Archives: 08/2006

“Chaoulli has brought Canadian Medicare to a fork in the road”

Colleen Flood of the University of Toronto law school has a working paper out on the impact of the Canadian Supreme Court’s ruling in Chaoulli v. Quebec. In that case the court basically said that if the government prohibits private health insurance, but then threatens people’s lives by making them wait for care in the state-run health care system, it is violating the people’s rights to life, liberty, and personal security.

Prof. Flood’s paper is titled, “Chaoulli’s Legacy for the Future of Canadian Health Care Policy.” From the abstract:

The decision was initially considered of limited importance by many given that technically it applied only to Quebec. In the six months since the decision was released, however, it has become clear that the legal impact of Chaoulli will be dwarfed by its normative impact on policy debates across the country. Chaoulli has brought Canadian Medicare to a fork in the road. At the time of writing, critical decisions are about to be taken across the country.

Flood’s paper is available from the Social Science Research Network here (subscription req’d).

Dr. Chaoulli – the chief litigant in the case – authored a paper for Cato on the ruling and its potential impact, available here.

Exit Against Predation

Those who have strong feelings about how wealth ought to be distributed, and who think that government policy ought to be more redistributive, often fall victim to the fantasy that their golden geese will not just wander off into another jurisdiction.

No doubt the members of the Chicago City Council are nonplussed that their attempt to squeeze large retailers has led Wal-Mart, Lowes, and Target to put their plans for new Chicago stores (and new Chicago jobs) on hold. I bet a million billion dollars that at least a few council members have lamented that they can’t legally force the big boxes to open stores within Chicago city limits. They’re learning the bitter lesson that the right of exit is a powerful check on politicians who can’t keep their hands out of other people’s pockets.

Worried about inequality? Why not really sock it to the rich? Because the rich — or their money at any rate — will just leave town. Even champions of the poor, like Bono, head for the greenest pastures:

Irish rock band U2 has transferred part of its multi-million-euro business empire out of Ireland due to changes in tax laws there, a British newspaper has said.

In a report from Dublin, the Daily Telegraph said Tuesday the band had moved part of its publishing company, U2 Limited, to the same Dutch finance house used by the Rolling Stones because royalties are virtually tax-free in the Netherlands.

[…]
According to the Daily Telegraph, the band — whose frontman Bono campaigns against global poverty — made the move in response to Ireland imposing a 250,000-euro (170,000-pound, 321,000-dollar) cap on tax-free incomes.

I bet Bono thinks he knows better than politicians in Dublin how to use his money. And I bet Bono’s right.

A recent Washington Post article details how France is bleeding millionaires thanks to outrageously punitive tax rates:

[High-tech millionaire Denis] Payre, who moved his family to neighboring Belgium eight years ago, is today part of a sizable community of rich expatriate French driven out by the world’s highest tax bills on wealthy citizens. The exodus continues: On average, at least one millionaire leaves France every day to take up residence in more wealth-friendly nations, according to a government study.

Now, I bet that more than a few of those fleet-footed millionaires were in favor of those high tax rates, illustrating that the gap between ideology and actual consequences can open up even within a single soul.

Lamont’s Victory Exposes the True Nature of Campaign Finance “Reform”

There is not a line in McCain-Feingold that isn’t designed to protect incumbents. The so-called Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act makes it a crime to even mention the name of a candidate for federal office in a radio or television ad within 60 days of a general election. No criticizing incumbents! But the worst part of these laws came with the 1974 Amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act, which instituted a $1000 contribution limit to candidates running for federal office (now slightly more than $2000, but less in real terms than the ’74 limits). Incumbents have earmarks to pass around and large mailing lists. Challengers do not. Advantage, incumbents.

Ned Lamont’s remarkable victory over three-term incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman yesterday exposes the true nature of contribution limits. They aren’t about the “appearance of corruption.” They’re about preventing a challenger from having a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. The one “loophole” the Supremes created with their incoherent 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo was that candidates have rights the rest of us don’t have. Apparently, they can’t be corrupted by their own money, so there are no limits on what they can spend on their own campaigns.

More than 60 percent of Ned’s campaign expenditures came from Ned. Without Ned, Ned loses. In fact, no political observer thought any candidate dependent on a $2000 contribution limit had any kind of chance of ousting Lieberman. Ned was a very poor candidate. Inarticulate with zero charisma. But by spending his own money he enfranchised the Democrats of Connecticut who otherwise, given the contribution limits, were disenfranchised. The Democrats in Connecticut hate the war in Iraq, Lieberman has rather energetically endorsed it. Yet the federal election laws would have assured Lieberman reelection were it not for the “loophole.”

This anti-war election is directly analogous to my late friend Gene McCarthy’s race for the presidency in 1968. Gene used six-figure contributions from wealthy liberals like Stewart Mott who opposed the war in Vietnam to fund a campaign that ousted a sitting president from his own party. Gene often said that had the ’74 amendments to the FECA been in place in ’68, he would not have run. Campaign finance laws should not have the power to change American history. But they do. Give everyone the “loophole” of being able to spend as much of their own money to promote their political beliefs and we’ll throw a remarkable number of incumbents out of office. And with good candidates instead of bumbling millionaires.

Pluralism and School Choice

Allow me to jump into the exchange from a few days back between our own Neal McCluskey and the American Prospect’s Matt Yglesias on science education. One of the key arguments against school choice is that only the government can be entrusted with the dissemination of truth. Matt writes that in both private and public schools:

… children are going to be coerced into doing something or other. Under the circumstances, I think there’s good reason to take a pragmatic attitude – better than children be coerced into learning correct science than incorrect science.

The implication being that government schools are more likely to have correct teachings. (By the way, it’s totally outrageous to say that teaching is “coercive,” just because the kids don’t get to pick what they will be taught.) Neal rightly notes that it’s not always obvious what’s correct. Neal proposed school choice in the first place precisely because government school boards keep trying to get creationism into the curriculum. If there is a single curriculum in a district, then, unless it is remarkably homogenous, there will be some kind of ideological power struggle over control of its contents. Matt seems to assume that the side of “correct science” will tend to win in school board battles, and that public school teachers are somehow less motivated to teach falsehoods about science than private school teachers. It is truly hard to see why.

Take, for example, former Weather Undergroud terrorist Bill Ayers’ attempt to work his communism into the science curriculum through “radical” teacher education:

In 1997, Ayers and his mentor Maxine Greene persuaded Teachers College [Columbia] Press to launch a series of books on social justice teaching, with Ayers as editor and Greene serving on the editorial board (along with Rashid Khalidi, loyal supporter of the Palestinian cause and the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University). Twelve volumes have appeared so far, including one titled Teaching Science for Social Justice.

Teaching science for social justice? Let Teachers College professor Angela Calabrese Barton, the volume’s principal author, try to explain: “The marriages between capitalism and education and capitalism and science have created a foundation for science education that emphasizes corporate values at the expense of social justice and human dignity.” The alternative? “Science pedagogy framed around social justice concerns can become a medium to transform individuals, schools, communities, the environment, and science itself, in ways that promote equity and social justice. Creating a science education that is transformative implies not only how science is a political activity but also the ways in which students might see and use science and science education in ways transformative of the institutional and interpersonal power structures that play a role in their lives.” If you still can’t appreciate why it’s necessary for your child’s chemistry teacher to teach for social justice, you are probably hopelessly wedded to reason, empiricism, individual merit, and other capitalist and post-colonialist deformities.

Columbia’s Teacher’s College, it is worth emphasizing, is one of the most prestigious and influential schools of education in the U.S. As you’ll see reading Sol Stern’s eye-opening article, Bill Ayres is a man who looks with admiration to the example of tryannical murders like Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh, and he would like to get teachers to push their ideology into the science curriculum. Stern goes on to discuss Eric Gutstein, a public school math teacher, who incorporates socialist politics into his math lectures.

It’s odious that government schools should provide a platform for either creationist pseudoscience or vicious, pseudo-intellectual anti-liberalism. But there is simply no way around this if government insists on providing, as well as financing, education. There is no way creationist types are going to stand for Ayres’ and Gutstein’s nonsense, and vice versa, ensuring that curriculum will be politicized. And there is no mechanism that makes it likely that the truth will win. Average parents, who just wants their kids to get a decent education, and don’t have strong feelings about the origins of life, or their oppressed relationship to capital, aren’t going to be on fire to make sure only the truth is taught. Their kids just get stuck with whoever wins the fight, or caught in a balance of powers unrelated to their interests. You don’t solve the problem of ideological pluralism simply by hoping that the government school boards and teachers will get it right. They clearly often don’t, ensuring that everyone has to learn a few favorite falsehoods.

Worse yet, often nobody wins the ideological fight. Opposed ideological agendas often don’t balance each other out, but simply create a pedagogical muddle. Education schools, when not teaching “Proletarian Revolt through Algebra,” teach a great deal of insipid therapeutic pablum, and textbooks afraid of saying anything anybody might possibly disagree with often avoid saying anything at all. Kids in government schools too often end up knowing nothing, not knowing the wrong thing. I do not believe that by not teaching intelligent design the government schools are therefore churning out little Richard Dawkinses by the thousands.

I’ll happily run the risk of a few creationist and Marxist private schools at the margins if that’s what it takes to create a system that actually succeeds at educating children. The surpassingly small minority who get a boatload of ideological hooey will at least be capable of speaking intelligently about Leviticus or The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. That, at least, is something.

What’s Another Taxpayer Liability?

Today’s New York Times includes an excellent article — the first of a series — on the underfunding of state and local government pension plans. Different calculations of the nationwide unfunded liability — which ultimately is the taxpayers’ burden — range from $375 billion to $800 billion.

Times reporter Mary Williams Walsh nicely summarizes the dynamic that creates this liability:

[Public pension plans] are governed by boards that often include municipal labor leaders, whose duty to represent their workers’ interests can easily conflict with their fiduciary duty to represent the plan itself. And even the most exemplary pension boards can be overruled, in many cases, by politicians whose priorities may be incompatible with sound financial management.

In other words, politicians and labor leaders who need political help today make grand promises of future benefits to special interests. But the politicians don’t want to anger taxpayers with the cost of those benefits, so they underfund the promises — after all, the bill won’t come due for years or decades. Between then and now, I suppose we’ll hide under some coats and hope that somehow everything will work out.

On a related note, Jagadeesh Gokhale and Kent Smetters calculate that the present value of the fiscal imbalance for Social Security stands at more than $8.4 trillion and Medicare stands at more than $63.4 trillion.

Fear Is the Health of the State

James Fallows has an important–and brave–piece in the new Atlantic Monthly. Important because it reports the underreported good news in the war on terror: we’re winning. Indeed, after interviewing some 60 leading terrorism analysts while researching the article, Fallows has concluded that we’ve won. And the article is brave because one subway bombing while this issue’s on the stands and Fallows’s name might become the punchline to a thousand bitter jokes about pollyannaish predictions.

But if and when another attack happens, it won’t disprove Fallows’s point: we do not now, if we ever did, face an existential threat from the likes of Al Qaeda. As he puts it, “terrorists, through their own efforts, can damage, but not destroy us. Their real destructive power lies in what they can provoke us to do.” If fear, not reason, governs our reaction to terrorism, then Al Qaeda can provoke us into launching unnecessary wars and abandoning the constitutional protections we cherish. If we proclaim this conflict World War III (or IV–the hawks appear divided on this point, if on little else), then certain consequences follow for the American constitutional order. Which is one reason why Fallows urges the abandonment of the war metaphor.

Of course, Al Qaeda is a threat that should be taken very seriously–in some ways, more seriously than the adminstration has in the past. But for nearly five years, too much of the public debate over foreign threats has been dominated by breathless hysteria. The soundbite “the Constitution is not a suicide pact” has become the tell-it-to-the-hand of constitutional debate, as if it is a given that unless we gut the document, we will be committing national suicide. Peace and liberty don’t do well in an atmosphere of panic. Fallows’s calm, sober optimism serves as a useful corrective.

More on Jesse Lee Williams, Jr.

Yesterday, I mentioned the horrific case of Jesse Lee Williams, Jr., who was beaten to death while in police custody in Harrison County, Mississippi.  I noted that six months after Harrison’s death, there had yet to be any movement toward justice for the police deputies who beat him.

As it turns out, there was some movement yesterday.  According to the Biloxi Sun Herald, one of the deputies who participated in the beating has confessed to federal prosecutors, and as part of a plea, has conceded a long history of abuse at the county jail.  An arrest of Deputy Ryan Teel, who is thought to have inflicted the brunt of the beating, should soon follow.

This is certainly a positive development, and it will be interesting to see how Teel is ultimately charged. 

But as noted, there is a long record of reported abuse at the Harrison County jail house.  Reports of inmate beatings have circulated for months, not just from inmates themselves, but from other officers from other departments, and from other witnesses.  Nothing was done.  Encouraging as yesterday’s news was, it doesn’t undermine the criticism that earlier beatings went unaddressed, that it took a homicide to rally any real accountability, and that even then, the first signs of justice have appeared only after six months, and only after involvement from federal investigators.

As the Sun Herald noted in an editorial on the case last month, violent crimes not perpetrated by police officers seem to move through the criminal justice system quite a bit more swiftly.