Washington Monthly - September/October 2015 - 15

tilting at winDmills marriage and families accordingly (our twenty-six-year-old daughter is smack in the middle of that demographic). It'll be a while before the bulk of the Millennials have school-age kids of their own, and hence the extra incentive to invest their tax dollars in the system. This means that America may be headed toward a sort of educational fiscal cliff in which support for K-12 education drops for an extended period of time, at least among middleclass and affluent whites. I can think of one possible countertrend. American suburbs, where most people live, are aging, and undeveloped land in those suburbs is disappearing. When that happens, home prices become more tied to the perceived quality of public schools, and spending on schools tends to go up, according to a study by Christian Hilber of the London School of Economics and Christopher Mayer of the Columbia Business School. If you oppose, as I do, encouraging endless expansion of the suburban fringe, and favor developing older, closerin suburbs, here's another reason to think we're right: it's good for the public schools. Quit outsourcing junkets One point this magazine has been hammering away at for a while is that the best way Congress can insulate itself from the influence of moneyed interests is to increase its own capacity to gather information independently, rather than rely on those same interests for such information. A good example of this are the trips lawmakers take overseas during recesses. Such trips can provide lawmakers with a crucial on-the-ground sense of what's going on in countries where U.S. interests are engaged. They can also look to voters like subsidized vacations for elected officials (and sometimes they are). So Congress has developed what it considers a politically palatable workaround: let outside nonprofit groups pay for this "officially connected" travel, with elaborate rules to ensure transparency of the funding sources. In 2013, ten lawmakers and their staffs visited Azerbaijan, a repressive, strategically located, oil-rich former Soviet republic not known as a glamorous getaway. Azerbaijan is exactly the kind of country find much to disagree with in what he had we should want our elected officials to to say: that the regime of austerity that know something about. The trip was spon- Greece's European creditors had imposed sored by five nonprofit groups with names was "madness" and would only prolong like "the Turkic American Federation of the country's Depression-level economic Midwest." It was later revealed that the suffering; that "Greece does need strucnonprofits had been secret pass-throughs tural reforms and it needs them soon"; but for a trip actually paid for by Azerbaijan's that the European powers also need to restate oil company, which was seeking re- ciprocate by negotiating "a further haircut lief from U.S. sanctions for an oil pipeline. to the debt and a moratorium on payment In late July, after a lengthy investiga- of the debt, so that we can ... [help] the tion, the House Ethics Committee cleared Greek economy recover and [allow] Greek the congresspeople and their staff of any citizens to live in dignity." In January of this year, Tsipras did bewrongdoing-an understandable ruling, since the same committee had pre- come prime minister. Anyone who's been approved the trip and there was no evi- reading the papers knows what happened dence that the lawmakers or their staff next. A half a year of endless high-wire knew in advance about the secret fund- negotiations began, with Greece's coning scheme. But it's hard to avoid the sus- troversial finance minister, Yanis Varoupicion that the trip garnered a less than fakis, battling the creditors, led by Germaobjective view of the situation in Azer- ny, who moved not an inch. In July, after baijan, given who paid for it. Back in the spring, when I talked The frustrating thing is that the to friends, their attitude was "Why whole controversy can't those Greeks get their house in could have been avoided had Conorder?" Now, Germany's reputation gress-which, you'll is taking a well-deserved beating. recall from your reading of the U.S. Constitution, has the power of the purse-simply paid the a referendum on the latest draconian Euseveral hundred thousand dollars the trip ropean offer in which Greek voters basicost with government funds. Instead, it al- cally told the creditors to fuck off, Tsiplowed itself to get played by a foreign gov- ras relented. Greece agreed to further tax ernment, then commenced an elaborate increases, government pension cuts and internal investigation-including the pe- reforms of Greece's stifling business regrusal of nearly 190,000 pages of materials- ulation, and privatization of governmentwhich, if you added up the expense, proba- owned assets like electric utilities, in rebly cost as much or more than the trip itself. turn for another bailout package, virtually all the money from which will flow right back into European government banks. "A catalog of horrors" Some of the reforms may, in the long In the winter of 2013, a fellow Greek run, benefit Greece. But there's not even American friend of mine with good po- a pretense on either side that the deal litical connections asked if I wanted to (which as of this writing isn't finalized) interview Alexis Tsipras, head of the will do anything in the short to medium radical-left SYRIZA party and, my friend term to lift the Greek economy. Indeed, said, "probably the next prime minister conditions in Greece are considerably of Greece." I jumped at the chance, and worse than they were before Tsipras took my interview with Tsipras ran in our over and deteriorating fast. Did anything good come from SYRIZA's March/April 2013 issue. Tsipras struck me as a nice guy: up- quixotic efforts? Well, one of the credibeat, articulate, nonchalant. I couldn't tors, the International Monetary Fund, is Washington Monthly 15

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Monthly - September/October 2015

Contents
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