Dismantling Progressive Slot Machines

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

To channel the late CBS commentator Andy Rooney, “Didja ever wonder if public school teachers stay up nights worried about whether the parents of the students can teach this class better than they?”

Well there’s a school district in Short Hills, NJ, where the faculty should be going through a collective bout of insomnia right about now. “One thing I learned is that the most powerful way in which nine- or ten-year-olds resemble grown-up Progressives is in their love of regulating things,” Joe Kernen writes in Your Teacher Said What? Trying to Raise a Fifth Grade Capitalist in Obama’s America.

Kernen co-hosts the CNBC talk show, Squawk Box. His co-author, Blake Kernen, is his wise-beyond-her-years daughter, who also inspired the title. Her dad did find a part of the education system that, if not fully functioning is at least functional: “A study by the Federal Reserve Board of New York clearly showed that the more economics classes you take in college, the less likely you are to support any part of the Progressives agenda.” Unfortunately, many don’t.

He also provides a useful analogy for understanding progressivism’s enduring appeal despite its less-than-stellar track record when put into practice. “In Las Vegas and other cities that use the mathematics of probability to separate customers from their cash, by far the most profitable ‘game’ of chance is the one played one-on-one with slot machines: Put your money in there, and pray that more comes out there,” Kernen writes. “At the very pinnacle of this one-armed banditry are pay-offs that take a small percentage of the total amount of money played in a whole network of machines, tempting arithmetic-challenged players to keep pouring money into slots hoping for a million-dollar payday.”

“Let me repeat that: a slot machine that takes money from other slot machines in order to promise a giant payday.” If you think that is the punch line, hang on.

“The technical name for this system: progressive slot machines,” Kernen explains. “Makes you think.” So does this book.

“Progressives who are reliably hostile to the idea of intelligent design in human evolution, are positively ecstatic about it in economic planning,” Kernen notes. “Of course, intelligent design in biology at least argues that the designer is divine and resides in heaven; in Progressive economics, it just assumes that the designer has a Ph.D. and lives in Washington, D. C.”

Ironically, Kernan’s own background encompasses both economics and science. He spent a decade as a stockbroker after earning a master’s in molecular biology from MIT.

In the course of his narrative, Kernen demolishes or “refudiates,” as Sarah Palin might put it, many myths. For example, he dissects the tired old assertion that the U. S. trails the world in indices of well-being, usually measured by dollar amounts spent on government social welfare programs. “With net private social-welfare added in, the United States takes the lead, with $7,800 annually, 16 percent more than Sweden,” Kernen reports. “Yes, Sweden.”

Kernen shows how the attempts of social engineers to improve the human condition with government mandates frequently go awry. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of these. Although the goal of the ADA was “to improve job prospects for disabled Americans,” “employment of disabled men in their prime earning years—age twenty-one to fifty-eight—declined after the passage of the ADA.”


Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org.