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Megan McArdle

Lousy Economy Is Giving Us Smarter Teachers

When the whole world was going to hell, the safest place to be was a government job in a big city such as New York.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, both my parents worked for either the City or the State of New York. (No, the irony of their first child becoming a libertarian columnist is not lost on any of us.) This is a rich source of lore about many areas of state and local government, but here's one of the most interesting tidbits: Both of them report that back then, you often came across people of unusual competence and brilliance in the city bureaucracy.

Oh, sure, you also came across Inertia Man, who was determined not to stir from his chair until the time came to collect his pension. But in the 1960s, they say, there were also some really first class managers in the senior ranks of the civil service. By the 1980s, however, they had all retired.