Topic: General

Inequality Delenda Est

One of my favorite journalistic tropes is when a reporter goes on a vacation with his ideological enemy and tells us what he learned from the experience. The reporter invariably returns with his ideology unchanged but a modicum of respect for the people on the other side, at least on a personal basis. The New York Times recently sent David Brooks (that David Brooks) to spend time with their enemy du jour--the evil one percenters, and he dutifully followed the script.  

The event was a 21-day around-the-world luxury trip that cost a cool $120,000 per person. The group went from locale to locale on a private jet, stayed in luxurious suites in top hotels, and had every single arrangement taken care of for them, to the point that the tour leader handed them spending money in the local currency at each destination.

Brooks admitted that he was initially skeptical of such a trip, assuming that he would have little in common with the sort of person who can afford such luxury and that being insulated from the day-to-day vicissitudes of travel would take some of the meaning out of travel. But he quickly came to realize that complaining about excellent service is petty and churlish, and that the people weren’t so bad either.

He also discovered was that his fellow travelers did not inherit their wealth–most of them had started their own businesses and worked hard to earn their money. What’s more, none of these people seemed truly rich. While a $120,000 vacation isn’t a middle-class excursion, this trip represented a relatively large expenditure for most of the travelers and had a bit of a “trip of a lifetime” feel to it.

Reflecting on the 150th Anniversary of the Thirteenth Amendment

On this day 150 years ago, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, thus officially ending chattel slavery in the United States. America’s original sin—its birth in freedom based on human slavery—was no longer sanctioned by American law.

To get to this historical moment, the United States wrestled with its heinous contradiction in its homes, cotton fields, courtrooms, public streets, legislatures, Bleeding Kansas and, ultimately, the many battlefields of the Civil War. The racism that supported slavery was so ingrained in our national character and economy that it cost the United States hundreds of thousands of lives.

Of course, America’s racial wounds were not healed with Abolition. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments went further to ensure racial equality (for men) before the law—on paper, anyway. Years of Jim Crow and state-tolerated white terrorism after the end of Reconstruction showed America’s laws and purported ideals could still be subverted by the enduring legacy of racism throughout the country.

Today, black Americans are far freer than ever, but still face unequal treatment by law enforcement. Certain police practices are almost exclusively deployed in black neighborhoods—the neighborhoods themselves remnants of de jure segregation—reifying not-yet-equal status for too many black Americans. And the aggressive application of our criminal laws has led to mass incarceration, which disproportionally imprisons African Americans across the country.

Nevertheless, the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment should be celebrated as a hard-fought victory for human freedom. It was the first of the three Civil War Amendments that recognized that individuals have unalienable rights against the federal and state governments.  

In today’s political arena, there is a lot of talk a lot about “liberty” and “freedom” regarding taxes, regulations, and other infringements on personal rights. Many of those are important public policy debates that have a genuine impact on human flourishing.  But it is important to remember what liberty and slavery have meant throughout American history. The Thirteenth Amendment stands as a testament to the arduous struggle this country fought with itself about what it truly means to be free.

More Dishonest Data Manipulation from Tax-Happy Bureaucrats at the OECD

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is a Paris-based international bureaucracy. It used to engage in relatively benign activities such as data collection, but now focuses on promoting policies to expand the size and scope of government.

That’s troubling, particularly since the biggest share of the OECD’s budget comes from American taxpayers. So we’re subsidizing a bureaucracy that uses our money to advocate policies that will result in even more of our money being redistributed by governments.

Adding insult to injury, the OECD’s shift to left-wing advocacy has been accompanied by a lowering of intellectual standards. Here are some recent examples of the bureaucracy’s sloppy and/or dishonest output.

Deceptively manipulating data to make preposterous claims that differing income levels somehow dampen economic growth.

Falsely asserting that there is more poverty in the United States than in poor nations such as Greece, Portugal, Turkey, and Hungary.

Cooperating with leftist ideologues from the AFL-CIO and Occupy movement to advance Obama’s ideologically driven fiscal policies.

Peddling dishonest gender wage data, numbers so misleading that they’ve been disavowed by a member of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Given this list of embarrassing errors, you probably won’t be surprised by the OECD’s latest foray into ideology-over-accuracy analysis.

Better Than NCLB? That’s Not Saying Much

The Every Student Succeeds Act, the intended successor to the No Child Left Behind Act, is better than the law it would replace. That is what many analysts are saying as they hail the legislation as a good step in the right direction. But let’s be honest: you couldn’t set a bar much lower than NCLB. And there are some potential problems that could make the ESSA just as dangerous as the law it would supplant.

To be fair, the ESSA is, overall, probably better than NCLB, and it may well have been the best compromise possible given political reality. Most notably, it eliminates NCLB’s uber-intrusive requirement that numerous groups of students make “adequate yearly progress” on state tests lest schools be subject to a cascade of punishments. It also tries to keep the Secretary of Education from requiring the use of specific curriculum standards such as the Common Core, though it should be noted that the Core was pushed not by the letter of NCLB, but funding from the 2009 “stimulus” and Obama administration NCLB waivers that were almost certainly illegal.  

It is in responding to the power grabs of the current administration that the ESSA may fall, in practice, very short of actually eliminating executive – much less federal – control over the public schools. The bill would keep federal requirements that states have curriculum standards – indeed, “challenging” standards – and tests, and hold schools accountable for performance on them. Moreover, while the bill says the Secretary shall not “mandate, direct, control, coerce, or exercise any direction or supervision” over state standards, it also says that the Secretary must approve state accountability plans. In other words, as I’ve written before, it does not appear that the Secretary can state specifically what a plan must have, but the Ed Sec could potentially veto plans that he deems inadequate until – wink, wink – he gets what he wants.

How about This for Dealing with Politically Obtuse Relatives?: Just Say “Let’s Stop Trying to Control Each Other”

Every holiday season, pundits and politicians of all stripes weigh in on how to talk to family members who disagree with you. The Democratic National Committee even runs a website,, which gives useful talking points for your red-state benighted family members. Here’s a different strategy for the holidays: Just say, “let’s stop trying to control each other.”

Here’s how it works:

- “These Republicans, they don’t know anything about how to run a health care program. I think they want people to just die, especially people who vote Democrat. People need low-deductible plans with broad catastrophic coverage and full coverage for all basic daily needs. Just read the studies.”

- “Okay Uncle Kevin, you might be right. Or, alternatively, we could stop trying to control each other and forcing others who disagree to comply just because they’re on the wrong side of 50.01 percent of the population. That’s inevitably going to create strife. Just think about how you would feel when you’re on the losing side of an election.”

Et tu, Princeton?

As a proud Princeton alum, I’ve been experiencing a fair bit of schadenfreude over the safe-space shenanigans at Yale and Dartmouth. No way could such tomfoolery happen at Ol’ Nassau, I thought. (Trigger warning: The Ol’ Nassau nickname refers to the House of Orange-Nassau, which engaged in “speech acts” that weren’t politically correct, among other foibles.)

But alas, it was not to be. Students with nothing better to do than occupy the president’s office in protest of… malaise or something (Jimmy Carter, call your office)… ended up eking out a pledge from the administration that the Board of Trustees would “initiate conversations concerning the present legacy of Woodrow Wilson on this campus,” as well as a commitment “to working toward greater ethnic diversity of memorialized artwork on campus.”

Well, I can’t help with the art, but as a classical liberal whose undergraduate degree is from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (aka “Woody Woo”), I have some sympathy for those to whom the very thought of our 28th president – who was also president of the university – is a micro-aggression. So here’s my suggestion: If the criteria for acceptable memorialization are not being a racist while making a positive contribution to international affairs, then rename the policy school after Ronald Reagan. I’d love to say that I attended “Ronny Roo.”


Let’s Talk Turkey

Thanksgiving is almost upon us and time has come for that most sacred of American traditions: bemoaning the rising cost of living. Per this Bloomberg headline on Thursday, “Thanksgiving Meal Costs Most Ever as Bird Flu Hits Turkeys.”

Well, that’s complete and utter nonsense. 

The headline grabbing data comes from the American Farm Bureau Federation, which faithfully records the cost of 12 items (e.g., turkey, pumpkin pie mix, sweet potatoes, etc.) that go into a preparation of a Thanksgiving meal for 10 people.

On the face of it, the nominal cost has risen by $0.70 from $49.41 in 2014 to $50.11 in 2015. Using a BLS calculator, I have inflated $49.41 in 2014 dollars to $49.64 in 2015 dollars. So, the real increase amounts to mere $0.47.

Now let us see what happens when we adjust the nominal cost of Thanksgiving dinners by the rise in nominal wages.