Topic: General

Bernie Sanders and the Missing GI Bill Evidence

As I’ve written before, the case for “free” college is decrepit, and Bernie Sanders’s op-ed in today’s Washington Post does nothing to bolster it. It sounds wonderful to say “everyone, go get a free education!” but of course it wouldn’t be free – taxpayers would have to foot the bill – and more importantly, it would spur even more wasteful over-consumption of higher ed than we have now.

Because I’ve rehearsed the broad argument against free college quite often, I’m not going to go over it again. But Sen. Sanders’ op-ed does furnish some “evidence” worth looking at: the notion that the post-World War II GI Bill was a huge economic catalyst. Writes Sanders:

After World War II, the GI Bill gave free education to more than 2 million veterans, many of whom would otherwise never have been able to go to college. This benefited them, and it was good for the economy and the country, too. In fact, scholars say that this investment was a major reason for the high productivity and economic growth our nation enjoyed during the postwar years.

I’ve seen this sort of argument before, as I’ve seen for government provision of education generally, and have always found it wanting, especially since we have good evidence that people will seek out the education they need in the absence of government provision, and will get it more efficiently. Since Sanders links to two sources that presumably support his GI Bill assertion, however, I figured I’d better give them a look.

Surprisingly, not only does neither illustrate that the GI Bill spurred economic growth, neither even contends it did. They say it spurred some college enrollment growth, and one says veterans ended up being better students than some high-profile college presidents expected them to be, but neither makes the Sanders’ growth claim. Indeed, in line with what we’ve seen broadly in education, one says that at least 80 percent of veterans who went to college on the Bill would likely have gone anyway, and in seemingly direct opposition to what Sanders would like to see, the other notes that the Bill disproportionately helped the well-to-do, not the working class. As the Stanley study says right in its abstract: “The impacts of both programs [the World War II and Korean War GI Bills] on college attainment were apparently concentrated among veterans from families in the upper half of the distribution of socioeconomic status.”

If we really want to do what’s best for the nation – not just what sounds or feels best – we need to ground our policies in reality. In education, as in Sanders’ op-ed, that often doesn’t happen.  

Kasich Aims to Revive Federalism

The Republican congressional leadership has failed to articulate strong themes to counter the big-government policies of President Obama and the Democrats. People don’t know what the Republican Party stands for, partly because they rarely, if ever, see leaders such as John Boehner and Mitch McConnell on television presenting a coherent vision or a specific program of cuts.

Republicans have particularly dropped the ball on federalism, or the devolving of power back to the states and the people. Reviving federalism was a central theme of the Reagan administration, and it was also a focus of Republican reform efforts in the 1990s.

So I was pleased to see Ohio governor and presidential candidate John Kasich focus on federalism in his new fiscal reform plan. In the Washington Post today, he said:

Let’s start with infrastructure. The interstate system is long finished, and states already oversee their own highway design and construction. Americans don’t need a costly federal highway bureaucracy. I will return the federal gas taxes to the states, leaving only a sliver with the federal government for truly national needs. Then, I will downsize the Transportation Department and reassign it a smaller role, supporting states with research and safety standards. Federal spending would go down, resources available for highways and transit could go up, and states could work faster.

The Education Department will receive a similar approach. Washington isn’t America’s principal or its teacher. Education is a local issue, and decisions should be made by parents, our communities and our local educators. We need high standards, but they are not Washington’s business. I will bundle the department’s funds and send them back to the states with fewer strings attached. The department will be a research center and a local school booster, not a micromanager.

I’d go further than Kasich on many of his proposals, but the important thing is that he is articulating a clear approach to spending reform and reduction. By contrast, House Republicans just introduced a 543-page transportation bill that would increase federal highway and transit spending. The House GOP probably imagines they are being conservative because their spending on transportation would grow more slowly than Senate GOP spending. But the proper amount of federal spending on transit, for example, is not $9.6 billion or $10.6 billion, but zero.

Reviving federalism is a powerful idea for policy reform because it cuts across a vast swath of activities in just about every federal department. And it is a winning theme with the general public, as Emily Ekins and I discuss in this article.

Republican leaders ought to follow Kasich’s lead and explore federalism reforms. If they want to bone up on the advantages of decentralization, they can start with this essay at Downsizing Government. I’d also highly recommend A Less Perfect Union by Adam Freedman for an overview of the history, economics, and constitutional aspects of federal-state relations.

I’m from the Government and I’m Here to Help You—Again!

Most everyone believes that government is an essential institution, necessary to do what people cannot do on their own. And that sounds like a pretty good justification for the state. But it rarely describes what government actually does.

For instance, late last year Rachel Kennedy wanted to bring a Cuban food truck to North Kansas City, Missouri, a town of four square miles and 4500 people. The city agreed to allow the trucks to operate during lunch time and several other operators came too. What could possibly go wrong?

The restaurant owners might lobby to expel the food trucks, that’s what! Complained Monte Martello, a local Dairy Queen operator: “They bring the truck in, they compete against us for four hours, and then they drive away.”

Worse, Martello went on, “They don’t actually contribute to the community in any way.” All the food trucks do is provide hungry people with lunch! Asked city councilman Gene Bruns, “Why are we trying to rob our local businesses with vendors that come in from outside?” Once the protest got going city officials ran for cover. 

Most Americans take for granted the opportunity to drive into a gas station, fuel their auto, and get back on the road. But not in New Jersey and Oregon. These two states ban self-service stations.

Earlier this year legislation was introduced into both states to end the prohibition. In Oregon the state house voted for repeal in rural counties. In New Jersey legislative leaders announced that members would not be allowed to cast a vote.

TONIGHT: Cato Scholars Live-Tweet The First Dem Debate

Tonight, starting at 8:30 p.m. EDT, CNN will host the first Democratic presidential primary debate of the 2016 campaign season, to be held at the Wynn Las Vegas and broadcast nationwide.

Cato scholars will be using #Cato2016 to live-tweet the debate, bringing insightful commentary and hard-hitting policy analysis to the discussion.

 

Join the conversation on Twitter with #Cato2016.

 

Tonight will kick off a series of six total scheduled Democratic primary debates to occur roughly once per month. Though a grassroots movement to increase the number of debates has been gaining momentum, the Democratic National Committee has remained firm about their proposed schedule.

 “ Voters will have ample opportunities to hear our candidates discuss their visions for our country’s future,” wrote DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in an August 6th post on Medium.

She further clarified her position at a September breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor, stating “We’re not changing the process. We’re having six debates…The candidates will be uninvited from subsequent debates if they accept an invitation to anything outside of the six sanctioned debates.”

Similar to the earlier GOP debates hosted by Fox & CNN, candidates had to average at least one percent support in a combination of three recognized national polls released between August 1st and October 10th to be invited to participate tonight.

Lincoln Chafee, Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders, and Jim Webb will all be taking the stage, while Lawrence Lessig was unable to meet the cutoff.

The Expanding Store of Human Knowledge

The store of human knowledge continues to expand and so do the incremental improvements of our lives. Here are some of the stories that caught my eye last week:

Deleting genes could boost lifespan by 60 percent, say scientists

Scientists believe that making small tweaks to our genes could dramatically increase our lifespans. Experiments on yeast cells have identified 238 genes that increased lifespan when silenced. Since we share many of same genes, the next important task will be to identify similar genes in human beings. One of the candidates for future research is LOS1 – a gene linked to calorie restriction that could increase our lifespans up to 60 percent.

Pioneering surgical technique enabled surgeons to restore hand, arm movement to quadriplegic patients

A new surgical technique has restored hand and arm movement to patients paralyzed by spinal cord injuries in the neck. By redirecting peripheral nerves in a quadriplegic’s arms and hands to healthy nerves, conversation between the brain and muscles can be restored. While this technique is only effective for injuries on the lowest two vertebrae on the neck and physical improvements were often small, the psychological benefits were often profound.

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Could Airlander Be the Future of Freight?

The airship is making a comeback. Take the British Airlander10, which uses 20 percent of fuel burned by conventional aircraft and can be fitted with solar panels. Airlander can stay airborne for five days while carrying a maximum payload of 20,000 pounds. It is much safer than its 1930’s cousin and can operate in adverse weather. Combined with GPS navigation and tracking, an unmanned Airlander could stay airborne for up to two weeks, carrying cargo vast distances, including hard-to-reach places. The British manufacturer is already working on an airship that could carry up to 100,000 pounds of cargo – roughly equivalent to the payload of two 20 foot containers. A vast fleet of Airlanders moving silently through the air 24/7 could dramatically decrease the cost of transport (they are faster than ships and much more cost effective than aircraft), while connecting places without ports or runways. Find out more about the declining cost of air travel at www.humanprogress.org

 

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Propaganda Posters Document the Madness of Chinese Communism

SHANGHAI, CHINA—Shanghai is China’s financial capital. A former Western concession, the city today shows little sign of the many bitter political battles fought over the last century. Tourists throng the Bund along the Huangpu River while global corporations fill the skyscrapers in Pudong, across the water.

But politics in China today is a blood sport. President Xi Jinping has been taking down powerful opponents, so-called “tigers.” However, he has not revived propaganda posters, once a pervasive political weapon.

Yang Pei Ming, a tour guide, started collecting posters in 1995. He eventually set up the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center. Explained Yang: “With the shift toward a more modern and forward-thinking China, it would be a mistake to forget our history.”

Now licensed by the government, the exhibit’s official name is the Shanghai Yang Pei Ming Propaganda Poster Art Museum. Yang accumulated 6000 different propaganda posters and a plethora of other tchotchke from Mao’s suffocating personality cult.

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