Archives: 07/2016

Setting the Record Straight on the Coulson Education Productivity Study

A recent op-ed in the Times Herald took aim at a study by our dearly departed colleague, Andrew J. Coulson. In short, the author claimed that the study’s “flaw” was supposedly failing to take into account something that Andrew actually did take into account, as he explained in his study. Since Andrew is no longer available to address specious attacks on his research, it falls to his colleagues to do so. What follows is the letter that Rachel Reese, a research associate at the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, and I submitted to the Times Herald:

In an op-ed urging support for a bond proposal for the Port Huron school district, Professor James Clatworthy took issue with a Cato Institute study by the late Andrew J. Coulson that found no correlation between spending and achievement. We take no position on the bond, but stand by our colleague’s research.

Despite a near tripling of the inflation-adjusted cost per pupil in public schools nationwide between 1972 and 2012, the performance of high school students on the SAT and National Assessment of Educational Progress has been flat. Coulson’s study compared state-level SAT scores, controlling for changing participation rates and student demographics, to the total, inflation-adjusted cost of a K-12 education, finding no discernable link between spending and performance.

Clatworthy erroneously claimed that Coulson’s findings did not account for SAT scores being periodically “mean centered,” meaning that the average scores were reset. In fact, contrary to Clatworth’s assertion that the test was recentered “multiple times” over the period of the study, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) only recentered the SAT once between 1972 and 2012 and Coulson used ETS’s own formula to compare the pre- and post-recentering data.

Ironically, Clatworthy also criticized Coulson for supporting policies empowering parents to choose schools, claiming that choice would “return us to the status of the 1700s.” But choice is clearly the right model for the 21st century, in which a quickly changing world will need a nimbly adapting education system. That requires choice and decentralized control, not a bureaucratic system that demands evermore money without measurably improving results.

Paul Romer as Chief Economist of the World Bank Is Great News

Paul Romer becoming chief economist at the World Bank looks quite promising for economic development. 

In a 1990 explanation of new growth economics, Paul Romer and Robert Barro wrote, “If government taxes or distortions discourage the activity that generates growth, growth will be slower.” 

Speaking about the “Mauritian Miracle” at a 1992 World Bank conference, Romer emphasized that  “income and corporate tax rates were halved in 1983 (from about 70 to about 35 percent).” He also noted that free-trade zones allowed “unrestricted, tariff-free imports of machinery and materials, no restriction on ownership or repatriation of profits, [and] a ten-year income tax holiday for foreign investors.”  

Romer’s new growth economics should prove quite compatible with a timely rediscovery of the many global success stories with supply-side reductions in marginal tax rates and tariffs in the 1980s and 1990s in countries as diverse as Botswana, India, Chile, New Zealand, China, Ireland, Singapore, Mexico and more recently Turkey and Eastern Europe.  

Court Decision won’t Temper China’s Territorial Claims

As expected, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled against China’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea. The Philippines was exultant. Beijing responded angrily.

Territorial disputes pose a perennial international problem. Great powers, including the U.S., typically refuse to be bound by the decisions of others when they believe important interests to be at stake.

The existing order in the Asia-Pacific was established at a time when China was unable to effectively assert its claims or defend its territory. Understandably, Beijing is dissatisfied with the status quo.

Nor is Beijing the first rising power to challenge a system seemingly biased against it. The young American republic responded truculently in border disputes with both Great Britain and Mexico, even invading the latter and seizing half of that country.

In recent years the PRC has challenged territorial claims of Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Manila lacks an effective military and turned to the arbitration panel for support. The decision reaffirmed the position of the Philippines and nearby states, which will embolden them to take a tougher position against China.

Unsurprisingly, Beijing rejected the ruling and promised “to protect its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.” The PRC also won’t be inclined to step back.

The Tyranny of Free Parking

Should big-city governments be giving valuable city property to its wealthy residents for a pittance? The answer to that is not dependent upon political party or ideology, it would seem, yet it remains the standard practice nearly everywhere.

The property in question consists of the parking lanes in neighborhoods and main thoroughfares, and the cost of this giveaway is immense: Besides the loss in foregone revenue it adds greatly to traffic congestion, depresses demand for businesses in those areas, and contributes to pollution.

None of these are apparently sufficient to convince the supporters of these types of regulations who tend to be in charge of big cities like Washington, DC, where I live, to change this policy, so let me add another reason to do away with this: Giving away street parking is incredibly regressive. (for context, DC charged $25 a year for a neighborhood parking permit when off-street parking spaces go for $3,000 a year)

As I discussed in my recent Regulation Magazine piece and Cato Podcast, supporters of these types of regulations often justify nearly free street parking in these places as a necessary giveaway to help poor people who live in the neighborhood. The problem is that few poor people live in these neighborhoods and those who do usually do without an automobile. For instance, of the dozen cars parked on my street last night were three Mercedes, two BMWs, three Lexuses, and a Jaguar. Not the typical cars of the underprivileged trying to eke out a living.

Turkey in Crisis: Why U.S. Should Avoid Foreign Meddling

Turkey was convulsed by an attempted coup last week. Nominally democratic but in practice increasingly authoritarian, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has initiated a broad crackdown that goes well beyond the military. He has the makings of becoming another Vladimir Putin—except supposedly on America’s side, but even that no longer is so sure.

Turkey’s dubious evolution should remind Americans how hard it is for U.S. officials to play social engineers to the world. Instead of constantly meddling in hopes of “fixing” other nations, Washington should step back when its interests are not vitally affected, which is most of the time. The physicians’ injunction, “First do no harm,” would be a good principle for American foreign policy.

Ankara joined NATO during the Cold War. Containment of the Evil Empire was the principal objective. That policy should have expired with the collapse of the Soviet Union and dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. Friendship rather than alliance should have become America’s objective.

Unfortunately, Washington decided to use its new “unipower” status to attempt to micro-manage the Middle East. Successive administrations launched a succession of ill-considered interventions.

Washington oft relied on bases in Turkey. The one time Ankara said no, in 2003, America’s deputy defense secretary suggested that the military straighten out the civilian government.

The Coup and the Crackdown: Turkey and American Foreign Policy

The failed coup attempt in Turkey – and President Erdogan’s harsh crackdown in response – has provoked reassessment of Turkey from a number of perspectives. Most obviously, the episode indicates that Turkey is both less stable and even less democratic than most people imagined not long ago. Though the United States has long criticized Erdogan’s authoritarian proclivities, it is rapidly becoming clearer that Erdogan’s vision is the remaking of Turkey’s secular democracy into an Islamic republic. For Europe, Turkey’s instability will aggravate concerns about Syrian refugees (over two million of whom are living in Turkey) and reignite debate about the wisdom of welcoming Turkey into the European Union.

But Turkey’s domestic politics also have important implications for American foreign policy. In the short run, instability in Turkey will cause discomfort for its NATO allies and likely cause problems in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). More fundamentally, however, Turkey provides a cautionary tale about the dangers of relying on authoritarian regimes to help conduct foreign policy.

One immediate concern is the physical security of several dozen American B61 tactical nuclear weapons “purportedly” housed at Incirlik air base in southern Turkey. Turkey has long played host to the weapons as part of the American effort to extend nuclear deterrence to its NATO allies. During the coup activists flew sorties from Incirlik, prompting the Turkish government to cut off power to the base. Eventually, Turkey also arrested the head of the base. Regardless of whatever electronic safeguards might exist to keep the weapons from misuse, this experience should serve as a wake-up call. As Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists noted, “You only get so many warnings before something goes terribly wrong. It’s time to withdraw the weapons.”

Another worry is that the turmoil in Turkey will hamper its contribution to the fight against ISIS. Given its location, Turkey plays an important role in the American response to ISIS. The United States relies on the air bases in Incirlik and Diyarbakir to fly bombing missions in Syria. The coup forced only day’s interruption in the Incirlik-based air campaign, but the episode raises concerns about what might happen should more unrest follow.

Turkey’s Coup Provides Reichstag Fire Moment for Authoritarian Erdogan

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled Turkey for more than a decade. He should be enjoying his time of triumph.

Yet his country almost crashed and burned last week. Elements of the army and air force attempted a coup d’etat, leading to street battles and air attacks.

Erdogan promised revenge against those involved, who will “pay a heavy price for their treason.” No doubt they will, since the thin-skinned Erdogan long has been making even mild critics suffer for their alleged sins. To tame the military, his government previously tried hundreds of military officers and others in mass trials involving improbably fantastic conspiracies.

Turkey is one of the least friendly nations for independent journalists. Around 2000 people, including students and even a beauty queen, have been prosecuted for criticizing Erdogan. His government periodically targets Internet freedom.

The briefly constituted junta announced that it had seized power “to reinstall the constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms, to ensure that the rule of law once again reigns in the country, for last and order to be reinstated.” Worthy objectives for an increasingly desperate Turkey today.

Unfortunately, a coup may be the least likely vehicle for moving Turkey into a genuine liberal, democratic future. Those who look back nostalgically on earlier military seizures of power ignore the ugly reality. For instance, the 1960 coup led to the execution of the popularly elected prime minister and other officials and imprisonment of thousands.