Archives: 02/2009

Expect the Worst

Yesterday, American Federation of Teachers’ President Randi Weingarten had an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for national academic standards. Of course, union support for national standards is itself almost reason enough to fight any such move to the death, but over at The Corner Ramesh Ponnuru asks a critical question, wondering “why we should expect federal standards to resemble the best state standards rather than the worst ones.”

As I’ve pointed out on numerous occasions, especially to the standards zealots on the right, there is no good reason to expect quality to prevail. The people who would be held to high standards, such as teachers and school administrators, have huge incentives and political power to fight rigor, and given their political heft would almost certainly prevail. Indeed, based on what’s happened with standards to date, the odds seem hugely in favor of wimpiness. As I wrote in response to Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation a couple of years ago:

Given history and political reality, Petrilli and other like-minded conservatives have very few government standards successes to hang their hats on. Indeed, that’s why they’ve had to ask the country to play 6 percent roulette: “Of course, getting national standards and tests right is no small feat,” Petrilli acknowledges. “But McCluskey is wrong to insist that it cannot be done. After all, California, Massachusetts, and Indiana managed to develop excellent standards over the past decade. If it can happen in Sacramento or Boston, it could happen in Washington, D.C., too.”

So, because three out of fifty states have gotten standards right, we should gamble on the feds getting them right, too, and give Washington the authority to set the standards for every public school in America? That’s crazy.

Maybe if we tweak Petrilli’s statement, its insanity will be more clear: “Getting national standards and tests right is no small feat. And McCluskey is right to insist that it almost certainly can’t be done. After all, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas – and the list goes on - haven’t managed to develop excellent standards over the past decade. If it can’t happen in Montgomery or Juneau, it probably won’t happen in D.C., either.”

I Believe in Non-Political Government Comparative-Effectiveness Research (and in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus…)

My colleague Michael Cannon has been writing about the folly of government-sponsored comparative effectiveness research. Now, in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (subscription required), John Kraemer and Lawrence Gostin add another cautionary note for those who believe that the government’s decisions will be based on science and not on politics. In particular, the authors discussed how the Connecticut Attorney General has attacked the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) for recommending against the use of long-term antibiotics to treat “Chronic Lyme Disease.” Although the IDSA based its non-binding recommendation on the overwhelming scientific evidence, the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS), a well connected and media-savvy advocacy group for those with Lyme disease protested, taking its case to the Connecticut political establishment. As a result, Connecticut Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal sued the IDSA under the state’s anti-trust laws.

Political institutions are by definition political. A government body deciding on the comparative-effectiveness or cost-effectiveness of medical treatments will inevitably base its decisions as much on politics as on science.

The Biggest Check Ever Signed

The Obama Administration has banked a lot of political capital on the economic “stimulus” package signed into law today, and is hailing the measure as a sound-minded reaction to a dreary economic climate.  In truth, many of the programs in the bill are not only wasteful and inefficient, but have the potential to do some real long-term harm to U.S. policy.

Among them:

The economic stimulus bill is merely a nearsighted return to government spending policies which have been discredited over and over again [PDF].

For more on the package, check out Cato’s Fiscal Reality page.

Now that the So-Called Stimulus Is Enacted, the Time Has Come to Look at Policies that Actually Improve Economic Performance

The faux stimulus bill will be signed into law today by President Obama. The bad news is that making government bigger will hurt the economy. The good news is that sooner or later there will be a recovery from the current downturn. The real issue is whether long-run growth will be robust. Unfortunately, the evidence strongly suggests that an increased burden of government spending is among the policies that harm long-run economic performance. In a new video, I review the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World and highlight the policies that expand freedom and increase prosperity:

Obama’s K Street Recovery Plan

Not that it needed it – lobbying was one industry that kept on growing during 2008 – the Washington influence business is getting a boost from the Obama-Pelosi-Reid massive spending bill. In a graphic on page A6 of the February 13 edition, not available online, the Washington Post reports that “A Washington Post analysis found that more than 90 organizations hired lobbyists to specifically influence provisions of the massive stimulus bill.” The graphic shows that the number of newly registered lobbying clients peaked on the day after Obama’s inauguration and continued to grow as the bill worked its way through both houses of Congress.

In the accompanying article, the Post notes that – unsurprisingly – the $800 billion spending bill “is not free of spending that benefits specific communities, industries or groups, despite vows by President Obama that the legislation would be kept clear of pet projects.” My favorite, as I’ve noted before, is

a controversial proposal for a magnetic-levitation rail line between Disneyland, in California, and Las Vegas, a project favored by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Here are some other recent headlines from the political class’s newspaper of record: “THE INFLUENCE GAME: Lobbyists work stimulus to end”; “A Lobbying Frenzy For Federal Funds”; “Ohioans Seek Slice of Stimulus Pie”; “Lobbyists Get Around Obama’s Earmark Ban”; “Certain Firms, Industries Got Last-Minute Gifts in Stimulus.”

More on the frenzied efforts to get a piece of the taxpayers’ money in the spending bill here and here.

If you want money flowing to the companies with good lobbyists and powerful congressmen, then the stimulus bill may accomplish something. But we should all recognize that we’re taking money out of the competitive, individually directed part of society and turning it over to the politically controlled sector. Politicians rather than consumers will pick winners and losers. That’s not a recipe for recovery.

The Looming Horror of Global Cooling

George Will reminds us of the global disaster that faced us back in the 1970s:

In the 1970s, “a major cooling of the planet” was “widely considered inevitable” because it was “well established” that the Northern Hemisphere’s climate “has been getting cooler since about 1950” (New York Times, May 21, 1975). Although some disputed that the “cooling trend” could result in “a return to another ice age” (the Times, Sept. 14, 1975), others anticipated “a full-blown 10,000-year ice age” involving “extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation” (Science News, March 1, 1975, and Science magazine, Dec. 10, 1976, respectively). The “continued rapid cooling of the Earth” (Global Ecology, 1971) meant that “a new ice age must now stand alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and misery” (International Wildlife, July 1975). “The world’s climatologists are agreed” that we must “prepare for the next ice age” (Science Digest, February 1973). Because of “ominous signs” that “the Earth’s climate seems to be cooling down,” meteorologists were “almost unanimous” that “the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century,” perhaps triggering catastrophic famines (Newsweek cover story, “The Cooling World,” April 28, 1975). Armadillos were fleeing south from Nebraska, heat-seeking snails were retreating from Central European forests, the North Atlantic was “cooling down about as fast as an ocean can cool,” glaciers had “begun to advance” and “growing seasons in England and Scandinavia are getting shorter” (Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 27, 1974).

Will George Will or his successor do a similar column around 2039 about the hysteria over global warming?

The Blogosphere Has Corrected the Record

Will Paul Krugman?

At a Heritage event, Arnold Kling said:

Back in September when they were talking about taking $700 billion dollars to unclog the financial system I wanted to yank Henry Paulson out of the TV screen and say to him: “Keep your hands off my daughter’s future.” But he got away with it. For me it felt like sitting there watching my home being ransacked by a gang of thugs. And now we’ve got a new gang of thugs and they are doing the same thing.

Careless blogging and hyper-ideology twisted that into a knock on President Obama and imputed racism to Kling. Krugman incorporated it all into a column decrying the “ugliness of the political debate” over Obama’s stimulus.

Well, Paulson’s TARP and Obama’s stimulus are ugly, and so evidently is the cacophony in the echo chamber where Krugman gets his information. But not Kling.