Archives: 06/2007

The Islamofascists’ Reign of Terror

The New York Times reports on American troops’ efforts to push Al Qaeda insurgents out of Baqaba, Iraq, and liberate residents from their strict rule:

The insurgents have imposed a strict Islamic creed, and some have even banned smoking, one resident told Capt. Jeff Noll, the commander of Company B of the First Battalion, 23rd Infantry, during his patrol through the neighborhood.

Banning smoking? President Bush is right — if we don’t stop them in Iraq, we’ll have to fight them in Manhattan, and Montgomery County, and San Francisco….

Voucher Use in Washington Wins Praise of Parents

 The headline for the New York Times article on the first review of the D.C. voucher program (summary, full report) is the headline I use here for this post. I’m pleasantly surprised, I have to say.

The NYT lead paragraph was almost correct as well, losing marks for lack of context. It mentions that parents who can choose a school for their children are much more satisfied, and that the choice students did not have consistently statistically significant academic gains. 

The vital context for this is that treatment effects from major education changes just aren’t expected in the first year. The NYT unfortunately also repeats the false claim that the evidence on voucher effects is not consistent. 

All scientific assessments of choice programs show positive gains, and nearly all of those studies show statistically significant gains. But it takes some time to get results, especially after a switch in schools that can be disruptive in various ways in the short-term. We have plenty of evidence that school choice improves student performance, and improves government schools as well.

The real news here is the immediate and very significant improvement in parental satisfaction across the board. The Washington Post, of course, buries the real news 14 paragraphs into the story.

In the one effect that should be expected in the first year, the voucher program has been a wild success. But that’s not the line the Post is helping school choice opponents push.

The Post prints a headline today that’s a lesson in how to slant the news while appearing on the surface to remain neutral. Here’s their headline: “Voucher Students Show Few Gains in First Year.” No one expected them to! Again, studies show choice has an effect, but it’s not magic fairy dust that makes students savants after the average of seven months they spent at a new school. And the numbers involved in this tiny program are, well, tiny. 

But the subtitle is the kicker, and combined it’s a despicable exercise in political activism masquerading as journalism; “D.C. Results Typical, Federal Study Says.” Here’s the trick; suggest, falsely, that it’s newsworthy that vouchers don’t immediately and massively increase student achievement, then suggest that choice programs typically don’t lead to improvements.

Chairman of the House education committee, George Miller (D-Calif.), echoed the Post and the NYT in a statement: “This report offers even more proof that private school vouchers won’t improve student achievement and are nothing more than a tired political gimmick.”

Miller should be ashamed of himself. And so should the education reporters who fail to give their readers context and crucial facts.

The D.C. voucher program is a life-line for low-income children. It’s sad to see their hometown paper helping handmaidens for the education-industrial complex in Congress try to cut that line to a better future. 

A Reason to be Against Donor Disclosure

Several interest groups (Public Citizen, Common Cause and Democracy 21) have lately been trying to persuade Congress to set up an independent ethics panel to police members. They also want Congress to allow outside groups (like themselves) to file ethics complaints with the panel.

A House task force now proposes to grant them their wish. However, the task force also requires any group filing an ethics complaint to the new panel to disclose its donors.

The interest groups are not amused. Craig Holman of Public Citizen told The Hill:  “you can imagine how upsetting this is to the donor community.”

I do not support an independent ethics panel. However, Holman is correct here. A group that filed a complaint would open its donors to retribution by the named member or by his party or allies in Congress. Disclosure might even discourage donors from supporting these interest groups, thereby burdening the contributors’ rights to association and speech.

In fact, I think we should extend Craig Holman’s point to other donors. People who contribute to the campaigns of challengers to incumbents should also not have to disclose their donations. After all, their contribution (like an ethics complaint) threatens a member of Congress and might well bring about retribution.

Sauces, gooses, ganders. If disclosure threatens the interests of the donors to certain influential interest groups that might irritate people in power, surely it also threatens those who contribute to challengers to incumbents. These donors, like your average Common Cause contributor, should also be free of the burden of revealing their political activities to those who might do them harm.

Laissez-Faire Health Care: Hilariously Misguided?

Ezra Klein offers a theory to explain my prediction that he will die a libertarian.  I’m going to keep my reasons for that prediction close to my vest.  But I will say that his recent comment about “intellectual disagreements” is not among them.

A few observations in response to his most recent post:

  1. A libertarian health policy would not prescribe $30,000 health insurance deductibles, or any size deductible. But Klein knows that.
  2. A patient on a gurney has no bargaining power. I know that.  Klein knows that. He knows that I know that. He also knows that most treatment settings are non-emergent. But let’s see if this straw man is really so easily razed. I’m guessing we could also agree that the patient has more bargaining power later, once his situation is no longer emergent. And I think we could likewise agree that a good way to protect the most vulnerable gurney-jockey from being gouged would be to make sure all gurney-jockeys care about the cost of their treatment (whether at the point of service or when they purchase their coverage).
  3. Best Buy and Sony are inapt. Think GEICO. Like Humana, GEICO is for-profit. Like Humana, GEICO takes its customers’ money and every claim paid is a loss to the company. Those incentives are the same.  Yet we don’t have an auto repair crisis. In fact, GEICO boasts on the radio that it pays claims so quickly, it steals other insurers’ customers. Why the difference?
  4. The key question is what type of system best reduces vulnerability. Is it a laissez-faire system, where (a) individuals would control the money now controlled by government and employers and (b) competition would ensure that insurers and providers could profit only by reducing others’ vulnerability?  Or is it a system with greater government involvement, where the link between self-interest and reducing others’ vulnerability is more attenuated?

Harsh Criticism for the Re-Packaged EU Constitution from a British Newspaper

The EU Constitution is being resuscitated by Europe’s political elites, and those elites are doing their best to figure out ways to bypass voters. British voters are the best chance of saving Europe from further centralization, but Tony Blair is maneuvering to avoid a referendum. An editorial from the Sun strongly denounces the EU Constitution and hopes that Gordon Brown will protect British interests:

Tony Blair faces a stark choice at his last EU summit. He can stand up for the country that trusted him with power in three general elections. Or he can sell us down the river to the faceless EU politicians and bureaucrats who run Europe … Mr. Blair’s vaunted “red lines” won’t protect the United Kingdom from the relentless erosion of power by our EU masters. Whatever written guarantees are offered in the coming days, Britain would be folding its hand into a European superstate … Gordon Brown may not be in Brussels — but he will have the final say on how the result is sold at home. We have been promised a referendum. The incoming Prime Minister cannot allow this deal to go through without one.

A columnist in the same paper outlines the many ways in which the EU Constitution gives more power to Brussels and threatens the UK’s more open economy:

…the Reform Treaty, is virtually the same as the rejected EU Constitution. It will rob us of powers to set our own laws and put industry back 30 years … Early drafts of the document show Britain will surrender 30 per cent of its voting power in EU meetings. This will make it far harder to stop barmy EU diktats becoming UK law.

Britain’s vetoes will be axed in as many as 51 areas … The power to set tax and spend policy could also be stripped away. The Commission also wants to rob us of our right to set social security payments. Experts say the draft Treaty would mean huge changes to British law. They say a Charter of Fundamental Rights would become more legally-binding than UK law. The Charter will also lumber Britain’s economy with job-destroying EU laws.

Recap of SiCKO Film Forum

This morning, Ezra Klein and Stuart Browning joined me for what I think was an entertaining and informative forum on health policy.  (Keep an eye on this page for the archived webcast.)  Thanks to both of them for participating.

Over at his blog, Klein offers his thoughts on the discussion:

What always strikes me at these panels, though, is how much agreement there really is. Michael Cannon and I would build very different systems, to be sure, but at base, we both believe the employer tie to be awful, and the insurers to suck, and the hospitals to be performing below expectations, and on, and on. The obstacles to reform are not intellectual disagreement or policy uncertainties – they’re interest groups trying to protect a system that benefits them.

To be clear, we have serious intellectual disagreements.  I am an obstacle to Klein’s preferred reforms; as he is to mine.

I don’t expect that to last, however.  I have sensed this for some time and now I’m ready to predict it: Ezra Klein will die a libertarian.  And it won’t be a deathbed conversion, either.  Right now, I think he would call himself a progressive, which is fine.  He could even keep that label: it better fits someone who’s committed to expanding liberty anyhow.

Tech and the Environment

Valleywag has an excellent rant on the problems with environmentalists’ blackmailing the technology industry:

To ignore the wider benefits of the digital revolution is obtuse. Here’s the fundamental truth: the more human activity is pursued online, the less the environmental footprint. Apple’s pioneering of desktop publishing did away with much of the filthy print industry; its easy video-conferencing will make some business trips unnecessary; Ebay’s person-to-person marketplace bypasses cumbersome retail logistics; and Google is replacing inefficient physical libraries and filing systems across the world. Frankly, if a few computers end up in dumps, rather than recycled: so what.

I can understand why it would be convenient to go after Apple. Steve Jobs’ computer maker is more easily pressured than most companies, because of its pristine brand, and because so many of its customers are environmentally conscious. Al Gore, the planet’s foremost defender, is on the board. Apple makes things, which are messy. And, given the holy war against climate change, and the political correctness that stifles critical thinking, the company can’t defend itself.

The green lobby may choose to target high-tech companies rather than, say, the oil, coal or auto industries. The ex-hippies in charge of Silicon Valley companies are easy targets. But any victory, in converting them to the cause, will be purely symbolic, useful for fund-raising, maybe, but ultimately meaningless. This campaign against Apple is, at best, moral blackmail and, at worst, a cynical shakedown. Shame on them.

Thanks to Joe for the pointer. There’s a broader point here, that was best articulated by Julian Simon: in the long run, free markets and technological progress are good for the environment, because reducing costs often means reducing waste, and reducing waste often means reducing your environmental footprint. Technological progress and rapid economic growth also allows us to devote more resources to cleaning up the environment. Plus it leads to more people having the luxury to spend their time hectoring companies like Apple for their environmental records.