And We Thought Mitt’s Mandate Was Bad…

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards has announced that preventive care and regular check ups would be mandatory under his new health care plan. Every American would be required to get an annual physical and tests, such as mammograms and colonoscopies as frequently as the government deemed prudent. Although he didn’t spell out the penalties, we can look forward to Americans being hauled into court for failing to provide proof of a blood test.

The Nanny State marches on.

The Left Is Half Right on NCLB

Over at the popular leftish blog Crooks and Liars, Bluegal laments the No Child Left Behind Act, which is up for reauthorization this month. The nearly 100 comments on her post overwhelmingly echo her negative views. Nevertheless, it seems that she, her commenters, and the vast majority of Democrats in Congress want the law reauthorized. Why?

The reason for this apparent contradiction is that NCLB is only the latest incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which has been directing federal tax dollars to public schools since 1965. Leftish critics of No Child want to dilute or repeal most of the testing requirements introduced to the law in 2002, while increasing its funding. They believe that the testing provisions of NCLB are ineffective and likely harmful, but that federal spending is good for American education so long as it is not narrowly channeled into high-stakes testing. They’re half right.

As Neal McCluskey and I demonstrate in our new NCLB study (which we’ll be releasing on the Hill tomorrow), the evidence shows that the law’s testing and teacher qualification regimes have failed to improve achievement or narrow the gaps between groups. So the left’s skepticism on this point is justified. But the left-liberal goal of securing higher federal spending without bureaucratic “accountability” is both unattainable and undesirable.

A perennial blind spot of both major political parties is that they love to seize new powers and revenue streams while they’re in office, failing to realize that those same powers and dollars will inevitably fall into the hands of their ideological opponents. The Democrats gave us ESEA, and the Republicans eventually turned it into NCLB. As long as Republicans are elected they will try to hold schools bureaucratically “accountable” for the federal funding they receive – particularly given that real federal per pupil education spending has risen by a factor of 18 or so since the ESEA was passed in 1965. So even if the left manages to enact a “hands off but wallet open” version of NCLB this fall, it will live a short policy life, succumbing again to federal testing/performance mandates the next time Republicans control Congress.

For the sake of argument, though, would it do any good if it were a realistic long-term goal? Since it took Republicans a long time to get around to imposing the testing standards of NCLB, we actually have nearly four decades of experience with the ESEA with which to answer that question. Did higher spending translate into higher achievement? No. Federal spending went from about $50 per student in 1965 to nearly $900 per student in 2003-04. Total per pupil spending doubled to more than $11,000 over the same period. But at the end of their public schooling careers, students perform no better in reading and math today than they did nearly four decades ago. They’ve actually gotten worse in science (data from the Long Term Trends studies of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, for 17 year-olds).

If liberals want to stop Washington from meddling in the classroom, as most claim, there is only one way to go about it: stop collecting and spending federal tax dollars on it. So long as American schools are beholden to the federal purse, they will be puppets on the end of federal purse strings – strings held, on a recurring basis, by Republicans.

John Edwards’ Nurse Ratched Plan

John Edwards says that his universal health care plan will be mandatory not just for taxpayers and doctors, but for patients: You will get preventive care, and you will like it:

“It requires that everybody be covered. It requires that everybody get preventive care,” he told a crowd sitting in lawn chairs in front of the Cedar County Courthouse. “If you are going to be in the system, you can’t choose not to go to the doctor for 20 years. You have to go in and be checked and make sure that you are OK.”

He noted, for example, that women would be required to have regular mammograms in an effort to find and treat “the first trace of problem.”

As Jon Henke notes, Edwards also proclaims that “the right to choose and the right to privacy are fundamental constitutional rights.” But apparently abortion is the only thing you have a constitutional right to choose. You have no fundamental right to choose not to get a mammogram. Or any other kind of preventive care. Shades of This Perfect Day and Brave New World.

This is, of course, a fundamental problem with socialism, or with socialization of the cost of anything. Edwards sincerely believes, with good reason, that preventive care helps to reduce costs by catching problems early and helping people stay healthy. (Though he may not be right about that.) But why is my health care budget his concern? Because he plans to socialize the costs of health care. So indeed, if I fail to take care of myself, I’m imposing costs on the collective. And as the collectivist-in-chief, Edwards wants to treat me as a national resource, not as a free adult individual.

This isn’t the first time such arguments have been made. What’s the argument for requiring adults to wear bicycle helmets and seat belts? That otherwise the taxpayers might have to pay for the costs of injury. Activists who want to restrict smoking, trans fats, and other unhealthy habits make the same argument: The collective is going to be paying for your health care, so you owe it to us to hold down our costs.

When we realize that socializing costs creates such unpleasant conflicts, we can respond in one of two ways: We can move away from socialization and allow people to make their own decisions and bear the consequences, or we can increasingly restrict freedom in order to hold down collective costs. Libertarians prefer the former approach, John Edwards the latter.

In One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nurse Ratched was a tyrannical nurse who forced medical care on people who didn’t want it. She was known as “Big Nurse,” which might be a better metaphor for our increasingly therapeutic state than “Big Brother.” Democrats love Hollywood celebrities (and vice versa). Maybe Edwards can get Louise Fletcher to do a health care tour with him. She could wear her state nurse’s uniform and sing “You Belong to Me.”

The Reagan Revolution Sweeps the World

Steve Moore’s Wall Street Journal column celebrates the global shift to lower tax rates and free markets. To be sure, most foreign politicians are adopting pro-growth policies because of tax competition, not because they share Ronald Reagan’s vision. But the end result is a much stronger global economy:

…the Reagan economic philosophy of lower taxes, less regulation and free trade has never been more in vogue abroad – so much so that it has become the global economic operating system. …nations of old-Europe seem to be in a sprint to see which country can get their tax rates lowest quickest. Nicholas Vardy, the editor of “The Global Guru” economic newsletter calls the phenomenon “Europe’s Reagan Revolution.” …Austria cut its corporate tax rate to keep pace with its neighbor, Slovakia which recently adopted an 19% flat tax. Singapore is cutting taxes to compete with its 16% flat-tax rival Hong Kong. Northern Ireland wants to cut its tax rates so that it can compete with the economic gazelle of Europe, the Republic of Ireland. In 1988 Ireland was a high-unemployment stagnant economy with a 48% corporate tax rate, today that rate is 12.5% and the rest of the world is now desperate to match its economic results. Meanwhile German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck sold the latest tax cuts as “an investment in Germany as a business location.” …it is a testament to the Reagan economic revolution launched in 1981 that, a quarter century later, global tax rates are 25 percentage points lower on average today than in the 1970s. And those figures don’t even include this latest round of chopping under Reaganomics 2.0. The enactment of supply-side policies is helping ignite one of the strongest and longest world-wide economic expansions in history.

The Republicans’ Magic Budget Machine

In an article on the 2007 Virginia legislative elections, the Washington Post reports:

GOP candidates will also make the argument that if the party retains control, it would mean lower taxes, controls on development and more education spending.

Lower taxes AND more spending on good stuff – it’s hard to beat that combination. And it’s worked so well at the federal level. But it may be harder to deliver in a state that’s required to balance its budget.

Romney’s New Rx

I’ve got an op-ed out about Mitt Romney’s new health care plan.  Short version (192 words) here.  Long version (745 words) here.

One amusing aspect that I don’t mention in the op-ed: after criticizing Rudy Giuliani for relying on tax breaks to make health insurance affordable to more Americans, Romney proposes doing just that.

It’s going to be a fun campaign.

America’s Longest War

In the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Ethan Nadelmann, head of the Drug Policy Alliance, has a brisk, powerfully written piece calling for the legalization of drugs. Unfortunately, it’s subscriber-only, but here’s one of the more provocative passages:

Looking to the United States as a role model for drug control is like looking to apartheid-era South Africa for how to deal with race. The United States ranks first in the world in per-capita incarceration–with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but almost 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. The number of people locked up for U.S. drug-law violations has increased from roughly 50,000 in 1980 to almost 500,000 today…. In 2005, the ayatollah in charge of Iran’s Ministry of Justice issued a fatwa declaring methadone maintainance and syringe-exchange programs compatible with sharia law. One only wishes his American counterpart were comparably enlightened.

A few weeks ago, the Washington Post’s Outlook section featured an indictment of drug prohibition written by Misha Glenny: “The Lost War.” Glenny concludes with the following:

In Washington, the war on drugs has been a third-rail issue since its inauguration. It’s obvious why – telling people that their kids can do drugs is the kiss of death at the ballot box. But that was before 9/11. Now the drug war is undermining Western security throughout the world. In one particularly revealing conversation, a senior official at the British Foreign Office told me, “I often think we will look back at the War on Drugs in a hundred years’ time and tell the tale of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’ This is so stupid.”

How right he is.

For some of Cato’s 30 years of work on this issue, start here.

Bonus Friday Fun Link: go to page 4 of this document [.pdf] to read about how Richard Nixon’s Archie-Bunker-style social theories led him to ramp up the war on marijuana.