A Poll-ish Joke About School Vouchers

In its 38th annual poll of the public’s attitudes toward education released yesterday, Phi Delta Kappan magazine makes the following statements:

  • “Since 1991, the PDK/Gallup polls have approached [the school choice] issue with a question that measures approval of the voucher concept – ‘allowing parents and students to choose a private school to attend at public expense.’”
  • “Support for vouchers started at 24% in 1993…”
  • “Support for vouchers is declining and stands in the mid-30% range.”

This representation of their own survey results on the subject is incomplete, disingenuous, misleading, and, in one instance, factually incorrect.

PDK actually started asking the American public about vouchers back in 1970, with a rather more informative question:

In some nations, the government allots a certain amount of money for each child for his or her education. The parents can then send the child to any public, parochial, or private school they choose. This is called the “voucher system.” Would you like to see such an idea adopted in this country?

Response to this question was initially somewhat unfavorable, but those answering favorably began outnumbering those opposed in 1981, and that pattern was never reversed. The last time PDK ever asked this question, in 1991, 50 percent of respondents were in favor while only 39 percent were opposed.

I guess PDK’s editors just didn’t happen to have those back issues of their magazine handy when writing up this year’s report – which is somewhat odd given that they are now all available on-line

That’s the misleading and disingenuous part. The factually incorrect part is that they confuse the starting year of their own newly revised question (see the bullet points above), suggesting that it was introduced in both 1991 and 1993. In reality, it was first administered in 1993. As noted above, they were still asking their original voucher question – the one whose existence they now fail to acknowledge – through 1991.

I like to think – in the spirit of Edgar Allen Poe’s “Telltale Heart” – that their guilty conscience over sweeping their earlier voucher question and its positive results under the rug caused them to slip up on their chronology for the new question.

Oh, and in case anyone’s wondering, if you change just a handful of words in PDK’s current voucher question, the results are almost exactly reversed. The public’s response goes from being 60 percent opposed (PDK/Gallup 2006) to 60 percent in favor (Harris, 2005). A hearty thanks to the Friedman Foundation for pointing that out.

As a final historical note on the original voucher question wording, it was asked one last time, to my knowledge, in 1992, though not for Phi Delta Kappan. The response in that year was that 70 percent of Americans favored school vouchers when informed that they already exist in other countries.

How surprised should we be that an advocacy organization for the public school monopoly is reluctant to tell Americans about the competition and parental choice that exist in other nations?

Revolt Against Canadian Health Care System Continues

The new president of Canada’s National Medical Association is an outspoken advocate of greater privatization of Canada’s national health care system. Dr. Brian Day, who was elected at the organizations annual meeting on Tuesday, operates a private-pay medical clinic in technical violation of Canada’s single-payer health care laws. Last year, the Canadian Supreme Court struck down Quebec’s prohibition on private payment for health care, and implying that other similar restrictions in other provinces were similarly unconstitutional. However, the prohibition remains on the books in Vancouver where Dr. Day runs his clinic. Dr. Day points to the long waiting lists and patient suffering under Canada’s system and says, “A state-run monopoly is not the best way to run anything, let alone a health care system.”

Canadian journalists and observers say that Day’s election is the latest manifestation of a Canadian unhappiness with their government-controlled system. Maybe they know something that advocates of a single-payer system in this country don’t?

New at Cato Unbound: Stephen Trejo on the Intergenerational Assimilation of Mexican Americans

How well are Mexican immigrants and their offspring assimilating?

In his contribution to this month’s discussion at Cato Unbound, University of Texas economist Stephen J. Trejo lays out the latest findings. According to Trejo:

Mexican Americans are not too far off the path of intergenerational assimilation traveled by previous waves of European immigrants. During their first few generations in the United States, Mexican-American families experience substantial economic and social mobility, and their actual progress is probably even greater than what we see in available data.

However, a slow rate of educational attainment remains a “critical problem” that may delay the full integration of Mexican Americans. But, Trejo says, the evidence suggests that Mexican Americans will eventually assimilate as fully as the once-disdained Italian Americans.

Watching the “Lack of Competition” Meme

Ars Technica — a wonderful publication with brief, informative, and interesting pieces on technology — is showing a little sloppliness in covering the broadband competition issue. The question whether there is sufficient competition in the provision of broadband Internet service underlies the debate about “net neutrality” — whether there should be public utility regulation of broadband.

Discussing FTC chair Deborah Majoras’ speech at the PFF Aspen Summit, an Ars reporter casually observes, “[M]arket forces really do not exist when it comes to broadband.” That’s at least overstatement. A little more caution would be good given the centrality of the issue.

To show the existence of a duopoly (which is not inherently a competition-free situation), the report links to an earlier Ars piece interpreting a study as showing “not much” competition between DSL and cable. But that conclusion goes only to price competition. And it’s a little overstated, too.

The actual study, from a group called Kagan Research, seems to show that DSL is the low-cost option (and getting lower), while cable is the high-bandwidth option (getting higher in bandwidth while dropping in cost more slowly). That diminishes head-to-head price(-only) competition because each is focused on a different niche. But they’re still in competition.

The Kagan Research analyst concludes: “Eventually, cable will probably have make [sic] some reductions to cater to the lower end of the consumer market simply to get more customers.” So the study author believes more direct price competition is coming.

That’s some distance from “market forces really do not exist when it comes to broadband.” There is some price and quality competition among the major broadband platforms. Substitutes (such as getting broadband at work and getting information and entertainment offline) play a role in the competition question. And several competitors wait in the wings, to become viable through improvements in technology, new investment, or bad behavior by the current platforms.

I hasten to add that I am not satisfied with the current level of competition. I would like it to be more intense along all fronts and in all regions.

Role Reversal?

Remember when the Republicans would advocate smaller government and less federal spending?  

Freshmen members were typically the most vocal proponents of limited government, as they often brought optimism and a strong ideology to Capitol Hill.  After time, some of these GOP ideologues tended to succumb to the culture of Washington and lose their moorings. But this process usually took years.

Lately this phenomenon appears to be happening much more rapidly. Speaking about the recent explosion of pork-barrel spending, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) noted, “We’ve developed a culture, unfortunately, over a number of years where incoming freshmen are conditioned to believe that this is the only way to get reelected.”

Now, it seems even candidates for Congress are talking like inside-the-Beltway porkers.  In a hotly contested race for an open congressional seat in Illinois, a “fiscally conservative” Republican is pledging to bring home the bacon if elected. 

The Daily Herald said of Pete Roskam, “The 6th Congressional District GOP nominee said he’d support continuing the so-called practice of “earmarks” if elected to Congress to make sure projects like fixing the dangerous railroad crossing at Irving Park and Wood Dale roads continue to get funded.”

Meanwhile, Tammy Duckworth, the Democratic nominee for the Illinois congressional seat, has taken a strong anti-pork stance. She notes, “One of the easiest steps Congress can take to reduce the deficit and reform ethics is to immediately end the practice of earmarking.” Duckworth has even created an “Outrageous Earmark of the Week” section on her campaign website.

It sounds a lot like Congressman Flake’s “Egregious Earmark of the Week.” That is to say, she sounds a lot more like a fiscal conservative than the Republican candidate.

Native Illinoisan Ronald Reagan, who once vetoed a highway bill because it contained too many earmarks, must be spinning in his grave.

Welfare for Wineries?

In researching government budgets, I come across dubious spending projects all the time, but one recent example struck me as particularly idiotic and unjust.

The title of a recent press release from New York governor George Pataki says it all: “GOVERNOR ANNOUNCES $500,000 IN GRANTS AVAILABLE FOR NEW YORK WINERIES TO IMPROVE THEIR WEBSITES.”

So, New York is taxing the hard-earned wages of truck drivers and retail clerks and giving it to well-heeled winery owners and web services companies?

Come on Americans, wake up. Far too much of what our federal, state, and local governments do these days is just pure theft.

Apocalypse Warning False Alarm; Diplomacy Continues Apace

Since the apocalypse (which Bernard Lewis darkly warned in the Wall Street Journal might be scheduled for today) seems not to be forthcoming, it may be better to focus on more workaday concerns, such as Iran’s decidedly non-apocalyptic response to the Western proposal over its nuclear program. 

Although the full details aren’t out yet, Reuters is reporting what most expected: the Iranians say they’re willing to talk, but not willing to accept American demands that Iran stop enriching uranium as a precondition for talking. Top Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani is quoted as saying that “Iran is prepared to hold serious talks from August 23.” 

The first thing to wonder about is what the European response to this will be. It’s fairly clear that hardliners in the Bush administration are hell-bent on pressing for a UN Security Council vote to impose sanctions, but it’s not at all clear what the more sanguine Europeans will do. The Bush administration would be well-advised to make sure that Iran stays marginalized, and America does not act rashly in a way that turns the tables and marginalizes us. 

Also, notice that the Iranians brought up the one issue that the Bush administration has assiduously avoided discussing as a part of talks: “security cooperation.” This is international politics-speak for “we’re afraid you’re going to attack us.” Until President Bush makes clear that regime change would come off the table in return for Iran’s cooperation on the nuclear issue, the Iranians are going to be scared to death that Washington has the contingency plans out and is looking at military options. 

But the real lesson is how much was lost as a result of the administration’s foolish decision to try to impose a precondition for talks in the first place. A lot of conspiratorial talk around Washington has insisted that the precondition was put in as a “poison pill” to ensure that the diplomacy could go nowhere. I’m not convinced — I think there’s a simpler answer, and that is that the administration thinks, even after the Iraq debacle, that it has a lot of diplomatic and military weight to throw around, and that it could, to coin a phrase, “create its own reality” on the Iran problem. 

Were it not for the unseemly pettiness of the administration’s approach to this aspect of the problem, we could have spent the last two months talking to the Iranians (admittedly they could have still been enriching uranium), instead of waiting for a response from the Iranians (during which time they have been enriching uranium). If the administration had put a grand bargain on the table back at the beginning of summer, we’d be well on our way to getting an answer from Tehran. Instead, we’ve set in motion a largely pointless round of diplomacy that has little prospect of resolving the issue.