Common Core? Agency Fees? No Thanks!

Yesterday the 10th annual Education Next survey of American opinion on K-12 education came out, and right away Jason Bedrick deftly distilled the school choice findings. I want to quickly discuss two other, ripped-from-the-headlines subjects: opinion on the Common Core national curriculum standards, and agency fees charged to teachers who don’t want to join a union.

As perhaps reflected in the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—the recently enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—many Americans across the ideological spectrum are none too pleased with the Common Core, which the ESSA goes so far as to mention by name as off limits to further federal coercion. According to the survey, federal politicians read the tea leaves correctly when they took off against the Core. Despite the survey using a wording likely to bias respondents in favor of the Core—saying it will be used “to hold schools accountable for their performance”—the general public was evenly split: 42 percent supportive and 42 percent against. Even more telling has been the Core’s trajectory since first being addressed in the 2012 survey. The trend data do not include people who were neutral on the Core, but among those who offered opinions for or against, support plummeted from 90 percent to just 50 percent.

That said, the survey’s overall message is not entirely hopeful if you aren’t fond of centralized standards and testing. Among other things, 55 percent of the general public supports generic, identical state standards in reading and math used “to hold public schools accountable for their performance.” Of course, that wording makes it impossible to know if respondents are mainly reacting to uniform standards, accountability, or both, but the uniformity inclination does not bode well for fans of local control of public schools. Then again, the public opinion trajectory is similar to what we saw when the Common Core was mentioned by name: support dropped from 92 percent of people who offered an opinion in 2012, to 66 percent today.

Did Welfare Reform Increase Naturalizations?

The 1996 Welfare Reform Act (PRWORA) made it more difficult for non-citizens to access means-tested welfare benefits.  However, that law also allowed states to use their own funds to extend means-tested welfare benefits to non-citizens and some took advantage of this.  After 1996, the only sure-fire way for a non-citizen to get welfare benefits was to naturalize and become a citizen. 

Twelve states did not change non-citizen eligibility for four large welfare programs (TANF, SNAP Medicaid, and SSI) in response to PRWORA while the other 39 states and the District of Columbia became more restrictive.  If non-citizens responded to welfare reform by naturalizing in order to gain access to benefits then there would be a larger increase in naturalizations in states with more restrictive post-PRWORA policies.  The evidence bears this out for immigrants based on country of origin.  The state by state evidence is more mixed. 

I then compared the increased percent in the number of naturalizations per state from the 1993-1995 period (first period) to the 1997-1999 period (second period).  Unfortunately, the 1996 data is unusable because some of it is unavailable and computer problems delayed naturalizations for that year, causing a 100 percent drop off in some states that had nothing to do with welfare reform.    

Massachusetts to Impose Tax on Ride-Hailing Companies to Subsidize Their Traditional Taxi Competitors

Republican Governor Charlie Baker recently signed statewide regulations for ride-hailing platforms like Lyft and Uber and this package has the ignominy of including “a subsidy that appears to be the first of its kind in the United States,” as Reuters calls it. This comes in the form of a new 5-cent per trip tax on ride-haling companies that will be funneled to the traditional taxi company. This is part of the total 20-cent per trip fee with the rest of the revenues being split between local governments and the state transportation fund.

There are approximately 2.5 million rides per month in Massachusetts just through Uber and Lyft, with more coming through other, smaller ride-hailing companies.  This means that the 5-cent tax and subsidy will transfer at least $1.5 million to traditional taxi companies each year, and likely much more as the total number of ride-hailing trips continues to rise in the coming years.

As it is written now the “taxi tax,” as Brittany Hunter has dubbed it, is scheduled to be collected through 2021 and the entire 20 cent surcharge will be in effect through 2026. Now that traditional taxi competitors have gotten a taste of being subsidized by their more successful competitors, it seems unlikely they would let a fruitful source of new ‘revenue’ expire without a fight.

While the regulation promises “riders and drivers will not see the fee because the law bars companies from charging them” there is no way the ride-hailing companies will passively absorb all of these additional costs. Instead, the most likely scenario is that they will indeed find a way pass on these costs and the most likely channels are higher prices for consumers or lower compensation for drivers.

Is the U.S. Trade Deficit a Problem to Solve?

Since 1975 – for 41 straight years – the United States has registered annual trade deficits with the rest of the world.  That means that year after year, Americans spend more on foreign-produced goods and services than foreigners spend on U.S.-produced goods and services or, put simply, the dollar value of U.S. imports exceeds the dollar value of U.S. exports.

For almost as long, some economists have been arguing that trade deficits are unsustainable – they sap economic growth, bleed jobs, and saddle our descendants with debt.  Perhaps if one looks at the trade deficit (or the slightly broader current account deficit) in isolation, these concerns might seem to have merit.  But looking at the U.S. trade or current account deficits without considering the capital account surplus is a meaningless, misleading exercise.

Yesterday, I published this piece at Forbes online, explaining why the trade deficit is not only not a problem, but that the associated capital surplus (the excess of inward investment over outward investment), which includes high-quality foreign direct investment, bestows huge advantages on the U.S. economy.  In that piece, I ask trade deficit hawks (or scolds, as I call them) to furnish their best, fact-based, comprehensive arguments – to finally step up to the plate and explain why it is that the trade deficit is a problem to solve.  

It would be of immense public policy value if we were to be able to catalogue and compare the arguments of both sides (and those who may be in the middle).  After all, one of the reasons that trade is so maligned is that the public has been lead to believe that the trade account is a scoreboard, with the deficit indicating that Team America is losing – and it’s losing on account of poorly negotiated trade deals and foreign cheating.  Helping the public reach that conclusion (rather than find the truth) may be the goal of some noisy contributors, but I suspect there are plenty of trade deficit hawks with purer motives, if not convincing arguments.

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Make America (Realize It’s) Safe Again

Donald Trump keeps insisting we live in dangerous times. “I don’t think America is a safe place for Americans” he said earlier this year. And most Americans agree with him. In June 71% of Americans said they expected further terrorist attacks in the United States over the next several weeks. And 53% recently said they worry a great deal about crime while 70% believe that there is more crime in the United States than there was a year ago.

It may have been smart politics for Trump to use Make America Safe Again as the theme for the opening day of the Republican National Convention. The facts, however, suggest Americans are already quite safe.

Take crime, for example. The statistics suggest that the public has it entirely backwards. In 2013 and 2014 Americans experienced their safest years on record. The murder rate per hundred thousand was 4.5, well below half of what it was at its worst point in the 1980s and early 1990s, lower even than the murder rate in 1963, the previous safest year on record. The numbers are nearly identical for other types of violent crime. According to the FBI’s crime statistics, the past five years have been the safest of the last half century.

Terrorism is another case where the numbers don’t support the heightened level of fear. The attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando certainly set people on edge, but Americans have a better chance of being killed by lightning or drowning in their own bathtubs than being killed by a terrorist.

Over the past two decades, the tragic attacks of 9/11 included, Muslim extremists were responsible for less than one percent of murders in the United States. And in the past 10 years that number has dropped substantially, with radical Islamists responsible for less than one-tenth of one percent of the killings in America.

New Heterodox Academy Initiative

Over at Heterodox Academy, we have been hearing from students who are concerned that their universities exhibit a rigid ideological orthodoxy, with dissenting faculty members almost nonexistent and dissenting students afraid to speak their minds. We agree that this sort of academic climate is profoundly unhealthy: It tends to stifle the sort of uncensored intellectual inquiry that produces groundbreaking scholarship and robust education. Indeed, the Supreme Court itself has cautioned against a “pall of orthodoxy” in education: “The classroom is peculiarly the marketplace of ideas. The Nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to that robust exchange of ideas which discovers truth out of a multitude of tongues, [rather] than through any kind of authoritative selection.”  Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U. S. 589, 603 (1967) (internal quotations omitted).

Yale University understood this very wellfor a time.  And the University of Chicago understands it now.  But, alas, this basic principle has been forgotten on countless campuses across the country.  Heterodox Academy has, therefore, launched a new initiative to empower students to call for a more heterodox education. In collaboration with several students, we have generated three short resolutions that students may use to reaffirm the central importance of free speech and intellectual diversity on campus.  Students who want an uncensored and heterodox education may propose these resolutions to their student governments, publicize them in student newspapers and use them to press for official policy changes:

[B]e it resolved that [our school] is a Heterodox University

We make the following specific requests to the faculty and administration:

1) Adopt the Chicago Principles on Freedom of Expression

A clear way for the university to show commitment to viewpoint diversity is by adopting the University of Chicago’s Principles on Freedom of Expression, which state in part:

The University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.

We request that the Faculty Senate endorse the “Chicago Principles” as official university policy.

2) Implement a non-obstruction policy for protests

We support the right of all students to protest against speakers and writers with whom they disagree, but we ask that protests be done in a way that does not deprive other students of their rights to speak and hear. When members of our community shout down a speaker, or take other actions intended to make it more difficult for a speaker to speak or for an audience to hear, they are practicing obstruction, censorship, and sometimes intimidation, not free speech. Such practices have no place in any academic community. We request that the university formulate and enforce a non-obstruction policy. As stated in the Chicago Principles: “The University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.”

3) Improve viewpoint diversity

We request that the university include viewpoint diversity, and particularly political diversity, in its diversity policies and in its efforts to diversify the faculty and the curriculum. We want to encounter a range of viewpoints in the classroom, just as we will after we graduate.

Adoption of these resolutions will mark a school as a “Heterodox University” – a safe space for intellectual diversity and uncensored speech. Heterodox Academy stands ready to help tailor these resolutions to specific universities and to help support students who wish to promote these principles.  For more information, click here.

[Cross-posted from The Volokh Conspiracy]

Prof. Laurence Tribe on IRS Targeting

Last week Harvard law professor Larry Tribe sent out a tweet brusquely dismissing the IRS targeting episode as a debunked non-scandal. I and others promptly took issue with him, and pointed him toward the August 5 D.C. Circuit opinion laying out the scandal’s genuineness. (I also referenced my Ricochet article summarizing the decision and citing the Inspector General report from Treasury.)

Within an hour or two Prof. Tribe sent this tweet very graciously conceding error, along with several similar.

I have on occasion had my differences with Prof. Tribe’s views, but what an honorable example he sets here. May all of us prove equally ready to re-examine our own views when challenged [cross-posted and slightly adapted from Overlawyered].

P.S. If word of the D.C. Circuit panel decision has not gotten around as widely as it should, one reason is that some major news organizations have still, nearly three weeks later, not seen fit to cover it. 

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