Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why Federal Govt is Bad Place for Education Policy

School Choice Advocates: Beware Washington

The Brookings Institution will release a new school choice policy guide on February 2nd, and from the sound of it, children, parents, taxpayers, and the authors themselves should be concerned.  The guide will provide:
a series of practical and novel recommendations for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, including national chartering of virtual education providers; expanding the types of information collected on school performance; providing incentives for low-performing school districts to increase choice and competition; and creating independent school choice portals to aid parents in choosing between schools.
The goals these recommendations are meant to achieve are entirely laudable, but there are three reasons for serious concern:
1)  The Constitution delegates to the federal government no power to provide or regulate education services, except in the execution of its explicitly enumerated powers. So the Supreme Court can ensure that state education programs abide by the Fourteenth Amendment, for example, but Congress cannot “charter virtual education providers.” Of course the federal government has been transgressing the limits on its education powers for more than half a century, but no one who supports the rule of law can condone that transgression, much less its expansion.
2)  From a regulatory standpoint, Washington is the worst level of government at which to implement an education program. National education programs impose a single set of rules onevery participating provider in the country. Get those rules wrong — either up front or down the road — and you not only hobble the effectiveness of every single provider, but you eliminate the possibility of comparing outcomes between providers operating under different sets of rules. In essence you lose the ability to distinguish between different “treatments” — to determine what helps and what is harmful to the service’s overall success.
3)  We have ample evidence about the quality of education programs implemented by the federal government. For example, after 45 years and $166 billion, Head Start has just been proven entirely ineffective. (See also the NCLB paper linked to in “1)”, above). Once again, this problem is exacerbated by the all-encompassing nature of federal programs. Get them wrong and you get them wrong for every participating student, everywhere in the country. With variation in programs among states, by contrast, we not only have the ability to compare the merits of alternative approaches, we have powerful incentives for states to get their programs right. Just as tax competition drives businesses from one state or nation to another, so, too, can education policy competition. States with better policies will attract businesses and more mobile residents from states with worse ones, eventually compelling the inferior policy states to redress their errors.  We’re just beginning to see the prospects for this now, as school choice programs proliferate and grow at the state level, and introducing national programs that might well interfere with this process would be a disastrous mistake.
I hope that school choice advocates, including those who have contributed to the forthcoming Brookings report, will weigh these concerns.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

P.D. James Blasts BBC

"Bestselling mystery author P.D. James blasted the BBC in a surprising interview with the British broadcasting network. Baroness James blasted the organization for its bloated executive salaries and failure to pay sufficient amounts to writers and producers of programming."

More at The Writer's Blog, .

As you read this all-to-rare attack on government-bureaucrat privilege, think of how widely this could be applied to every level of our own government, especially with the government monopolists all crying poor so loudly and demanding more money: A recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle lists the many police and sheriff's department managers who have retired with breathtaking pensions, in some cases exceeding their already generous working pay.

Fat paychecks, waste, mismanagement, overreaching in every aspect of public life -- yet the only answer ever proposed is: More money.

In an article reporting the general negative reaction to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed state budget, a simple chart illustrates the problem perfectly, yet its implications were not mentioned (or noticed?) by the article writers, or by any of those complaining: If the governor's proposal to cut the budget level next year were enacted, the spending level would be reduced to where it was all the way back in -- 2006.

That famously tight-fisted year in which we starved our noble bureaucrats, as you remember.

The ironclad rule in government budgeting is and has always been this: The budget can *never* go down; it must *always* go up. Always, regardless of any other factor.

Of course, if your ambition is overweening and limitless, your vision of government responsibilities completely open-ended, well of course the government will never have enough money. Because its ambition knows no bounds.

Now if only this elementary insight would dawn on a single political reporter or newspaper editor and affect the reporting on budget battles, we might have a chance at reform.

Not likely.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Is the Current Freeze a Sign of Global Cooling -- or What?

1. The NYT published a short article yesterday (Jan 9, 2010) answering that question. Their answer: Nothing to do with global warming, or global cooling -- just an occasional recurring twisting of the jet stream that brings extra cold weather down from Canada. Meanwhile, the North Pole is warmer than usual (as a result).

2. That is the ONLY article answering this obvious question that I've seen anywhere -- and the first and only time I've seen the MSM talk about the issue ever. When it's really cold, they ignore the question.

3. The real problem is: When it's really hot, the warming enthusiasts immediately jump on the bandwagen and talk about how this is proof positive of global warming.

Last year was unusually warm, and that's all they talked about. The past decade was the warmest in a while, and that's all they talked about. This winter is the coldest in 50 years and -- complete silence.

Wouldn't want those antiwarming nuts to have something to latch onto, would we?

4. Weather is not relevant to the arguments over global warming. It's climate, which is the longrange (decades and centuries) overall weather. One hot winter or one cold winter is proof of nothing - the timeframe is too short.

There appears to be some evidence - not overwhelming and not perfectly persuasive - that we are entering a warming period in the climate. This would not be a shock; we had a cold period in the 900s or so, a warming period in the 1100-1300s or so (when the Vikings planted crops in Vineland), another cold period in the 1400-1500s (when the Vikings died or left Vineland because it was too cold), a warm period in the 1600s, a cold period at the end of the 1700s (when Washington crossed the Delaware popularly shown as ice-choked, though it hasn't often been ice-choked at Trenton in a long time in modern times), then a warm period since then. It is entirely possible we are entering a warm climate period that could last 50 or 100 or 150 years.

5. A separate question, though you'd never know it, is to what degree human activity contributes to whatever warming might be going on -- indeed, whether human activity is stimulating a warming period that would not otherwise be happening. This latter question is unanswerable, the former question involves issues so unbelievably complex that it may never be resolved or resolvable. (Back in the 1970s when I was researching future auto fuels for Southern California Edison, one scientist argued that climate is a topic so complex that we may never be able to fully analyze it or predict it.)

Those who are enthuse about the idea of human-generated climate change fall into several camps. Those who would use it as a club to beat whatever hobbyhorse they are on: anticapitalists, antimodernists, big-government enthusiasts, self-righteous assholes, and the like. And, separately, those who hope it's human-created because, if it is, maybe we can stop whatever we're doing and avoid disaster -- whereas if it's inevitable climate change, we're all screwed.

6. If we don't simply accept that it's human-caused change that could be significantly stalled if we took practical steps to reduce our impact on the climate -- whether because we think that's idiotic, or because we don't believe the changes required would leave society in a condition we'd either recognize or accept -- then we are left with only two options that I can think of at the moment: Hope the climate isn't changing; or think of what we can do to reduce whatever negative impacts might occur if it does come through. (This latter is an option even if we believe the climate is human-changed but we don't want to be reduced to living in caves to stop it.)

Of course, the steps we can take to minimize negative impacts of climate change -- such as protecting coastlines against flooding, and adjusting agriculture to weather changes -- can also lead statists to enthuse over yet more ways the government can boss us around, or send money to other countries, and the rest of their favorite ideas for ruining our lives. I see in the recent climate international meeting that suggestion was actually made: How the rich countries will have to pay big bucks to poor nations being affected by changing weather, and to small island nations that will be flooded. These demands will grow in the near term; be prepared for them.

mac mccarthy

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Government Failure in Antiterrorism? A: More Govt!

"To judge from the news accounts, Umar Abdulmutallab did everything to get himself caught except wear an Osama bin Laden T-shirt onto that Northwest Airlines flight Christmas Day. Yet the danger didn’t dawn on anyone until he allegedly set himself on fire while trying to detonate the explosives hidden in his underwear.

"So the solution being proposed is the one we hear whenever the government fails: Give it greater power.

"This is a common liberal impulse. The public schools aren’t educating students adequately? They need more money. The stimulus didn’t rev up job creation? Pass another one.

"But when it comes to national security and law enforcement, the same tendency afflicts many conservatives. They generally think the federal government could screw up a three-car funeral, but they expect it to perform with flawless efficiency in finding murderous fanatics. And if it fails, they look to expand its authority to do the job it botched....."

--Conservative columnist Steve Chapman

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sacrificing Liberty for Security? No!

The Independent Institute
[a post on their Facebook page Jan 6, 2010--]

Charles Peña in Baltimore Sun: "just as we shouldn’t sacrifice essential freedoms to fight crime—such as probable cause and the need for a search warrant—neither should we do so for the sake of security."

The reason why we and you are against terrorism is because we believe that the rule of law should be upheld and innocent people should be protected from invasive force. The purpose then of policing/security and a system to enforce justice is to adhere to such a rule of law, in which no one is exempt from such rules, regardless of whether the person is a private terrorist or a government employee.

"War" is a condition in which the rule of law is suspended for "emergency" or "crisis" rationales during when individuals are allowed to deliberately and unaccountably harm others. In other words, "war" is precisely what we are against in insisting on the imperative of a rule of law. Hence, when a terrorist or a gang or an army invades and harms others, we are saying that this is unacceptable and those responsible should held accountable because we are basing this on the objective standard of the rule of law. We then fight against such predation in order to restore the rule of law, not postpone or end it.

However, the "war on terror" isn't even a declared war, but instead a state of permanent war operated by the President at his whim and for the advantage of those who support him. Indeed, aircraft carriers, ICBMs, spy satellites, and drone missiles have nothing to do with stopping a lap bomber. Instead of cheering on the warfare and national surveillance states and U.S. global interventionism, we should insist on the cessation of such oppression and the complete privatization and marketization of air transportation and security.

For a superb book on the subject, please see "Opposing the Crusader State":


Moral ethics and individual rights are not situational. The end never justifies the means because every means is an end in itself and whatever standard is used to justify any end also applies to each and every means. Moreover, the view that "safety" can be used to trump rights and justice invariably produces the opposite. Perhaps you should read the following book by Robert Higgs, "Neither Liberty Nor Safety: Fear, Ideology, and the Growth of Government":