is policy that provides alternative “chutes” stemming off from an academic immigrant entry point.

This chute approach has strong precedent in English policy. In Anglo countries with indigenous populations, policy has institutionalized “ladders” for indigenous people to enter the social work, childcare, and teaching job markets from Community Schools that serve as poorly-funded neighborhood welfare hubs. Anglo approaches to working class motherhood institutionalize chutes from the delivery room to surveilled, socially-subsidized, low-wage, unskilled labour for businesses, a policy called Workfare. Such Poore Lawes policy, while extremely coercive, exploitative, and multi-generationally handicapping, is embedded in the Anglo tradition, and squats squarely in the liberal Anglo ideological wheelhouse. Institutionalized chutes are quite naturalized and legitimate in Anglo management and political cultures and not regarded as contributing to policymakers’ shame at all. Chutes policy should not be a hard sell in an Anglo region.

While chutes can be mainstay Anglo fare, they need not be Anglo-vampiric. The chutes from university for those immigrants without current scholarly capacity could serve as an alternative to the catastrophic deportation default, and avoid the political and litigation frenzy that the British government has incurred in going to extremes to avoid professors evaluating immigrant students’ work as academic work. And institutionalizing chutes does not have to be as carceral and debilitating as class-warfare Poore Lawes policy is. British Commonwealth jurisdictions do not have to reinstitute indentured servitude for immigrants. After all, the Anglo-American growth model depends on mass immigration, and in competition, Anglo regions need to continue “pulling” in a working-age population. Tweaking the concept, the chutes could be called “bridges.”

More substantively, building such connections for failing student-immigrants between universities as the immigration entry point and a number of secondary immigration paths–remedial education, vo-tech education, labour markets, and small-business supports–and investing in the on-the-ground university departments the discretion to direct immigrant-students to these bridges–to transfer immigrants to other settlement options rather than giving them the boot, rather than (unsuccesfully) treating failed students as if they were criminals because they try to game universities, could help correct migrant incentives and settler enculturation, including to fraud and inefficient distrust. Institutionalizing chutes can reinforce university standards, incentives, work, priorities, and credentials, rather than undermine them as current, underconceptualized, underdeveloped immigration-through-universities policy does. Moreover, by ending Commonwealth professors’ institutionally-enforced obligation to credential accepted students by hook or crook, restoring to professors the capacity to evaluate and credential students upon the student’s performance as a semi-independent worker, employers in the Commonwealth could count on advanced academic degrees to signal work skills and capacity.

Assessing Barriers to Productive Reform: The Reproduction of Financial Fraud & Rentier Grab-n-Go Cultures in Late Monopoly Capitalism

It looks that at this point in history, important underlying socio-economic priorities are mitigating against reform that preserves education and research integrity. I’m sure you saw that the British government conducted a review a few years ago, after the BBC blew the whistle in 2014, and found that a majority–tens of thousands– of migrants within their university system had cheated on their university English-language entrance exams. This fraud lies behind the massive redirection, across the Anglosphere, of professors’ workload into dealing by hook or crook with illiterate immigrants, innumerate immigrants, and immigrant-“students” who have little to nothing to do with scholarship, but quite unsurprisingly, just want to immigrate and not be bothered by extraneous stuff like university. Because they’re immigrants. And to be clear, it’s neither that immigrants corner the market on illiteracy, innumeracy, and socio-intellectual apathy. Nor is it that there are no scholar immigrants. It is that business-driven politicians and management working together to demote scholarship as the university priority helps legitimize general colonization of the university by interests that oppose scholarship, philosophy and science. When scholarship is marginalized at the university, we have renounced both democracy–which, yes, Anglo societies have renounced–and economic growth–which we have not yet admitted.

After attempting unsuccessfully to hit the emergency expulsion button, UK policymakers are unwilling to do anything about fraud and university colonization. No one has admitted that, in institutionalizing and normalizing cheating and falsification of qualifications, converting universities into a main migration institution is not only overloading and degrading the scholarly, citizenship, and even commercial development work that is simultaneously presumed to be done at universities, not only debasing professors’ capacity to administer and evaluate the progress of students to some level of adult, citizenship, and work competency, but also actively incentivizing fraud and gaming behaviour in the growing population.

It must be easy and quick for finance and defense industry interests to construct universities as needing to contribute ever more to financial accumulation. Far too easy. And yet, regional policymakers and business organizations need regional scholars to remind them when regional development interests diverge from the much-flogged interests at the financial metropoles that design and sell policy in support of metropole wealth accumulation and storage.

Even in this specific case of universities converted into immigration institutions, it’s obvious that there is a lot of work to do in coordinating Anglo-American cities and provinces– their Chambers of Commerce, developers, and policy makers– to incorporate a new generation of migrants in a way that allows newcomers–permanent and temporary–to align their own goals and welfare with regional development, to develop their best selves, work, and communities, to get the most out of the settler region that they can while re-creating a cohesive, vibrant, and capacious society.

 

Serfdom: From the American Working Class to Global Capital & China

Conservative organizer Friedrich Hayek famously, counterintutitively predicted that democratic Enlightenment and egalitarianism would restore serfdom. However, in our less enthralling, dog-bites-man history, financialized global capitalism restored serfdom instead.

Partly, as the capitalist economic coordination organizations (World Bank) like to point out, that is the cost of recycling wealth to China and India, which have been serving as the global factory. Partly, that is the cost of building up the astronomical fortunes and exclusive sovereignty of a restored, and slightly more global patrimonial capitalist class.

Class War Brings Commodified Life…

8-22-17highered_f9

…Paid for with Credit in Lieu of Income.

not including mortgage debt (presuming mortgages debts converts into private wealth at some point), US data.

debt to income us households minus mortgage

From the 1970s on, Anglosphere Rentier Capitalism Busts Out, EZ Credit Permits Housing Prices to Balloon, and Household Debt Balloons

Blue (below) is household debt, from the 1920s-2010s.

debt life

…Then, Fed on Credit Not Income, the US Working Class Hemorrhages Wealth in the 21st Century

After housing asset inflation, student & car loans expand.

total household debt us 03-16

The American Working Class Lives in Debt Serfdom, Loses Wealth, so that China Can Develop & Global Capital Can Accumulate

Chinese Money on Credit Markets

Suffering and Dying in 21st Century American Serfdom

One way of recognizing the impact of this global capitalist macro social construction is in its effects on working class people’s life chances. As working class people are in the majority, their suffering impacts population health statistics.

Regardless of current racial composition, former slavery counties continue to maintain inegalitarian slavery institutions, facilitating elite prosperity on the back of mass human stunting. The map below shows the bifurcating distribution, in the US, of declining (green) and increasing (pink) mortality in the 21st century. This is to say that life expectancy is declining in the pink zones.

divergent mortality rates, US

The orange and blue map below shows the distribution, within the US, of the “hardest places to live” (in orange). Easier living is found in the darker blue counties. The “hard places” index was constructed from data on each county in the United States on education (percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree), median household income, unemployment rate, disability rate, life expectancy and obesity.

hardest places in the US

Index and map by Alan Flippen, New York Times, June 26, 2014.

By comparing the above life-chances distribution maps to the green map below, we can note the correlation between white evangelical Christianity (light green) as a sacralized organization (associated with inegalitarian slavery culture) and crappy life chances. White evangelical Christians are just a-passin’ through this world–all rough ‘n’ tumble-like.

whats wrong with oregon

Women’s health is taking a hard hit with the restoration of class inequality within the US. The chart below shows the high and increasing rate of maternal mortality in the US, compared with other core capitalist countries.

Maternal Deaths per 100,000 live births

propublica-mortality-rates

While life chances have always been distributed by race, gender and class in the US, aggregate life expectancy has begun to gradually decline in the 21st century US. “Life expectancy in the United States has declined for a second year in a row, driven in large part because increasing numbers of Americans are dying from drug overdoses, suicides and chronic liver disease, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A baby born in 2016 can expect to live 78.6 years, which is down from 78.7 years in 2015 and 78.9 years in 2014.”–Susan Perry, US Minn Post.

LifeExpectancy640 US by race

The carceral core

the carceral state 21st c

From Bauman, Valerie. 2018. “Incarceration vs. education: America spends more on its prison system than it does on public schools,” The Daily Mail, 25 October.

Dysfunction-function junction

“Hamilton-Paterson sees the destructive impact of the ‘money men’ on industries more clearly. The catastrophic and unnecessary fate of ICI (which broke the hearts of some of my own chemical-engineering relatives) came about as men and women with long shop-floor experience and technical qualifications were pushed out of management by newcomers who claimed to be financial wizards. They weren’t. They played the great corporation for short-term stock-market gains, and they lost.

Hamilton-Paterson adds the example of Network Rail’s bungled electrification of Great Western (its cost rose in two years from £874 million to £2.8 billion). ‘That’s privatisation for you: layers upon layers of managers and accountants who know nothing about railways. The old British Rail alternative was layers upon layers of experienced railwaymen who knew nothing about accountancy but who did know exactly what electrifying a line entailed and simply got on and did it.’ Later in his book, he attacks the notion (‘holy writ’ today) that a college degree in management enrols one in a portable profession in which it hardly matters what a company does.”

Neal Ascherson, “As the toffs began to retreat” LRB 40(22).

If your goal is to play the institution housing an accretion of wealth–the corporation, or the privatized public good/service–for stock-market gains, then it very much doesn’t ever matter if you accomplish any substantive social or environmental goals.

“People talk easily about political ‘consensus’ in the postwar years. Edgerton disagrees. There was no lasting consensus between the parties on the welfare state, he says, and the idea of a ‘Butskellism’ common to Labour and Tory is a myth. Only for the ‘warfare state’ was there a consensus, to keep its secrets and to pay its vast bills. Britain’s hugely profitable arms trade is an enduring by-product of that state, and here Hamilton-Paterson contributes an unsettling thought. ‘It is the arms industry perhaps more than any other that best preserves the inventive standards and traditions of British engineering, research and technical expertise.’”–Ascherson

The Power and the Mediocrity of the Sign

In “What Americans Keep Ignoring about Finland’s School Success,” Anu Partanen reveals capitalist Anglo-America’s elephant-in-the-room-sized blind spot, why its focus on competition and “excellence” results in diminishing performance in order to promote concentrated power and idealism.

The Finns (Per Sahlberg) on education reform that demands accountability from teachers: “There is no word for accountability in Finnish. Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.” In Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility.

The Finns (Samuli Paronen) on competition: “Real winners do not compete.” There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The driver of education policy in Finland is not competition amongst teachers and schools, policy forcing the ideal conservative conditions of bellum omnia contra omnes, but rather cooperation. School choice is not an issue, nor is putting education in the hands of the private sector and profit motive. This is in distinct contrast to America, Sahlberg observes, where “schools are a shop.”

The Finnish education reform goal was always equality and equity, never “excellence” or whatever conservative daydreams that word stands in for. “Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.” What the world dominated by conservative Anglo-american capitalist dogma still cannot face is that it is equality that most efficiently produces star performances and substantive excellence.

Tiger Moms’ genius boys in Shanghai and Singpore can put in 20-hour days of rote memorization and exhaustive cramming, and only manage to approximate in performance the Finnish children who are simply well cared for and supported by valued, independent, unionized teachers and their egalitarian society. Surely, the East Asian genius boys are better poster boys for conservative capitalist discipline; but just as surely they are inefficient…and 99% of these memorizers and crammers will never be able to write a non-plagiarized essay, that is, communicate independently, like humans can.

Why does egalitarianism more efficiently make excellence? The answer is right in front of our nose, right in front of our blind spot. It’s because in the inequality tradition, poor people are overwhelmingly, structurally prevented from attaining their human potentials, and, a factor that perversely torments conservative theorists much more, the rich enjoy the comfort of knowing that surrounded by throngs of shackled “competitors,” they can enjoy many a good old slack.

In such a conservative culture, it is the appearance and ideal of excellence that matters, because the sign unmoored is directed by and justifies power. To be chosen is a sign, necessarily imposed upon the material world. The grim “play” of signs, only ordered by the mystified, atopic distribution of power in a reified collective imagination (a world not made but given, or made by all because you cannot choose unfreely), is Anglos’ obsession, and the more people you can induce to submit to this obsession, the more human life chances are allocated by market power and the more absolutely necessary capitalism (or its feudal and slavery complements)  is for any life chance at all.

At or adhered to central nodes of global capitalist accumulation, Anglo-Americans are altogether too kind, too attentive to, too solicitous of the promotional, the unmoored sign, constantly mistaking it for the legitimate, autarkic limits of knowable (meta)reality. Our literature, for one example, is far too ready to believe that the con man is the true knower.

Neoliberal Education Mangler Tactics

Michelle Rhee is a charismatic, top-notch conservative orator who knows how to destroy public education in America, with zest. Even though she was a failure when she first hopped on the public education destruction gravy train.

Joanna Bujes analyzes neoliberal education entrepreneur Michelle Rhee’s rhetorical strategy, and proposes a tactical pro-education strategy.

Rhee’s rhetorical strategy:

“I’m a maverick, fighting for children. Education is children v. teachers. To help children, we need to fight teachers. We do that with standardization/top-down micromanagement and privatization.”

Rhee is a high-earning forward on the fightin’ Right-wing Lady Mavericks team

Lois Weiner’s “A Witch Hunt Against Teachers” (2012) reveals the new divide-and-conquer public education destruction strategy: ‎

“Instead of teachers as a group being blamed for children’s lack of achievement, only the ‘bad teachers’ are going to be targeted. And who are the ‘bad teachers’ in this new campaign? Those who oppose what’s supposed to be ‘right for kids’: the use of standardized testing, charter schools, privatization — and the destruction of teachers’ unions.

Hollywood will once again enter the fray of school politics, with a new propaganda vehicle, Won’t Back Down, an action film, funded by the same right-wing think tank (Walden Media) that produced Waiting for Superman. This time Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal will carry the message that good teachers don’t need or want unions or any of those ‘selfish’ (so un-mother-like!) desires like pensions, good salaries, limited working hours.”

To counter Rhee, Bujes recommends this pro-public education talking point:

“A good education arises out of strong, healthy, respectful, supported relationships.

We need to support a great educational environment where teachers work and children learn together, so we can foster the relationships that make for education excellence.”

Finland’s superlative education reform has been built around supporting teachers and their working environment–students’ classrooms. 
Real education based in valuing teachers and treating them with respect, as a group: 
It’s not just for Nordic Middle Earth elven folk.

I see its strengths, but the weakness of Bujes’ counterhegemonic argument is that it’s incredibly vague–I think because it needs a firming step 2, like Rhee’s argument has. Me, I think we also need to reintroduce to the public the radical Dewey ideas about the importance of public education for a capable, critical, analytical, decision-making, self-organizing democratic citizenry–because our elites are making terrible autonomous decisions, repeatedly, from an overly narrow set of parameters. Occupy education.

In “We can do better than this,” Doug Henwood discusses the OECD’s recent comparative study of education success and failure.

“In the most successful systems, teachers are treated as high-level professionals; curricula emphasize creativity and complex skills; work organization is flat and collegial rather than hierarchical and authoritarian; accountability is to peers and stakeholders, not the authorities; and all students, not merely the best ones, are expected to learn at high levels. The U.S. scores poorly on many of these criteria, and many of our ‘reforms’ take us in a worse direction. 

… The (successful education reform of the Ontario) provincial government, says the OECD, ‘drew a sharp contrast between its capacity-building approach…and the more punitive versions of accountability used in the United States.’ Their approach was collegial and cooperative, not competitive. 

…In successful systems like Ontario and Finland, teachers have a great deal of professional autonomy. There may be a national curriculum, but teachers are expected to know their subject well and develop their skills at imparting knowledge. …And in most successful systems, standardized tests are rare” Henwood 2012.

Do you want to know how to actually improve education, as opposed to simply deunionizing workers so that elites wind up with more cash which to blow upon their shitty, unchecked, unproductive, counterproductive speculation cons as well as upon their beloved pastimes, political and economic mismanagement, running us into the ground, and collecting serfs? Here’s how: Finnish education reform. The upshot of real education improvement? You need political commitment, for 40 years; you need unions and teachers to help make education policy; with the exception of providing warm lunches to nourish children, you need to provide welfare, adequately, through other institutions, so that teachers can focus on teaching; and you need to support and promote the human and intellectual development of teachers as professionals.

Not constant top-down imposed testing, AKA infantilizing micromanagement. Not privatization. Not deunionization. Just the very opposite.

So you tell me: How feasible is real education improvement in the Anglosphere, insofar as real education improvement relies on improving the conditions and status of the working class labor involved? Yeah, I thought so. It’s heresy. That’s why we’re left with the code “education reform” for yet another mouldy old program to dismantle workingclass-serving state institutions and redistribute the social wealth ever upwards, to people who use it to wipe their ass.


Why is the current elite consensus on Education Reform a reactionary project?

The reactionary goal is austerity–to appropriate social wealth upward into a financial elite by, inter alia, invoking the decline of mass public education. The decline of mass public education is accomplished step-wise, by dismantling the fundamental social institutions that are required to maintain a mass public education system: “professional” (semi-autonomous, self-developmental, and organized) teachers.

Because of the structure of the market, and conservative, antidemocratic workplace law, teachers can only retain professional development so long as they have organizational independence–unions. The campaign is reactionary because it is orchestrated by elites to cannibalize and kill off working class institutions–unions, professional teaching, and mass public education. The US capitalist class is cohered around this primitive accumulation project.

An understory of middle class managers can make a living off this state-facilitated wealth and assets grab in a short-term framework. They can think of themselves as Men of Action. They can tell themselves they’re Doing It for the Children. They don’t ever have to face the big picture of what tune they’re tap dancing to…Or maybe, like Ravitch, they will when they retire with rare pensions.

[This brings forward the strategic question of middle-class neoliberal managerial rationality cost-benefit calculation: Middle class neoliberal managers make a comfortable living, but don’t accumulate much, given the ever-widening maw of inequality their work helps build. Their immediately-“successful” work creates the conditions whereby their own children will have fewer freedoms. There are big environmental parallels here.

I think that people in such a position could just as easily be pushed into the other, longer-term rationality path–If they don’t whore out, inequality will not balloon to cancel out their subordinate self-promotional economic strategy.

Except these social factors overdetermine Neoliberal Whore Rationality: 1) Social humans’ competitive positional incentives–which are exacerbated as inequality rises. This is how sociability is translated into alienation. 2) Social humans’ conservative deference to hierarchically-defined truth and value claims, especially in a milieu of elite political cohesion and homogeneity. 3) Access to and retention of jobs and incomes, where these are allocated on the basis of conformity to the elite austerity agenda. Capital’s got coercion locked down.]


Occupy: Radicalize for Education

Of course, Occupying education would mean that teachers cannot stay de-radicalized. I don’t know how they could be fence sitters at this point; but entrenched habits are hard to break, and Pew polls seem to indicate that young people have naturalized their own proletarianiation and dispossession.

Teachers have to recognize and proudly champion public education and decent working conditions–which must include unionization for most, as dependent upon a radical political-economic agenda. They have to reconsider what it is to be the good boys and girls–It’s not being non-disruptive (Though sometimes it might mean in a machiavellian way posing as non-disruptive retainers).

I know this is a socialization problem. It makes me think of my grandpa, one of the many teachers in my family. He moved his family to South St. Paul, Minnesota after WWII because that school district had the best compensation and working conditions and fostered the highest social status for teachers of any public school district in the U.S. at that time. Why? They had the most radical teachers’ union in the US. He admitted that. Yet all my grandpa could kvetch about, when I knew him nearing his retirement and afterward, was how unjust the capital gains tax was. “I’m being taxed twice!” he complained. That’s right, he enjoyed such low inequality, such access to the social wealth, such social status based in a successful working-class education system, fought for by other workers, that he imagined he was a capitalist. My grandpa, who was so sweet and kind to me, and whom I love and miss, was in that sense a parasite, a free rider but worse–who helped kill off the working conditions he himself enjoyed, along with the great public education system those conditions created. He never fought for those great working conditions he went to take advantage of. In fact he voted for, and contributed money to a political agenda to destroy those working conditions in his wake. He was a good boy. Here is the real tragedy of the commons–a tragedy, we’ve seen over and over again, that is overdetermined by capitalism’s incentive system.

It’s capitalism; it’s not supposed to be about wealth distribution–it’s about wealth accumulation. But that doesn’t justify such depths of autistic self-interest as to reify labor aristocracy and competitive intra-working class managerialism. If, against all market rationality, people sacrifice for better working conditions that improve your life chances and the life chances of your children, the very, very least that you can do is to use the resources they’ve built for you to continue the fight to replace market rationality with social and ecological rationality. (However, I also think it’s a bit late for this. After decades of conservative hegemony and the coordinated expropriation of working class institutions and resources, we’re entering an era when people will have to fight for distributive, etc., justice from nearly first base. I’m just saying, as always, that such a fight is particularly futile and aimless without a socialist backbone. We get beat down time and again by our own inability to recognize where power is accumulated, for what end, in an accumulation system.)

In the face of the current 1% despotism, a popularized Dewey education revival can be a rousing, emotional, altruism-activating collective project; and it has the virtue of taking on superficially-altruistic neoliberal entrepreneurs right at the discreetly-hidden heart of their agenda to pulp and expropriate independent working class organizations–such as unions and public education itself, a necessary-but-insufficient last-resort welfare safety net for millions of families in Anglo-American societies–and to throttle working class intellectual and political capacity…The better to primitive-accumulate, my dear.