You Can Get a Job Without a Degree?

It seems that everyone in the ivory tower is declaring that it will soon be almost impossible to get a good job without first buying their product. Perhaps foremost among these college salespeople are members of the U.S. Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, who in the most recent public draft of their proposal to create a “national strategy” for higher education declare that:

The value of a postsecondary credential for future employment and earnings is expected to rise. Ninety percent of the fastest-growing jobs in the new knowledge-driven market economy require some postsecondary education. Job categories with the fastest expected growth in the next decade require postsecondary education; those with the greatest expected decline require only on-the-job training.

That sure sounds like the best way to avoid a low-paying, dead-end career is to run, not walk, to your friendly neighborhood college or university and get that bachelor’s degree! But is the scenario accurate? According to a recent piece on CareerBuilder.com, maybe not:

Though it was once conventional wisdom that you needed to have a four-year college degree to be successful, many employment experts believe that maxim has become myth. While a college education increases a worker’s chances of earning more money, it’s certainly not the only reliable path to well-paid and rewarding work….[A]ccording to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, eight of the top 10 fastest-growing occupations through 2014 do not require a bachelor’s degree. And these jobs, which include health technology, plumbing, firefighter and automotive repair, are less vulnerable to outsourcing.

So which is it? In the oh-so-near future, will you or won’t you need a college degree to avoid having to live in a corrugated steel hut subsisting on saltines?

The truth is that no one knows: As politicians and economic forecasters have proven time and again, with billions of people worldwide conducting countless business transactions all the time, no one can predict with any certainty what the future will hold. We can, however, confidently predict one thing: Denizens of the ivory tower will themselves get better jobs when increasing numbers of people consume their products, and when politicians give them ever-greater amounts of taxpayer money.

These facts, more than anything else, should make everyone suspicious of ubiquitous college-or-bust predictions.

The Future of Campaign Finance Restrictions?

Last week the Campaign Finance Institute published a working paper on nonprofits and campaign finance. CFI styles itself as the moderate to conservative wing of the “reform community.” This paper, however, makes a radical proposal.

First, here’s some political context for the paper:

McCain-Feingold largely outlawed soft money contributions to the political parties. In the 2004 election, erstwhile Democratic soft money contributors used 527s as a vehicle for their political efforts. The Republican party by and large did not use 527s. So after the election, the GOP has naturally tried to eliminate the 527 vehicle. Democrats (and a few Republicans) have resisted that effort, and Congress seems unlikely to do anything about 527s this year. The effort to restrict political activities (i.e. “campaign finance reform”) has gotten bogged down for the moment.

The CFI paper tries to broaden the thinking of Congress and thereby the power of the government over free speech. It studies how 12 interest groups used political action committees, 527s, and nonprofit groups in the 2000, 2002, and 2004 elections. (The federal tax code puts nonprofits in the 501c section; they are allowed to engage in education efforts that involve political advocacy).

The sample relied on by the study should give pause. The study seeks to influence public policy, and campaign finance policy covers everyone involved in elections. Ideally, a study of interest groups in elections should be representative of all groups involved in elections. The CFI study does not try to show that their sample is broadly representative. That’s not surprising. It is highly unlikely that the CFI sample can be generalized. The interest groups chosen for the study will be familiar to students of American elections and policymaking; they are well-funded and highly organized. They are outliers and not a good foundation for making public policy that covers everyone.

The sample does have some interesting characteristics. It is evenly divided along partisan and ideological lines. Since the study looks at well-funded and highly organized groups, it thus examines potent threats to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

However, if Congress restricts only 527 spending, Democrats would be harmed more than Republicans. The CFI authors say that Republicans use the 501c groups more than the Democrats. The CFI study thus intimates that new restrictions on the political activities of 527s and nonprofits could be a good bipartisan compromise: Republicans would be rid of the 527 threat while Democrats would gain relief from the GOP nonprofits.

Yet upon further examination, the deal looks like more of a hit to the Democrats. The CFI data show that Democratic 527s spent many times what the GOP nonprofits expended in 2004. (The CFI authors contend public data underestimates spending by nonprofits because of inaccurate reporting to the IRS). So the CFI authors are essentially asking the Democrats to sign on to a bad deal.

Politics aside, the CFI study poses larger and more disturbing questions, too.
Preventing corruption has long been the primary legal justification for regulating campaign spending. To prevent corruption courts have allowed Congress to regulate campaign contributions and to treat spending at the behest of candidates as a contribution. The interest groups studied by CFI abide by these laws by using their political action committees to contribute to campaigns.

The focus on corruption also erected a wall between elections and politics. If you give money to a candidate, the thinking goes, you might bribe him and hence, your contribution should be regulated. If you didn’t give money to a candidate but wanted to spend whatever sums advancing your ideas independent of his campaign, that fell under free speech and enjoyed constitutional protection.

527s and nonprofits, on the other hand, spend money on elections and politics but cannot give to candidates. As they CFI study shows, much of this spending involves groups communicating with their members or trying to persuade the public in general. The 527 and nonprofit spending thus falls under free speech.

The CFI authors suggest otherwise. They argue that 527 and nonprofit spending could corrupt representatives. Members of Congress, they say, do not distinguish spending by legal category; PAC contributions, 527 efforts, and nonprofit work are all understood to be payments to a candidate, presumably prompting legislative favors in response.

If such spending risks “corruption,” it may legally be brought under the restrictions of campaign finance law, primarily mandatory disclosure of sources and limits on donations. Those strictures would eliminate all significant 527 spending and many small nonprofits.

The CFI authors provide no evidence that representatives see spending by 527s and nonprofits as quid pro quo contributions. They are also strikingly indifferent to the consequences of their proposal for the rights of their fellow citizens.

For CFI, the distinction between elections and politics and between contributions and free speech has outlived its usefulness. Not surprisingly, the CFI authors do not mention an unmistakable implication of their proposal: in the future, all spending on political advocacy sooner or later will be subject to campaign finance laws. The CFI authors do not mention how this extension of state power comports with the freedom to engage in politics promised by the U.S. Constitution.

Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t.

Working to Cut the Deficit

In an online fundraising letter, President Bush (or someone authorized to sign his name) writes, “Republicans are also working to cut the deficit. The best way to reduce the deficit is to keep pro-growth economic policies in place, and be wise about how we spend your money – which is exactly what Republicans are doing in Washington.”

Just how high would spending be if the Republicans weren’t being wise about how they spend our money?

‘Marriage’ Problems

There were 15,000 divorces in Massachusetts last year. Guess which one made the front page of the Washington Times, above the fold, today. Well, none of them, actually. But the separation of Julie and Hillary Goodridge, plaintiffs in the landmark same-sex marriage case Goodridge v. Massachusetts, did. With a classic Washington Times headline:

Gay ‘marriage’ first couple splits up in Massachusetts

It’s not a real marriage, you see, no matter what the Commonwealth of Massachusetts says, so “marriage” has to be in ironic quotes.

But what’s the point of such a prominent display of this story? Is the (apparent) failure of one marriage, even that of a landmark plaintiff couple, supposed to undermine the case for legal equality? If Linda Brown had flunked out of high school, would that have undermined the moral authority of Brown v. Board of Education? If John Peter Zenger’s newspaper failed, would that undermine the case for freedom of the press?

U.S. Manufacturing Expands along with China’s Economy

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) renewed his threat this week to demand a vote in the Senate on legislation that would impose steep tariffs on imports from China if the Chinese government does not move promptly to strengthen its currency.

Like many other members of Congress, Schumer believes that China has “manipulated” the value of its currency in a way that makes Chinese goods artificially cheap in the U.S. market while discouraging U.S. exports to China. One result, according to Schumer, has been serious damage to America’s manufacturing base.

Three news items this week, though, should give Congress pause before it slaps tariffs on imports from China:

  • The latest reports from Beijing confirmed that China’s economy continues to grow rapidly. China’s economy reached an annualized growth rate of 11 percent in the second quarter and more than 10 percent for the first half of 2006. 
  • But China’s growth is not coming at the expense of the U.S. economy or U.S. manufacturing. The U.S. Federal Reserve Board of Governors reported this week that U.S. manufacturing output is up 5.7 percent so far in 2006 compared to a year ago. Indeed, according to a recent Cato study, U.S. manufacturing output is up 50 percent in the past 12 years along with our expanding trade with China.
  • The number of Internet users in China has reached 123 million. That gives China the second largest group of users in the world, behind the 200 million users in the United States.

Rapid economic growth in China is not coming at the expense of the U.S. manufacturing sector. But that growth is creating a growing middle class in China that is increasingly engaged not only in the global economy but in the global sharing of ideas.America’s economic relationship with China was the topic of a lively discussion at a Cato policy forum this week. You can view or listen to the event here.

Subtlety Lost on Charter Schools

In Atlanta, a small charter school condemned to death yesterday by the board of education is providing one final lesson: While charters allow some of the nuanced accountability provided by the free market to work, too often it’s the wrecking ball of government that renders the final verdict.

The doomed school — the Achieve Academy in southeast Atlanta — started in 2003 as an affiliate of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), a highly regarded network of schools known for their longer days, slavishly devoted teachers, strict discipline, and tremendous success at educating kids in some of the poorest areas of the country.

The KIPP name — like well regarded brand names in all kinds of industries — gave Achieve instant credibility. Over a few years, however, it became clear that Achieve was not living up to KIPP’s standards: It had enrolled too few students to fully implement the KIPP model, and it faced significant financial and leadership problems.

In December 2005, KIPP ended its affiliation with Achieve. It was essentially free-market accountability at work: By separating from Achieve, KIPP made it clear that the school was not up to the program’s high standards, while ultimately leaving it up to parents to determine whether or not they were getting the results that they wanted from the school.

KIPP’s actions, importantly, did not mean that Achieve was a failing school. At the very least, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Achieve’s test results were higher than scores at several of the schools to which its students would go if it closed. Moreover, many parents loved Achieve:

Marsha Ivey said she will try to home school daughter Michaela Bailey, 12, rather than enroll her in King Middle School, the traditional school in her neighborhood. Michaela has blossomed at Achieve from an average student who once struggled in math. “She’s been pushed to her limits,” Ivey said.

Unfortunately, unlike KIPP, in the final analysis the Atlanta School Board couldn’t tailor the accountability it meted out to fit Achieve’s track record. It couldn’t issue subtle punishments and rewards like a market would deliver through the free decisions of parents or organizations like KIPP. It either had to close Achieve, or let it stay open. Sadly for many Achieve students, it went with the former.