Topic: General

More on Jesse Lee Williams, Jr.

Yesterday, I mentioned the horrific case of Jesse Lee Williams, Jr., who was beaten to death while in police custody in Harrison County, Mississippi.  I noted that six months after Harrison’s death, there had yet to be any movement toward justice for the police deputies who beat him.

As it turns out, there was some movement yesterday.  According to the Biloxi Sun Herald, one of the deputies who participated in the beating has confessed to federal prosecutors, and as part of a plea, has conceded a long history of abuse at the county jail.  An arrest of Deputy Ryan Teel, who is thought to have inflicted the brunt of the beating, should soon follow.

This is certainly a positive development, and it will be interesting to see how Teel is ultimately charged. 

But as noted, there is a long record of reported abuse at the Harrison County jail house.  Reports of inmate beatings have circulated for months, not just from inmates themselves, but from other officers from other departments, and from other witnesses.  Nothing was done.  Encouraging as yesterday’s news was, it doesn’t undermine the criticism that earlier beatings went unaddressed, that it took a homicide to rally any real accountability, and that even then, the first signs of justice have appeared only after six months, and only after involvement from federal investigators.

As the Sun Herald noted in an editorial on the case last month, violent crimes not perpetrated by police officers seem to move through the criminal justice system quite a bit more swiftly.

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the House

Cleaning out some old magazines, I came across the September 2004 issue of the Washingtonian, which included a poll of congressional staffers on the “Best & Worst of Congress.” Libertarian Republican Rep. Ron Paul was voted “Worst Follower” in the House. That probably doesn’t bother him. But if it did, his feelings would probably be assuaged by the item just before that one: staffers said that the “Best Leader” in the House was Tom DeLay.

Selling the Rope with Which They’ll Hang Capitalism

From the Washington Post:

Late last month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce began broadcasting television ads that extolled several Republican lawmakers for supporting the new Medicare prescription drug program. The spots were part of the chamber’s $10 million midterm advertising and voter mobilization budget.

Even if the Medicare expansion were popular – which is not at all clear – the Chamber of Commerce’s ads would just encourage voters to increasingly expect transfers and handouts from Washington. If the Chamber of Commerce praises Republicans for expanding entitlements by a trillion dollars over the next decade, then it’s just contributing to an environment in which spending and deficits and unfunded liabilities continue to soar. Surely the Chamber could find something good the Republicans have done to highlight in its ads.

Couldn’t it?

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Nothing like a discussion of federal salaries to fill up my inbox with angry comments from federal workplaces across the land. In a post last week, I simply pointed out that new data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) showed that federal worker wages and benefits have been rising quickly, and by 2005 averaged twice the average in the private sector.  Then came the email.

Fedsmith, a very useful website that focuses on federal workforce issues, discussed the data this morning, and federal workers also responded with dozens of comments.

GovExec.com also ran a story today.

By the way, I can say nice things about federal workers–BEA economists do quality work, churn out loads of great data, and are very helpful when you send them a query.

Topics:

Libertarian Hedges

A headline over a Washington Post editorial reads:

Hands Off Hedge Funds

Sometimes libertarians deserve to win an argument.

Gee, thanks. I’m glad libertarian arguments against over-regulation made sense to the editorial writer in this case. But I’m disappointed in the suggestion that this is a rare occasion.

Indeed, I’ll bet the editorial writer agrees with most of the basic ideas that libertarians advocate: private property, markets, the rule of law, limited constitutional government, religious toleration, equality under the law, a society based on merit and contract not status, free speech, free trade, individual rights, peace.

In the West we live in a liberal world, and in the United States we call liberalism “libertarianism.” (When Americans say “liberalism,” they mean the welfare state.) The Post’s disagreements with libertarianism are really less rare than the headline suggests; they involve how often and how much national policy should deviate from the basic principles we already agree on.

Cross-posted from Comment is free.

“Private Schools Better. NCES Study Bunk.” — Harvard Profs

Last month, a study by the National Center for Education Statistics reported that private schools consistently outscore public ones, but that their advantage goes away after controlling for differences in student and school characteristics.

In my response to that study, I pointed out that some of the authors’ statistical controls were incorrect and others were misapplied, undermining their conclusion.

Elena Llaudet and Paul Peterson of Harvard University have now run the numbers after correcting for these errors, and the verdict is in: the private school academic advantage is real.

That said, the central point of my earlier blog post remains: the current 10 percent niche of private schools in this country does not constitute a true competitive education industry. Yes, independent schools outpeform government schools, but according to the last International Adult Literacy Survey, nearly a quarter of 16-to-25 year-old Americans are functionally illiterate.

We don’t need a system that’s a little better than this. We need a system that’s a whole lot better. We need real market reform of our entire education sector.

Dog Bites Man

The Washington Post reports that Jack B. Johnson, county executive of Prince George’s County in Washington’s Maryland suburbs, is very generous to his friends. Since he took office,

…15 of his friends and political supporters have been awarded 51 county contracts totaling nearly $3.3 million, according to records and interviews.

In several cases, Johnson awarded county contracts to supporters after he failed to persuade the County Council or others to place them in county jobs. He has also created at least a dozen high-profile positions and filled them with supporters, including fraternity brothers. Some of those who received contracts or jobs had no expertise in the field, and others did not produce written reports required by the county.

In one case, Johnson hired a friend’s company, which produces a local cable show, to write a report on school construction financing and then gave him two more contracts to evaluate economic trends. He gave a similar contract to his campaign chairman.

Perhaps the surprise is that this is considered front-page news. What politicians don’t hand out tax-funded benefits to their friends? Certainly the various scandals swirling around the Republican Congress – involving Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, Duke Cunningham, and others – provide fresh reminders.

As I wrote in Libertarianism: A Primer, one of the earliest and most charming descriptions of political reality came from Lord Bolingbroke, an English Tory leader in the early 18th century. He wrote to a friend:

I am afraid that we came to Court in the same dispositions as all parties have done; that the principal spring of our actions was to have the government of the state in our hands; that our principal views were the conservation of this power, great employments to ourselves, and great opportunities of rewarding those who had helped to raise us and of hurting those who stood in opposition to us.

Jack Johnson should tell the Post, “Yeah, what he said!” But Johnson doesn’t have to reach back to Lord Bolingbroke for a precedent. In the same part of Libertarianism: A Primer, I told the story of Johnson’s predecessor as Prince George’s County Executive:

A particularly striking illustration of what we might call Bolingbroke’s Law is the record of Maryland governor Parris Glendening. Elected in 1994, Glendening seemed a clean, honest, moderate, technocratic former professor. He might give Maryland big government, but at least it would be clean government. So what did he do when he took office? Well, here’s how the Washington Post described his first budget:

In his first major act as Maryland governor, Parris N. Glendening unveiled a no-new-taxes budget that unabashedly steers the biggest share of spending to the three areas that voted most strongly for him: Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore.

Lord Bolingbroke, call your office. A few days later, it turned out that Glendening and his top aide were collecting tens of thousands of dollars in early pension payments from Prince George’s County, where Glendening served as County Executive until his election as governor, thanks to Glendening’s creative interpretations of rules that gave early pension benefits to government employees who suffered “involuntary separation” from their jobs. Glendening decided that officials not allowed to seek reelection because of term limits, such as the two-term limit on the County Executive, had been “involuntarily separated” from their jobs. And he “demanded” the resignations of his top aides a month before he left his county job–making them also victims of “involuntary separation”–whereupon he hired them as his top aides in the governor’s mansion.

Like the Energizer bunny, the Glendening money train just kept on going. In May the governor asked the legislature to spend $1.5 million in taxpayer funds to rescue a struggling high-tech firm in Prince George’s County headed by one of his political supporters. Then in August, Frank W. Stegman, the state secretary of labor, licensing, and regulation, hired the wife of Theodore J. Knapp, the state personnel secretary and a colleague of Stegman’s from the Prince George’s government, for a job in his agency. No ingrate, personnel secretary Knapp then returned the favor by recommending a $10,000 raise in Stegman’s meager $100,542 salary.

Politicians reward their friends. What else is new? The best way to limit the damage from this sort of corruption is to limit government to a few specific functions and leave most important services in the marketplace.