Why do parents choose a particular school? What information do they consider in making that choice? Do they prioritize high standardized test scores, rigorous college preparation, moral or religious instruction, or something else?
This morning, the Friedman Foundation released a new study, “More Than Scores: An Analysis of How and Why Parents Choose Private Schools,” that sheds light on these questions. The study surveyed 754 low- and middle-income parents whose children received scholarships from Georgia GOAL, a scholarship organization operating under Georgia’s scholarship tax credit law.
The study’s findings provide analysts and advocates across the education policy spectrum with much to consider.
Consistent with previous research, the study found extremely high levels of parental satisfaction with 98.6 percent of respondents answering that they are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their chosen school relative to their previous experience at a government school. Opponents of school choice argue that we should focus our efforts on improving district schools, but we should not expect that any one school will be able to meet the needs of all students living in a given geographic area. This study and prior research clearly demonstrate that the district schools are failing to meet the needs of a significant portion of the population.
Moreover, contrary to those school choice opponents who argue that low-income and especially black families “don’t know how to make good choices for their children,” the study found that “low-income parents, single parents, African-American parents, and parents with less than a college education are willing and able to be informed and active education consumers on behalf of their children.” For example, about 93 percent of parents indicated that they would be “willing to take three or more time-consuming steps to obtain the desired information” about their children’s potential schools (e.g. - taking a tour, consulting with friends, or attending an informational meeting). The authors note that the studies findings cannot be generalized to the population at large since the survey sample was limited to parents who already completed the application process and received scholarships. That said, even the poorest people in the poorest nations on the planet have proven willing and able to select a quality education for their children.
But the study’s most interesting findings should give pause to supporters of school choice who seek to mandate standardized testing and other top-down reforms like Common Core.
The survey asked parents to identify the top five reasons they chose their child’s particular school using a list of 21 options plus “other.”
The top five reasons why parents chose a private school for their children are all related to school climate and classroom management, including “better student discipline” (50.9 percent), “better learning environment” (50.8 percent), “smaller class sizes” (48.9 percent), “improved student safety” (46.8 percent), and “more individual attention for my child” (39.3 percent).
By contrast, standardized testing ranked very low on the list of parental priorities:
Student performance on standardized test scores is one of the least important pieces of information upon which parents base their decision regarding the private school to which they send their children. Only 10.2 percent of the parents who completed the survey listed higher standardized test scores as one of their top five reasons why they chose a particular private school for their child.
These findings provide another reason why school choice programs should not require testing. Parents value different aspects of education very differently. Standardized testing creates a powerful incentive toward conformity, which diminishes the diversity of educational options available. Moreover, the findings indicate, at the very least, that parents recognize the limitations of standardized testing as useful measurement of learning and perhaps indicate a strong demand for schools that are not part of the standardized testing regime.
To determine what sort of information parents seek when making their decision, the survey asked them to rank 22 pieces of information as important or not. The top three “important” pieces of information were the average class size (80.2 percent), whether the school is accredited, (70.2 percent), and the curriculum and course descriptions (69.9 percent). Standardized test scores came in sixth place with barely more than half of respondents (52.8 percent) ranking it as “important.” As the authors note, that is “a somewhat low ranking relative to the disproportionate emphasis that many educators, politicians, policymakers, business leaders, and the media are placing on national standards and standardized testing.” Likewise, when asked to identify the most important information, only 5.4 percent of parents selected standardized test scores.
Whereas most “accountability” reformers emphasize testing, the study demonstrates that parents hold schools directly accountable and punish lack of performance or transparency by voting with their feet. As the study’s authors conclude:
Because they risk losing students to other K–12 schools in the educational marketplace, private schools have an incentive to voluntarily provide the information desired by parents. Based on the survey results, the failure of a private school to provide information would (79 percent) or might (20 percent) negatively impact a parent’s decision on whether to send his or her children there.
In other words, to the extent that some parents find standardized testing to be a useful tool, the market creates an incentive for schools to test their students and report the results. But whereas the some education reformers would mandate testing for all students, a market allows parents who distrust or dislike testing to choose to avoid it while still empowering them to find the information they need to make an informed decision about their child’s education.
Paul C. "Chip" Knappenberger and Patrick J. Michaels
It’s about time!
For months, we have been hammering away at the point that the Feds’ current determination of the social cost of carbon is grossly out of touch with the relevant scientific literature and economic guidance.
Perhaps in response to the fact that they can’t argue against what we have been saying, the Administration has finally capitulated and is opening up their determination of the social cost of carbon (SCC) for public comment.
Their SCC calculation—in keeping with the playbook of the president’s Climate Action Plan—is a backdoor way of implementing a carbon tax. And it is slowly, pervasively, and worse of all, silently, creeping into all of our lives. We’ve been trying to stop all of this by, at the very least, pulling back the cloak of secrecy and trying to make this once-esoteric subject a topic of dinnertime conversation.
Meanwhile, the government’s regulatory push using the SCC continues.
The Institute for Energy Research has recently identified nearly 30 federal regulations which have incorporated the SCC into their cost benefit analysis (and several more have been recently announced).
The SCC is used to make regulations seem less costly. We say “seem,” because the “benefit” from reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, as valued by the SCC, is likely never to be realized by the American consumer—yet the other costs (such as increased manufacturing costs) most assuredly will be.
The SCC is a theoretical cost of each additional CO2 emission. But the theory is so loosey-goosey that with a little creativity, you can arrive at pretty much any value for the SCC—a point noted by M.I.T.’s Robert Pindyck in an article for the Summer 2013 edition of Cato’s Regulation.
As the Obama Administration wants to regulate away as many carbon dioxide emissions as possible, it is in its own self-interest to try to arrive at the highest SCC value possible. This way, the more that CO2 emissions are reduced, the more money is “saved.”
Or so the idea goes.
But their path towards a high SCC is one away from both the best science and the most common-sense economics.
Instead, we want to point out several opportunities to draw further attention to the short-comings in the Administration’s SCC determination.
The period for accepting public comments on several proposed rulemakings is open, and provides a good opportunity to remind the issuing agency what they did wrong. For example, here is a recently-announced regulation proposal from the Department of Energy (DoE) which seeks to impose higher energy efficiency rules for residential furnace fans. It employs the SCC to make this rule seem a lot sweeter than it actually is.
We have already submitted comments on several of these proposed regulations, including DoE regulations to increase the efficiency standards for Microwave Ovens, Walk-In Freezers, and Commercial Refrigeration Equipment.
So, it’s important that the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OBM) just announced that the social cost of carbon determination currently in force will be open to public comment starting sometime in the presumably near future (keep an eye on the Federal Register for the official announcement).
While it is too early to tell, this willingness to hear public comments on the SCC probably originated from the comments received on the Petition to Reconsider the proposed Microwave Oven ruling—the first rulemaking to incorporate the Administration’s latest-worst iteration of the SCC (which was about a 50% increase over its original figure). There hasn’t been an official announcement as to the result of Petition, but the scientific argument against it is a Cato product.
More than likely, though, this will all be for show. The feds could selectively use some comments and somehow find a way to raise the SCC even further. Like we said, that’s easy to do—crank down the discount rate, or crank up the damage function (make-up new damages not included in the current models)—even while paying lip service to the lowered equilibrium climate sensitivity and the CO2 fertilization effect.
We’d be more than happy to be wrong about this. But until then, our efforts to set things straight will continue.
Tim Lynch was right. Dallas Buyers Club is a terrific movie with a strong libertarian message about self-help, entrepreneurship, overbearing and even lethal regulation, and social tolerance. Matthew McConaughey, almost unrecognizable after losing 40 pounds, plays Ron Woodroof, a homophobic electrician in 1985 who learns he has AIDS and has 30 days to live. There’s lots of strong language in his denunciation of the kinds of people who get AIDS, which he certainly is not. But after doing some research, he asks his doctor for AZT, the only drug for HIV/AIDS then available, but he wasn’t eligible for the trials then in process. He turns to the black market, finds his way to Mexico, encounters a doctor who tells him that AZT is toxic and that there are better vitamins and drugs, and beats his original prognosis. As it occurs to him that there are plenty of other people in Dallas who could use these drugs, he sees an opportunity to make some money – if he can only learn to deal with gay people.
Soon he’s setting up a “buyers club,” in an attempt to evade FDA regulations on selling illegal or non-approved drugs. He’s got customers – oops, potential members – lining up. He’s on planes to Japan and Amsterdam to get drugs not available in the United States. And at every turn he’s impeded and harassed by the FDA, which insists that people with terminal illnesses just accept their fate. Can’t have them taking drugs that might be dangerous! You’ll be surprised to see how many armed FDA agents it takes to raid a storefront clinic operated by two dying men.
Go see Dallas Buyers Club.
It’s long past time for the U.S. Department of Justice to drop its embarrassing lawsuit which would keep black kids in failing schools.
The DOJ sued Louisiana earlier this year, claiming that its school voucher program may be negatively impacting desegregation efforts. When it became apparent that the DOJ’s evidence amounted to the thinnest of gruel, everyone from Gov. Bobby Jindal and Rep. Eric Cantor to the Washington Post called on the Obama administration to drop its frivolous lawsuit. Even after two PhD students at the University of Arkansas released a study estimating that Louisiana’s school voucher program had a positive impact on racial integration, the DOJ refused to back down. I wrote then:
If the DOJ’s case was already like a house of cards resting atop a rickety stool, then the new University of Arkansas study kicked out the stool. The study, “The Louisiana Scholarship Program,” by Anna J. Egalite and Jonathan N. Mills, finds that the transfers resulting from the LSP vouchers statewide “overwhelmingly improve integration in the public schools students leave (the sending schools), bringing the racial composition of the schools closer to that of the broader communities in which they are located.” Moreover, in the districts that are the focus of the DOJ litigation, the “LSP transfers improve integration in both the sending schools and the private schools participating students attend (receiving schools).”
Now a study sponsored by the state of Louisiana finds that the voucher program improves racial integration in 16 of the 34 districts under federal desegregation orders while having little to no impact on the remainder. Whereas the University of Arkansas study produced estimates based on publicly available data, the Louisiana study reflects the actual effect of the program during the 2012-13 school year. Politicoreports:
Louisiana hired Boston University political science Professor Christine Rossell to analyze the effect of vouchers in 34 districts in the state under desegregation orders. Rossell found that in all but four of the districts – some of which are majority white, some majority black and some more evenly split – vouchers improved or had no effect on racial imbalance. And in the districts where racial imbalance worsened, the effects were “miniscule.”
Louisiana’s voucher program allows students to transfer out of failing public schools into private schools using public funds. The majority of the students participating in the 2012-13 school year — almost 76 percent — were non-white. A total of 551 students used the vouchers.
In the 2013-14 school year, more than 85 percent of the nearly 6,800 voucher students were black. So long as the DOJ refuses to drop its lawsuit — which would have opposite of its supposedly intended effect — the Obama administration’s message to these students is: “If you don’t like your school, you can’t leave your school.”
Whether the recent election was good news for tea party Republicans, establishment Republicans, or activist Democrats, the Washington Post notes that
Obama’s larger project of redefining what government should do has been stymied by steady Republican opposition and public disenchantment with political leaders….While Obama has framed the question in different ways over the past five years, he has consistently sought to convince Americans that well-run government is uniquely positioned to help secure their economic prosperity.
A sidebar graphic reminds us that
Majorities have consistently preferred a smaller government with fewer services to a larger one with more services.
Here’s the chart accompanying the article:
The “smaller government” question is incomplete. It offers respondents a benefit of larger government–“more services”–but it doesn’t mention that the cost of “larger government with more services” is higher taxes. The question ought to give both the cost and the benefit for each option. A few years ago a Rasmussen poll did ask the question that way. The results were that 64 percent of voters said that they prefer smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes, while only 22 percent would rather see a more active government with more services and higher taxes. A similar poll around the same time, without the information on taxes, found a margin of 59 to 26 percent. So it’s reasonable to conclude that if you remind respondents that “more services” means higher taxes, the margin by which people prefer smaller government rises by about 9 points. With that in mind, I’ve adjusted the Post’s poll numbers by four points in each direction, to approximate what the numbers would look like if the Post included “higher taxes” in its question. The revised figure makes even more clear why presidents have difficulty persuading people to increase the size of government:
If we did a poll of free market economists about federal programs that are the most wasteful and ridiculous, energy subsidies would be near the top of the list. It’s not just that energy subsidies make no sense in economic theory, but also that there are so many news stories highlighting the folly that it’s hard to see why policymakers persist in wasting our money.
The Department of Energy failed to disclose concerns about a green-technology company that won $135 million in federal funding but ended up filing for bankruptcy in September, according to a watchdog report released this week. DOE Inspector General Gregory Friedman noted that the firm, San Francisco-based Ecotality, is still due to receive $26 million from the agency for testing electric vehicles.
The Energy Department awarded the firm $100 million in 2009 Recovery Act funding for that initiative, in addition to a combined $35 million from a separate program to help pay for testing vehicles
Ecotality is among a number of failed firms that received stimulus funding through an Obama administration initiative to support green-technology companies during the recession. Solyndra, a Silicon Valley-based solar-panel maker, stands as perhaps the most high-profile example. The business collapsed after receiving more than a half-billion dollars in Recovery Act money. Other examples include Beacon Power , a Massachusetts-based company that received at least $39 million from the federal government, along with Michigan-based battery manufacturers LG Chem and A123, which landed grants worth $150 million and $249 million, respectively.
On Sunday, the Washington Post profiled the economic chaos, central planning, and wasteful lobbying generated by federal mandates for cellulosic ethanol:
Congress assumed that it could be phased in gradually, but not this gradually. This year refiners were supposed to mix about one billion gallons of it into motor fuel. So far, there has been hardly a drop. More than a dozen companies have tried and failed to find a profitable formula combining sophisticated enzymes and the mundane but costly and labor-intensive job of collecting biomass.
To reach the ethanol goals set by Congress, the government came up with a byzantine implementation plan. Each gallon of renewable fuel has its own 38-character number, called a “renewable identification number,” to track its use and monitor trading. There are different types of these RINs for different biofuels, including corn-based ethanol, cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel.
In February of each year, refiners who fail to provide enough renewable fuel to the blenders who mix ethanol and gasoline must buy extra RIN certificates. When companies have extra credits for renewable fuels, the RINs can be banked and sold in later years. If there are not enough renewable fuels overall, the price of RINs rises — and provides an incentive to produce more.
Five years ago, about a dozen companies were racing to start up distilleries that would produce enough cellulosic ethanol to meet the congressionally mandated target of 16 billion gallons a year by 2022 … The Agriculture Department provided a $250 million loan guarantee for the Coskata plant. Today, most of the dozen contenders have gone out of business or shelved their plans.
Federal subsidies and mandates for ethanol and other energy activities are sadly causing the diversion of billions of dollars of capital to uneconomic uses. That’s the bad news.
But there is good news on the energy front, which comes from far outside of Washington. The Wall Street Journal last weekend profiled “the little guys,” the market entrepreneurs, who were behind the shale energy revolution:
The experts keep getting it wrong. And the oddballs keep getting it right. Over the past five years of business history, two events have shocked and transformed the nation. In 2007 and 2008, the housing market crumbled and the financial system collapsed, causing trillions of dollars of losses. Around the same time, a few little-known wildcatters began pumping meaningful amounts of oil and gas from U.S. shale formations. A country that once was running out of energy now is on track to become the world’s leading producer.
The resurgence in U.S. energy came from a group of brash wildcatters who discovered techniques to hydraulically fracture—or frack—and horizontally drill shale and other rock. Many of these men operated on the fringes of the oil industry, some without college degrees or much background in drilling, geology or engineering.
Thank goodness for the oddballs. And thank goodness for the market system that channels the brashness into creating growth for all of us, not just the favored few getting handouts from Washington.
Juan Carlos Hidalgo
As the economic situation rapidly worsens in Venezuela, the government is growing increasingly authoritarian and is now actively undermining the foundations of the country’s already deteriorated social fabric.
On Friday night, President Nicolás Maduro ordered the military to seize the stores of a consumer electronics retail chain and confiscate all the goods in order to sell them at “a fair price.” Soon afterwards large crowds gathered outside appliance stores all over the country, leading in some instances to mass looting. The announcement came one day after the Central Bank reported that the inflation rate in October was 5 percent, leading to an annual rate of 54 percent. However, as our colleague Steve Hanke documents on his Troubled Currencies Project, Venezuela’s implied annual inflation rate is actually 320 percent.
The government claims that runaway inflation and pervasive shortages of basic goods are part of an “economic war” being waged by the United States and the local “parasitic bourgeois class.” Thus, Maduro is now mobilizing his troops against the perceived enemy. The owners of two of the retail chains have been detained under charges of “gouging” and “usury.”
Showing his economic illiteracy, Maduro said that the Central Bank should take note of operations, wondering out loud: “If we are lowering products’ prices by one hundred percent, this should impact the inflation rate, right?” Well, no. As long as the Central Bank continues to print money to finance the government, inflation will continue to rise. However, by actively encouraging outright plunder, the government is deliberately destabilizing Venezuela’s society probably as a means for taking further radical measures.
Last April when Nicolás Maduro officially assumed the presidency after a very questionable victory in the polls, many people speculated that he would be more conciliatory than his predecessor Hugo Chávez. That proved to be wishful thinking. It is clear now that under Maduro the worst has yet to come in Venezuela.
From the Washington Times:
Jury nullification is rarely discussed by lawyers at the bar, either the courtroom bar or the bar on the corner, but jury nullification has been with us since the time of the Founding Fathers. Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers that trial by jury is the “very palladium of free government,” serving as a check against “arbitrary methods of prosecuting pretended offenses” that are the “engines of judicial despotism.” There’s no better example than juries nullifying the effects of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required that slaves captured in free states be captured and returned in chains to their owners. Juries often preserved the freedom of these slaves by refusing to convict runaway slaves….
Jury-nullification activists in New Jersey and Florida have paid for their advocacy of jury rights. Several have been arrested and charged with “jury tampering” for distributing handbills at the courthouse that essentially publish the text of the New Hampshire law. This demonstrates clearly the responsibility of juries to serve as a check against judges and prosecutors who may think they’re the last word in all matters of the law. Respect for the law and the courts is necessary for the good of all in a free society, and sometimes, as the number of frivolous and oppressive laws multiply, a little nullification can be a tonic, and a reminder to the lawyers, including judges, of who’s really the boss.
Cato is set to republish our book, Jury Nullification: The Evolution of a Doctrine soon.
I have not yet seen the new movie, The Dallas Buyers Club, but it looks pretty darn interesting. Matthew McConaughey plays the true-life lead character, Ron Woodroof, a homophobic party boy who is diagnosed with HIV and is given just 30 days to live.
When the government-approved drugs don’t help him, Woodroof does not go gently into the night (and to his grave). Instead, he travels abroad to buy medicine in other countries and on the black market and then he returns to sell them to others similarly situated here in the United States. The film evidently doesn’t gloss over the fact that he seeks a profit as he engages in these acts. (That’s a trait Woodroof shares with other human beings in the drug business, though the film does not dwell on that.)
Agents with the Food and Drug Administration and others patiently explain to Woodruff that “unauthorized” drugs might be detrimental to his health—that’s why drug regulations were put on the law books! When Woodruff decides (all by himself—without any advanced degrees in medicine!) that he will keep operating outside the law in order to find life-saving drugs, federal officials lose patience and seek to have him arrested. That’ll be for his own good and for the betterment of all Americans.
Film trailer below the jump:DALLAS BUYERS CLUB Trailer ( Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto)
One of the many problems with Big Government is that it abuses our privacy. The potential for abuse has been greatly heightened in the information age. The problem is not just that government officials themselves can abuse the vast troves of data that they collect, but that thieves, hackers, organized crime, and other private actors can gain access as well.
Federal bureaucracies are collecting vast amounts of data and storing it in giant sieves. Officials promise to put safety procedures in place, but those procedures always fall short because the government is so large and vulnerable to human failure. Two stories in the Washington Post today highlight the problems.
One story solves the mystery of how Edward Snowden was able to walk away with tens of thousands of secret NSA documents. As a computer systems administrator, he apparently just asked a couple of dozen agency employees for their log in passwords.
Another story describes how a defense contractor in Asia allegedly used moles in the U.S. Navy Department to gain access to sensitive data about contracts, ship movements, and internal investigations. The contractor used old-fashioned tools to prey on the weaknesses of Navy officials: money and prostitutes. The leaks happened “despite past pledges by the Pentagon to strengthen oversight,” notes the Post.
The huge data data collection effort to support Obamacare is another threat. Despite government promises about ensuring privacy, we now know that the administration skipped crucial security and privacy testing as it rushed to launch the health website.
Politicians and officials will keep promising to fix things, but as long as the government is a giant vacuum cleaner sucking up and storing vast troves of data, sensitive information will leak. Another dimension of risk is the increased proclivity of our government to share tax, financial, security, and intelligence data with other governments.
In researching our 2008 book, Global Tax Revolution, Dan Mitchell and I looked into these issues because of the growing tax data collection and sharing efforts going on between governments. Here are some of the government data leaks we mentioned in the book:
- In 2007, the Treasury inspector general found that over a three-year period, 490 IRS laptops were stolen, many of which contained unencrypted personal taxpayer information.
- In 2007, a low-level United Kingdom tax official lost computer disks containing the detailed tax, financial, and banking records of 25 million Britons.
- In 2006, the electronic records for every U.S. veteran discharged since 1975 were stolen from the home of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee. The records included information on 26 million veterans, included names, Social Security numbers, and other personal data.
- In 2006, the Department of Transportation lost a laptop containing 133,000 records of personal information on Florida residents.
- In 2007, the Transportation Security Administration lost a computer hard drive containing personal information on 100,000 of its employees, including Social Security numbers and bank deposit data.
On our current trajectory, these sorts of problems will probably only get worse. I’m not a privacy expert, but it seems that government leaks usually stem from simple human error, sloppiness, and malfeasance. We’re not going to solve those human character flaws any time soon. So the bigger the government’s data collection and storage empire becomes, the more humans will be involved, and the more leaking and stealing that will take place.
What’s the solution? From my perspective, it’s straightforward: vastly downsize the federal government and end many of its data collection activities.
People viciously go for each other’s throats when they’re trying to help “the children.” At least, according to a new Politico article, that’s the case over the last several years, with demonization increasingly the weapon of choice when it comes to education politics.
Several pragaraphs in, the piece gets to the inflamed heart of the problem:
The policies the two sides fight over are high-stakes indeed. They drive hundreds of billions in public spending. They could impact millions of union jobs and millions in corporate profits. And they will have an enormous impact on where, how and what the next generation learns.
That may be why the hostility seems to be escalating.
Public schooling politics is a zero-sum game: all people pay in, but only those with political power get control. That is exactly why public schools drive such vitriol and anger. It is like politics generally, but with the emotionally charged, added stakes that people’s children and, often, their basic values, hang in the balance. Making matters worse is that basic decisions about crucial questions—including who is held “accountable,” how, and what children will learn—have for roughly 50 years been increasingly made at the federal level. As a result, people who want something different can’t move to another district or even state to get the education they want. There is no more flight. There is only fight.
Of course, painful conflict caused by public schools is nothing new, even if nationalization is making it worse and more visible. Familiarizing oneself with the history of American education makes clear just how divisive public schooling has been. For instance, see the Philadelphia “Bible Riots,” or the textbook war in Kanawha County, WV. And just because something is local- or state-controlled doesn’t free it from conflict. Cato’s still-under-construction public schooling “battle map” pinpoints well over 800—and growing—contemporary battles over basic values and rights fought at the school, district, and state levels. And that doesn’t include constant combat over budgets, teacher evaluations, school start times, math curricula, and on and on.
Ultimately, understanding why public schools are the source of unceasing conflict—and why it worsens the more that control is centralized—requires the simplest of logic: One government school system cannot possibly serve all, diverse people equally. And the higher decision-making goes, the more diversity the monolithic system encompasses.
Government schooling essentially guarantees war without end, and increasing centralization only puts peace further out of reach.
The foreign policy news of the day is the apparent deal being reached in Geneva between Iran and the permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1). What’s particularly striking is the pre-spin being offered by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his ideological fellow-travelers in Washington.
To be clear: we do not know the precise terms of the deal being hammered out. The sketchy details that have been leaked make clear that both sides are taking small steps, as would be expected. Iran is not shuttering its nuclear enrichment program, or even freezing enrichment entirely, as the UN Security Council demanded it do in several resolutions. Similarly, the P5+1 is not normalizing economic relations with Iran, rescinding the spider web of sanctions that is strangling Iran.
None of this has stopped Iran hawks from asserting, without evidence, that the deal is a disaster for the world and a coup for Iran. Netanyahu was most succinct, labeling the deal—again, not having seen its terms—to be “the deal of the century” for Iran and a bad deal for the rest of the world.
Similarly, Danielle Pletka at AEI asks some pertinent questions about the exact terms of what was agreed to then declares, without answering them, that the deal is “lousy.” By her own one-sided accounting, what the Iranians will receive is “not clear” but she asserts, in spite of her admissions, that they will give “nothing.”
What’s happened here is that any gettable deal has been framed as “bad,” and the administration, while disagreeing with that framing, has agreed that “a bad deal is worse than no deal.” Netanyahu actually had a pretty solid debating point when he tried to scuttle the early feelers of this diplomatic opening by comparing a prospective deal to the deal brokered with North Korea. The parallels there are not ones that pro-diplomacy doves like very much, for good reason.
So let’s concede: this interim deal is not reliving old glories on the decks of the Missouri. It’s not a complete, irreversible end of the problem posed by Iran’s nuclear program. What hawkish observers fail to understand is that there is no such solution, through diplomacy, military strikes, or otherwise.
Thus the question was never whether this deal could provide Netanyahu’s desiderata: the shipping out of all enriched uranium, the destruction of Fordow and Arak, and an end to Iran’s pursuit of enrichment altogether. Nobody, perhaps even including Netanyahu thought that was possible. Given his various public statements, Netanyahu seemed to think any deal was a bad deal.
So yes, it’s not time to pop champagne corks and forget the world, nor time to throw a tantrum. A prospective interim deal would be a small, but very important, step in the right direction. Given the disaster that would be a war in Iran, we should take this small step and see if it can be built on. As Amos Yadlin, head of the Israel Institute for National Security Studies remarked, “There needs to be a scrutiny of the details before determining whether the ‘holy of holies’ was destroyed today.” One hopes Netanyahu, and hawks in Washington, will come to agree.
Identified by William Blackstone as a universal maxim of the common law, the protection against double jeopardy—being tried twice for the same crime—has been a part of American law since even before it was enshrined in the Constitution. While the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause (“nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb”) prohibits successive prosecutions for the same offense, courts have recognized a “dual sovereignty” exception, which permits the federal government to prosecute a federal crime after completion of a state prosecution over the same conduct. Originally a small exception intended to enable Prohibition-related prosecutions, the dual sovereignty exception has widened vastly to accommodate the glut of federal crimes established since that time.
But there are limits on such prosecutions: the federal government must have legitimate jurisdiction over the crime being prosecuted. In Hatch v. United States, William Hatch is challenging the use of the federal Hate Crime Prevention Act to federally re-prosecute him for an attack on a disabled Navajo man for which he was already convicted under New Mexico state law.
Congress passed the HCPA pursuant to Section 2 of the Thirteenth Amendment, which authorizes Congress to enforce the Thirteenth Amendment ban on slavery, which authority the Supreme Court has extended to eliminating the “badges and incidents” of slavery. The lower federal courts upheld the HCPA’s constitutionality, deferring to Congress’s power to “rationally determine” what the badges and incidents of slavery are. In petitioning the Supreme Court for review, Hatch argues that the HCPA intrudes on the states’ police power to prosecute local crimes and that Congress cannot be the judge of its own powers. In City of Boerne v. Flores (1997), for example, the Supreme Court noted that Congress may not pass “general legislation upon the rights of the citizen.”
Joined by the Reason Foundation and the Individual Rights Foundation, Cato has filed a brief supporting Hatch’s petition. We argue that the use of hate-crime laws to sweep intra-state criminal activity into federal court has nothing to do with stamping out slavery and that the Court should decide the legitimacy of these laws before a more highly publicized and politicized case comes along and makes that task even harder. Not only are federal hate-crime laws constitutionally unsound, but, as George Zimmerman’s recent trial highlighted, they invite people dissatisfied with a state-court outcome to demand that the government re-try unpopular defendants. The administration of justice and the protections of the Double Jeopardy Clause shouldn’t be subject to the whims of public pressure and racial politics.
House and Senate negotiators are working out details of a big farm bill that may pass this year. No industry in America is as coddled as farming, and no industry is as centrally planned from Washington. The federal sugar program is perhaps the most Soviet of all. Here’s a sketch of the sugar program, which the supposedly conservative, tea party-dominated lower chamber may soon ratify:
- Purpose. The federal sugar program is designed to enrich sugar producers, such as the wealthy Fanjuls, and rip off sugar consumers by keeping domestic prices artificially high. In recent decades, U.S. sugar prices have often been two or more times world prices. The federal government achieves that result by price guarantees, trade restrictions, production quotas, and ethanol giveaways.
- Guaranteed Prices. The Department of Agriculture runs a complex loan program to support sugar prices. Essentially, the government promises to buy sugar from processors at a set price per pound. Processors can sell to the government, or they can sell in the marketplace if the (manipulated) market price is higher.
- Trade Restrictions. Complex import barriers called “tariff rate quotas” help to maintain high domestic sugar prices. Imports are restricted to about one quarter of the U.S. market, and each foreign country (except Mexico) is allocated a particular share of imports.
- Production Quotas. The government imposes quotas, or “marketing allotments,” on U.S. producers. The United States Department of Agriculture decides what total U.S. sugar production ought to be and then allots quotas to beet and cane sugar producers. Most sugar beet production is in Minnesota, Idaho, North Dakota, Michigan, and California. Most sugar cane production is in Florida and Louisiana.
- Ethanol Giveaway. If prices fall below certain levels, the USDA is required to fire up a sugar-for-ethanol program to channel sugar away from the food industry.
The USDA is supposed to run the sugar program at no taxpayer cost, which makes the central planning even trickier. The agency must fiddle to adjust imports, quotas, and the ethanol giveaway to optimally fatten the wallets of sugar producers, while not allowing the domestic (manipulated) market price to fall so low as to impose taxpayer costs.
A possible wrench in the works of the current farm bill is that the sugar program is on track to cost taxpayers perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars this year (see here and here). So if conservatives in Congress vote for an unreformed sugar program this year, they would be not only voting for central planning, corporate welfare, higher consumer prices, harm to U.S. food manufacturers, and environmental damage, they would be voting for higher taxes as well.
The Congressional Research Service gives a brief overview of the central planning here. You can see that sugar beets are allotted exactly 54.35 percent of production (definitely not 54.34 or 54.36), and that federal planners have decreed that the just price (“loan rate”) for sugar cane is 18.75 cents per pound (not 18.74 or 18.76).
The USDA has more on the program here. This table shows that the Fanjuls’ Florida Crystals company received a quota in 2013 of exactly 910,521 tons. So 910,521 is certainly too little and 910,522 is absolutely too much. Now if only the planners at HHS had used such precision in designing the Obamacare website!
Ted Galen Carpenter
The Taiwan issue, which was a source of repeated tension between Washington and Beijing for decades, has been mercifully quiet for the past five years. Ma Ying-Jeou’s election as Taiwan’s president in 2008 marked the onset of a decidedly more conciliatory approach toward the mainland than the policies his immediate predecessors pursued, and U.S. leaders were relieved to put the contentious matter of the island’s status on the diplomatic back burner. But, as I discuss in a new article in China-U.S. Focus, there are now signs that the period of quiescence may be coming to an end.
Because of domestic political reasons, as well as growing unease about Beijing’s intentions, Ma’s government is pressing the United States to sell an assortment of modern weaponry, including advanced versions of the F-16 fighter. The Obama administration is also under mounting pressure from Taiwan’s friends in Congress to take that step and increase military support for Taipei in other respects. House members inserted an amendment in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act urging President Obama to sell Taipei the F-16 models Ma’s government sought. Reports also circulated in Taiwan that a senior Republican, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, assured Taiwanese officials during a visit to the island earlier this year that the United States would approve the sale of Apache attack helicopters in 2014 and Patriot missiles in 2015.
However, arms sales of any sort to Taipei have long been a major irritant in U.S.-China relations. Chinese leaders have never wavered in their contention that Taiwan is rightfully a part of China, and they view U.S. weapons sales as provocative. Beijing is especially wrathful about transfers of modern weapons with offensive potential. Selling the advanced F-16 models, the Apaches, or the Patriots would likely produce a surge in bilateral tensions. Washington and Beijing are already on poor terms regarding other issues, especially the Obama administration’s unsubtle support for East Asian countries challenging China’s territorial claims in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
U.S. officials need to proceed with considerable caution on the issue of arms sales. Understandably, Washington would like to see Taiwan maintain its de facto independence and remain out of Beijing’s political orbit. But a cordial relationship with China is important to America, both strategically and economically. The last thing this country needs is a renewed crisis in East Asia.
Over at Cato’s Police Misconduct web site, we’ve selected the worst case for October:Cops who mauled kid with a K9 being investigated for police brutality
So for October, it was Atlantic City Police Officer Sterling Wheaton. Recall that David Castellani had exchanged words with police outside a casino. Those officers took Castellani to the ground. Officer Wheaton then arrives on the scene and he immediately releases his dog to attack Castellani, who is still on the ground. The dog proceeds to bite Castellani’s head and neck.
The runner up goes to the Houston police officer who raped a handcuffed woman in the backseat of his patrol car. Responding to a fender bender, officer Adan Carranza handcuffed and arrested the victim and then waited for the other drivers involved in the accident to leave. The victim said Carranza, wearing his gun and badge, then raped her in the back of the patrol car before driving her to jail for a reckless driving charge. DNA evidence from the victim and back seat confirm the allegations, and Carranza has pled guilty—but only to attempted sexual assault. Carranza’s lawyer is hopeful his client will be paroled after only two or three years of his ten year sentence, of which he could serve as little as six months if a judge agrees to “shock probation.” One has to wonder how many rapists get that kind of deal.
Andrew J. Coulson
Since she was shot in the head by a would-be Taliban assassin, Malala Yousafzai has become one of the most recognizable and admired young people on the planet. But in a new piece in the British Spectator magazine, education scholar and Cato Institute adjunct fellow James Tooley points out that “something curious is going on.”
Something crucial to her experience is always omitted when her life and mission are described by international agencies and the media… it wasn’t to governments that Malala and her family turned (or are turning now) to get an education…. In fact, she’s scathing about government education: it means ‘learning by rote’ and pupils not questioning teachers. It means high teacher absenteeism and abuse from government teachers, who, reluctantly posted to remote schools, ‘make a deal with their colleagues so that only one of them has to go to work each day’; on their unwilling days in school, ‘All they do is keep the children quiet with a long stick as they cannot imagine education will be any use to them.’ She’s surely not fighting for the right of children to an education like that.
But if not government education, what is she standing for? In fact, Malala’s life story shows her standing up for the right to private education.
For the school she attended, on her way to which she was famously shot by the Taleban, was in fact a low-cost private school set up by her father. This reality gets hidden in some reports: not untypically, Education International describes her father as a ‘headmaster’. Time magazine describes him as a ‘school administrator’. Headmaster, school administrator: these obscure the truth. In fact, her father was an educational entrepreneur.
Read the whole thing. James Tooley is the Indiana Jones of education, splitting his life between his professorial duties at the University of Newcastle and scouring the globe for something “experts” used to think was a myth: private schools serving poorest of the poor. He’s found them all across India, Africa, and even China—and they work. You can pick up the mind-blowing story in his book The Beautiful Tree.
Contrary to the claims of many transit advocates, regions that spend more money on transit seem to grow slower than regions that spend less. The fastest-growing urban areas of the country tend to offer transit service mainly to people who lack access to automobiles. Urban areas that seek to provide high-cost transit services, such as trains, in order to attract people out of their cars, tend to grow far slower.
Transit advocates often argue that a particular city or region must spend more on urban transit in order to support the growth of that region. To test that claim, I downloaded the latest historic data files from the National Transit Database, specifically the capital funding and service data and operating expenses by mode time series. These files list which urbanized area each transit agency primarily serves, so it was easy to compare these data with Census Bureau population data from 1990, 2000, and 2010.
The transit data include capital and operating expenses for all years from 1991 through 2011. I decided to compare the average of 1991 through 2000 per capita expenses with population growth in the 1990s, and the average of 2001 through 2010 per capita expenses with population growth in the 2010s. In case there is a delayed response, I also compared the average of 1990 through 2000 per capita expenses with population growth in the 2000s. Although it shouldn’t matter too much, I used GNP deflators to convert all costs to 2012 dollars.
I had to make a few adjustments to the population data to account for changes in the Census Bureau’s definitions of urbanized areas. Between 1990 and 2000, the San Francisco-Oakland and Los Angeles urbanized areas were split into several parts, so I added up the various parts for 2000 and 2010 data. At the same time, the Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach urbanized areas were merged, so I added these three for 1990. The Oklahoma City urbanized area was radically reduced in size, with the apparent but incorrect result that it had lost population between 1990 and 2000. I used the growth rates for the Oklahoma City metropolitan statistical area instead. Since they are served by the same transit agencies, I combined Boulder and Denver data as well as Salt Lake, Ogden, and Provo-Orem data.
Although the United States has about 400 urbanized areas, data are incomplete for many of the smaller areas. Most transit debates take place in major urban areas, and what happens in Nampa, Idaho or Tyler, Texas is probably not too representative of what could happen in Indianapolis or Tampa. So, for my initial run, I compared only the 64 largest urban areas (number 65 being Concord, California, which was split off from San Francisco-Oakland in 2000). This includes nearly all urban areas with 2010 populations greater than 600,000 people.
Within these 64 urban areas, transit spending covers a wide range: per capita capital spending ranges from about $10 per year to $300; per capita operating costs range from about $15 per year to nearly $500. Growth rates range from minus 1.1 percent per year in New Orleans in the 2000s to 6.5 percent per year in Las Vegas in the 1990s.Correlation Coefficients 64 Regions 160 Regions 1990s Capital Spending & 1990s Growth -0.09 -0.04 2000s Capital Spending & 2000s Growth -0.07 -0.09 1990s Capital Spending & 2000s Growth -0.23 -0.18 1990s Operations Spending & 1990s Growth -0.19 0.00 2000s Operations Spending & 2000s Growth -0.26 -0.22 1990s Operations Spending & 2000s Growth -0.30 -0.21
The results show a clear trend: more transit spending always correlates with less growth. Within each decade, the trend is strongest for operating expenses: minus 0.19 in the 1990s and minus 0.26 in the 2000s. The trend is negative but much weaker for capital spending: minus 0.09 in the 1990s and minus 0.07 in the 2000s. But high transit capital spending in the 1990s strongly correlates with slower growth in the 2000s: minus 0.23. High operating budgets in the 1990s also strongly correlate with slow growth in the 2000s: minus 0.30.
Regions that spent more on transit capital improvements in the 1990s tended to grow slower in the 2000s than regions that spent less.
Adding more regions to the equation doesn’t significantly change the results. For the next 100 largest urban areas, including nearly all urban areas with 2010 populations greater than 200,000, the range in annual per capita capital spending was much smaller–about $5 to $25–but the range in population growth was still large–from -7 percent to more than 80 percent. With one varying widely and the other not, correlations would have to fall, and they do. The negative correlation between 1990 operational expenditures and growth declined to zero, and most of the others declined slightly, but (except for the one that declined to zero) are still negative.
Needless to say, correlation does not prove causation. Many factors influence population growth, and transit spending is not likely to be the most important. However, the stiff taxes required by urban areas that spend heavily on transit represent a burden to consumers and businesses, and seem likely to contribute to a slowing of economic growth.
These results support that idea in two ways. First, the fact that the correlations are almost always negative shows that transit spending is not likely to support more rapid growth. Moreover, the fact that the results are stronger in the second decade–that more spending in the 1990s more strongly correlates with slower growth in the 2000s than in 1990s–suggests that, to the extent that there is a causative relationship, transit spending has a greater influence on growth than growth has on spending.
Superconducting magnetic levitation is the “next generation of transportation,” says a new rail advocacy group that calls itself The Northeast Maglev (TNEM). The group’s proposed New York-Washington maglev line has received attention from the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun. TNEM’s claims might have seemed valid 80 years ago, when maglev trains were first conceived, but today maglev is just one more superexpensive technology that can’t compete with what we already have.
Maglev has all the defects of conventional high-speed rail with the added bonuses of higher costs and greater energy requirements. Unlike automobiles on roads, rails don’t go where you want to go when you want to go there. Compared with planes, even the fastest trains are slow, and modest improvements in airport security would do far more to speed travelers, at a far lower cost, than building expensive new rail infrastructure.
TNEM’s proposal is to use a new maglev technology called electrodynamic suspension using superconducting magnets. Ignoring the gee-whiz terminology, the basic advantage is that it is supposed to be able to go a little faster than previous maglevs, but with the disadvantage that the levitation fails to work at slow speeds so wheels must be added to the carriages.
Japan plans to use this technology to build a line from Tokyo to Osaka that won’t be completed for 14 more years and is estimated to cost $350 million per mile. That compares with Amtrak’s proposal to rebuild the Boston-to-Washington corridor into a true high-speed rail route at a cost of about $250 million per mile. To be fair, Japan’s cost is high partly because they expect to dig tunnels for much of the route. But even TNEM estimates that a Baltimore-Washington segment would cost “somewhere north of $10 billion,” or about the same, per mile, as Amtrak’s plan. Such early estimates are always well below final costs.
Maglev’s advantage over conventional high-speed rail is supposed to be that levitated vehicles can be frictionlessly propelled at high speeds. But that doesn’t mean they are energy-efficient: it takes a lot of energy to levitate a train car full of people. One study by a pro-rail group estimated that maglev would require several times more energy per passenger mile as conventional rail technology and have the least effect on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Rail advocates point to “successful” high-speed rail lines in Europe and Asia. But one point escapes their attention: high-speed trains have succeeded in capturing passengers away from low-speed trains, but nowhere have they captured significant numbers of passengers from cars or planes.
When Japan opened its first high-speed rail line in 1964, rails accounted for 70 percent of the nation’s passenger travel. Today, it has many more high-speed lines, but rails account for well under 30 percent of passenger travel. Similarly, in 1980, before any high-speed rail had been built in Europe, rails accounted for 8 percent of western European passenger travel. Today, with high-speed trains in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and other countries, rails account for about 6 percent of passenger travel.
The only truly high-speed maglev line in operation connects the Shanghai airport to downtown Shanghai, 19 miles away. Though the train has a top speed of 268 mph, it attracts enough passengers to fill only about 20 percent of its seats because, people say, it doesn’t go where they want to go.
Rail advocates argue that, given travel times to and from airports, high-speed rail can be competitive with air for downtown-to-downtown trips. But most people no longer live or work near downtowns. Given multiple airports around Washington, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities, most people are still going to find air travel faster, not to mention less expensive (unless taxpayers also subsidize rail operating costs). The main people who work downtown today are bankers, lawyers, government bureaucrats, and lobbyists–not exactly the first people you think of when asked who deserves a transportation subsidy from taxpayers.
So if taxpayers spend $117 billion on Amtrak’s plan for high-speed rail between Boston and Washington, or $165 billion on a maglev line over the same route, we can expect that nearly all the passengers on these trains will be people who would have otherwise taken earlier Amtrak trains. To cover operating costs, fares will be so high that only the wealthy will ride the trains: While Megabus charges about $15 to go from New York to Washington, Amtrak currently charges about $150 to ride its Acela over the same route, and that $150 doesn’t pay for the capital or maintenance costs needed to keep the trains running.
Meanwhile, Eric Jaffe at The Atlantic argues that Republicans killed Obama’s high-speed rail plan simply in order to discredit the administration. In fact, Obama’s plan would have been a fiscal disaster, ultimately costing taxpayers close to $1 trillion to provide a disconnected transportation system that few would have used. While the Interstate Highway System, which was entirely self-funded out of gas taxes and other user fees, connects all major urban areas and carries about 20 percent of all passenger travel and more than 10 percent of all freight in the United States, Obama’s high-speed rail system would have been lucky to carry 1 percent of passenger travel.
New transportation technologies are successful when they are faster, more convenient, and less expensive than existing technologies. Maglev and conventional high-speed rail are less convenient than driving, slower than flying, and far more expensive than either. Far being an idea whose time has arrived, they are an idea that has already left the station.
People shouldn’t be surprised about the botched roll-out of Obamacare and all the damaging effects of the law that are now generating headlines. Over the decades, federal efforts to subsidize and manipulate the economy have failed over and over again.
That lesson has been driven home to me in researching Downsizing Government. Farm policies, for example, have been an ongoing boondoggle for more than eight decades. President Herbert Hoover’s Federal Farm Board blew $500 million trying to stabilize crop markets, but it did the opposite by inducing overproduction and depressing prices. Every farm bill since then—including the one moving through Congress right now—has been based on two very dumb ideas: that farm businesses need welfare and that agriculture needs government central planning.
I recently came across “The Sickness of Government,” (PDF) a 1969 essay by famed management theorist Peter Drucker. It is strikingly relevant to the problems we see in Washington today from Obamacare, to farm programs, to IRS abuse, to NSA spying. Unlike, say, Ayn Rand–who at the time was writing about government from the standpoint of individual freedom–Drucker was writing from the practical perspective that Big Government simply wasn’t working.
Here are some excerpts from Drucker, but his whole essay is worth reading:“Government surely has never been more prominent than today. The most despotic government of 1900 would not have dared probe into the private affairs of its citizens as income tax collectors now do routinely in the freest society. Even the tsar’s secret police did not go in for the security investigations we now take for granted.”
“For seventy years or so – from the 1890’s to the 1960’s – mankind, especially in the developed countries, was hypnotized by government. We were in love with it and saw no limits to its abilities, or to its good intentions.”
“This belief has been, in effect, only one facet of a much more general illusion from which the educated and the intellectuals in particular have suffered: that by turning tasks over to government, conflict and decision would be made to go away. Once the “wicked private interests” had been eliminated, a decision as to the right course of action would be rational and automatic. There would be neither selfishness nor political passion. Belief in government was thus largely a romantic escape from politics and from responsibility.”
“The greatest factor in the disenchantment with government is that government has not performed. The record over these last thirty or forty years has been dismal. Government has proven itself capable of doing only two things with great effectiveness. It can wage war. And it can inflate the currency.”
“The best we get from government in the welfare state is competent mediocrity. More often we do not even get that; we get incompetence such as we would not tolerate in an insurance company. In every country, there are big areas of government administration where there is no performance whatever – only costs.”
“Modern government has become ungovernable. There is no government today that can still claim control of its bureaucracy and of its various agencies. Government agencies are all becoming autonomous, ends in themselves, and directed by their own desire for power, their own narrow vision rather than by national policy.”
“We are very good at creating administrative agencies. But no sooner are they called into being than they become ends in themselves, acquire their own constituency as well as a “vested right” to grants from the treasury, continuing support by the taxpayer, and immunity to political direction. No sooner, in other words, are they born than they defy public will and public policy.”
“Nothing in history, for instance, can compare in futility with those prize activities of the American government, its welfare policies and its farm policies. Both policies are largely responsible for the disease that they are supposed to cure.”
In the essay, Drucker’s solution for government is decentralization and “reprivatization,” which today is called privatization. Based on his views in this article, he is no libertarian. His conclusions about government are practical in nature, stemming from his long experience studying how organizations work.
I find it depressing that more people don’t share my understanding of individual freedom, the Constitution, and limited government. But it is also depressing that Drucker-style common sense ideas about government failure have so little penetrated the nation’s governing elite. After all these decades, too many people are still “in love” with government and, indeed, “hypnotized” by it, as Drucker noted.
For more of Drucker’s analysis of government, see this 1995 article on Al Gore’s Reinventing Government effort.