Archives: 11/2009

Don’t Copy Europe’s Mistakes

In this new video, Eline van den Broek of the Netherlands needs only about four minutes to explain why government-run healthcare in Europe is a mistake and why the problems in the U.S. healthcare system are the result of too much government, not too little.

The only thing I don’t like about this video is that I fear people may no longer want to watch the ones I narrate.

If At First You Don’t Succeed

Mexican sugar growers want “in” on the cozy little arrangement that domestic sugar growers have here in the United States.  They have formed an alliance with the U.S sugar lobby to recommend that the U.S. and Mexican governments work to “avoid importing sugar from other countries to help boost the market between the neighbours” (full article here [$]).

This proposal is not new, of course, having previously been suggested to lawmakers’ during the 2008 farm bill debate (see here). The “recommendation” was rebuffed at that time, but these people are nothing if not tenacious.

In what surely must be a contender for the “Understatement of the Year” award, the article ends with this: ” Sweetener users and free trade advocates are likely to find the recommendations controversial”. Someone at CongressDaily has a sense of humor.

Way To Go (Almost All the Way), Jay!

This morning Washington Post education columnist – and terrific Cato forum panelist – Jay Mathews called for abolition of the office of the U.S. Secretary of Education! Why? Because it has proven itself worthless, that’s why:

The president, I suspect, thought that Duncan, the former chief of the Chicago public schools, could use all he had learned there to raise achievement for students across the country.

It sounds great, but it was the same thought that led previous presidents to appoint those previous fine education secretaries to their posts. How much good did that do? Test scores for elementary and middle school students have come up a bit in the last couple of decades, but not enough to get excited about. High school scores are still flat. If national education policy had made a big jump forward, I would say we should continue to fill this job, but that hasn’t happened either. I think the No Child Left Behind law, supported by both parties, was an improvement over previous federal policies, but it was only copying what several states had already done to make schools accountable and identify schools that needed extra help.

Other than the “fine” secretaries part and the (sorta) nice words for NCLB, that sounds like something we at Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom might have written. Bottom line: Washington doesn’t add any value to education, and at best just picks up on things states are already doing.

Unfortunately, after dropping the “ed sec must go” bombshell and furnishing ironclad evidence why the position is worthless, Mathews retreats from the obvious, ultimate implication of his argument: We should abolish the department the secretary leads!

The evidence screams this and, from a technical standpoint, you can’t keep a cabinet-level department and not have a secretary to head it. But in what smells a lot like a cop out, Mathews asserts that the department should stay (though in a smaller form). After all, someone has to be in charge of doling out all of the taxpayer cash that isn’t doing a damn bit of good:

Keep in mind I am NOT saying we should abolish the education department. That old Reagan campaign platform died a natural death long ago. We need the department to intelligently distribute federal money to the most promising schools in our cities and states. Cut back the number of people rumbling around that big building on Maryland Avenue—many of them are going crazy from boredom anyway—and put it under the control of a savvy civil service administrator who knows how to keep the checks and the useful data rolling out.

Too bad Mathews wasn’t willing to go all the way on this. But just for proposing that we put the position of U.S. Secretary of Education out to pasture, he deserves some hearty applause.

‘Letting the Sick Die on the Street’

Blogger Matt Yglesias has described my CNN op-ed on health care as follows:

Meanwhile, in Harvard economist and Cato Institute senior fellow Jeffrey Miron’s dystopia, if your parents wind up with no money through bad luck or poor decision-making and then you get sick you’ll just die on the street for lack of money.

Did I really say such an outrageous thing? Well, I did not use exactly those words (as Matt makes clear), but yes, that is the logical implication of my position.

And I stand by it. Here’s why.

First, my assessment is that even with no government health insurance, hardly anyone would die on the street for lack of health care. The poor would use their income transfers to buy some health care or insurance. The poor would receive private charity. And health care would be far less expensive due to elimination of the distortions caused by government health insurance.

Second, my position is that government provision of health insurance is enormously inefficient: it means worse health care for everyone, and it wastes resources that can be put to other uses. So the negative of having a few people suffer without government health insurance must be balanced against the good of having better medical care for all and against the good that can be accomplished with those saved resources.

That good might be lower taxes for everyone, or more government spending on education, or greater public health spending to combat HIV in poor countries. Whatever the alternate uses turn out to be, one cannot escape the fact that a tradeoff exists between protecting the poor and other goals.

C/P Libertarianism, from A to Z

The Constitutional Right to Save Lives

Our friends at IJ have filed an exciting new lawsuit, one that, if successful, could save the lives of more than 1,000 people a year: people who die needlessly of assorted blood diseases (including leukemia) because the federal government criminalizes the offering of even modest compensation for bone marrow donation.

That is, the National Organ Transplant Act – which outlawed the sale of kidneys and other organs – for some reason included bone marrow.

NOTA’s criminal ban is unconstitutional because it arbitrarily treats bone marrow like nonrenewable solid organs instead of like other renewable or inexhaustible cells – such as blood or sperm – for which compensated donation is legal.  (That makes no sense because bone marrow, unlike kidneys, replenishes itself in just a few weeks, leaving the donor whole. )

The ban also fails constitutional muster because it irrationally interferes with the right to participate in safe, accepted, lifesaving, and otherwise legal medical treatment.

As Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice, said in a press release announcing the case:  “Bad things happen when the federal government exceeds its constitutional authority.  In this case, people actually die.  The Institute for Justice intends to stop that and to restore constitutional constraints that prohibit arbitrary limits on individual liberty.”

IJ brought this suit on behalf of adults with deadly blood diseases, the parents of sick children, a California nonprofit, and a world-renowned medical doctor who specializes in bone marrow research.  You can find more information here.  Perhaps more interestingly, IJ senior attorney Jeff Rowes is guest-blogging about the case all week at the Volokh Conspiracy.  Here’s his first post.

Department of Bad Analogies

US Ambassador's residence, ParisUS Ambassador’s residence, Paris

In the course of wondering whether it may not be so important that so few US government personnel speak Pashto, Spencer Ackerman writes:

You don’t have to speak French to craft a good U.S. France policy.

That’s a fair point, although many, many more U.S. diplomats dealing with France speak French than do the folks dealing with Afghanistan speak Pashto (or Dari, or…).  But the problem is that we don’t have a normal diplomatic relationship with Afghanistan – we’re trying to transform the entire society.  Counterinsurgency guru David Kilcullen tells us Afghanistan is all part of a “global counterinsurgency.” [.pdf] This, of course, is a somewhat more ambitious job than blowing through the cocktail circuit in Paris.

Just to press the point, as only one of eight “best practices” for counterinsurgents, Kilcullen lists “cueing and synchronization of development, governance, and security efforts, building them in a simultaneous, coordinated way that supports the political strategy.”  Another COIN guru, John Nagl writes [.pdf] that “The soldiers who will win these wars require an ability not just to dominate land operations, but to change whole societies…”

In short, we probably ought to distinguish between France and Afghanistan.

If China Jumped Off A Bridge, Would We Do It Too?

Everyone has heard that China is leaving us in its dust when it comes to producing college graduates, and if we don’t do something drastic to catch up they’ll crush us economically as well. Indeed, it’s a driving force behind efforts to ramp up federal higher education intervention.

As President Obama proclaimed when introducing his American Graduation Initiative, which is now part of the ironically titled Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act:

By 2020, this nation will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world….Already we’ve increased Pell grants by $500. We’ve created a $2,500 tax credit for four years of college tuition. We’ve simplified student aid applications….A new GI Bill of Rights…is beginning to help soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan to begin a new life – in a new economy.  And the recovery plan has helped close state budget shortfalls…at the same time making historic investments in school libraries and classrooms and facilities all across America.  So we’ve already taken some steps that are building the foundation for a 21st century education system…one that will allow us to compete with China and India and everybody else all around the world. 

Now, while a college education could furnish important learning that helps drive innovation and economic development, it could also be as worthless as conferring a bachelor’s degree on a dog. What’s important is that people actually learn things of value, not simply that they get degrees. But a funny thing happened in China…

Yesterday, news broke that China’s top education official has been sacked. Reports the New York Times:

Facing rising criticism over the quality of schools and a crush of jobless college graduates, China’s legislature announced Monday that it had removed the minister of education after six years on the job and replaced him with a deputy.

China has been cranking out college graduates at a breakneak pace, but the quality of the education has become highly suspect and, perhaps more importantly, there haven’t been nearly enough jobs to employ all the newly credentialed. In other words, simply producing more graduates – no matter how much it has frightened some people in America – has largely been a waste.

The obvious lesson from this should be that it’s foolish to simply make massively expanding the ranks of degree holders a national goal. But that doesn’t compute for many U.S. politicians, despite abundant evidence that we don’t need heaps more graduates anymore than China does. It’s getting elected that matters most to politicians, and as long as voters keep believing that government is opening the door to the middle class simply by pushing more and more people to college, politicians will keep wasting taxpayer dollars on unnecessary degrees.

So let’s hope that both voters and politicians will learn China’s clear college lesson: Fixating on degrees is not very smart. Failing that, let’s hope that we at least don’t have any rioting…