The End of “Reform” at the New York Times?

The reporters and editorial writers at the New York Times are powerful advocates of imposing new restrictions on campaign spending. They typically refer to the leaders of interest groups like Common Cause as “advocates of campaign finance reform.” That helps the cause of restricting campaign finance. After all, who could be against “reform”?

So it is noticeable when the New York Times calls the partisans of restrictions something other than “reformers.” In today’s edition, a Times reporter twice called them “advocates of changing campaign financing.”

It is both a revealing and misleading choice. It is misleading because these people seek more restrictions on campaign finance. To be sure, they expect new restrictions will lead to changes in campaign finance, but what they actually hope to do is impose new rules that restrict campaign spending.

Here’s the revealing part: The Times has never before called the Shays-Meehan-Common Cause crowd “advocates of changing campaign finance.” They are usually called “reformers.” (I checked on Lexis-Nexis). Why the new name?

The “advocates of changing campaign financing” along with congressional Republicans are trying to eliminate 527 groups; today’s article concerns one skirmish in that war. That effort against 527s is expected to harm the Democrats who used the groups extensively in 2004.

So if a person pushes restrictions on speech like McCain-Feingold that were expected to help the Democrats, the New York Times called them “advocates of campaign finance reform.” If the same person demands restrictions expected to hurt the Democrats, the Times dubs them “advocates of changing campaign finance.”

I know the New York Times would never have a partisan purpose in advocating restrictions on political speech. Still, this new term for their former friends does create a disturbing appearance of partisanship.

Reckless Justice: The Marriage Protection Amendment

Here’s a new topic for Chairman Sensenbrenner’s suddenly awake Judiciary Committee: “RECKLESS JUSTICE: Does the Marriage Protection Amendment Trample the Constitution?” Of course, the case seems open and shut. In the landmark Lopez case a decade ago, Chief Justice Rehnquist opened with the basics: “We start with first principles. The Constitution establishes a government of enumerated powers.”

Marriage law has always been reserved to the states in our federal system. Law professor Dale Carpenter calls the Marriage Protection Amendment, which the Senate will debate and vote on next week, “a radical intrusion on the nation’s founding commitment to federalism in an area traditionally reserved for state regulation” in his Cato study released today.

Conservatives claim to believe in federalism, until the states do things they don’t like. Then they turn into New Deal liberals, believing that the federal government should correct the errors of the 50 states. The proposed Marriage Protection Amendment would not just protect states from being forced to recognize same-sex marriages made in other states, as some proponents claim. It would forbid any of the several states from deciding – through court decision, legislative action, or even popular initiative – to extend marriage to gay couples. Depending on the interpretation of its language, it may even ban civil unions and domestic partnerships.

Of course, it’s not good lawmaking to propose an amendment to the Constitution whose language is so unclear, even to its supporters. But then, this really isn’t lawmaking. Majority Leader Bill Frist knows the amendment won’t pass the Senate next week. It failed in 2004 and is likely to get only a handful more votes this time. A majority leader usually doesn’t bring legislation to the floor that he knows will fail. Frist must have some other purpose in mind in bring this amendment up for a futile vote.

Crisis of Abundance Watch

Joe Kristan is reading Crisis of Abundance and blogging the experience. He writes

Crisis of Abundance says

“An important characteristic of premium medicine is that many procedures have a low probability of affecting the outcome. In fact, often the procedures do not even affect the treatment plan.”

Digital mammography seems an apt illustration of this point. It is more effective for only a minority of patients, and the treatment for a cancer discovered digitally doesn’t differ from that discovered on film. Yet as it is the latest technology, and in short supply, the digital technology will cost more. It’s an illustration of “premium medicine” that could have come right out of C of A. And, as C of A notes, spending on imaging services is growing twice as fast as health spending as a whole.

He is referring to an article in the Wall Street Journal on digital mammography.

Mike Tanner says it’s fine that Americans spend a lot on health care. I would agree if it were an income effect. The problem is that with 85 percent of our health care services paid for by third parties (a stat which I got from the Tanner-Cannon book), I think it’s largely a substitution effect, based on an implicit price to the consumer of zero.

If you want to comment on this issue, go to the Amazon page for Crisis of Abundance. Scroll down for the discussion forum.

Giving Diplomacy a Shot

Lots of whispers around Washington this morning that today’s the day that State will announce that the US is willing to come to the table with the Iranians. And sure enough, at 11:00 this morning, Secretary Rice announced that the United States will join the EU-3 nations (Britain, France, and Germany) in negotiations with Iran, provided that Iran is willing to suspend uranium enrichment.

This is a step in the right direction for the administration. Now, though, it’s important that we keep the talks focused and cut to the chase, preventing the talks from turning into torturous and largely pointless name-calling matches like the Six Party talks in North Korea. Those of us who are advocates of diplomacy will be watching the negotiations closely.

Expect loud bellows of outrage from the few remaining Bush doctrine supporters any time now.

Next Week at Cato Unbound: The Future of Work

Join us next week for the June issue of Cato Unbound devoted to glimpsing the future of work in America.

Richard Florida, author of the bestselling Rise of the Creative Class, will lead off with an essay this coming Monday. Replying to Florida over the following week and a half will be: George Mason economist and futurist Robin Hanson, an expert on robot economics [pdf]; UCLA economist Edward Leamer, author of a much-circulated review [pdf] of Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat; and MIT economist Frank Levy, co-author of The New Division of Labor: How Computers are Creating the New Job Market.

Here’s what they’ll be talking about:

The economists tell us that technology is a substitute for some forms of human capital and a complement to others. As the pace of technological advance continues to quicken, the “information age” evolves into something new, and the world economy becomes ever more integrated, the most economically valued set of human skills and capabilities continues to shift rapidly. Tens of millions of Americans used to make, and many still do make, a good living in low- and medium-skilled assembly line jobs. However, many of these jobs can now be done at less expense by machines, or by lower-paid workers in poorer countries like China and India. At the same time, the return on investment in education continues to rise, widening the gap in pay between workers with college degrees and workers without them. What do these trends mean for the future of work in America? Are there any jobs safe from mechanization and outsourcing? If part of rising inequality a function of the match between technology and human capital, what can be done to ensure that more people develop the right kind of capital? In a changing global economy, what is America’s comparative advantage? If you had a child tomorrow, and wanted her to get ahead, what would you want her to pick as her college major eighteen years from now?

Join us next week for a provocative look at the future of work in our high-tech, globalized world.

Give Us Liberty… or Send Your Kids to Public School

Back in January, the Florida Supreme Court struck down that state’s “Opportunity Scholarships” school voucher program. I discussed their bizarre léger-de-loi here, and called for a state constitutional amendment to correct it here.

After the amendment effort failed in the State Senate, some Floridians have decided to take matters into their own hands, circulating a petition to guarantee universal school vouchers.

While their exact policy prescription differs from what I’d suggest, it has a delightful little catch: “If the Amendment is not passed, all elected officials and schoolteachers must send their children to public schools.”

That would run afoul of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1925 Pierce v. Society of Sisters ruling guaranteeing parents the right to private schooling (assuming they can afford it), but rhetorically, it’s a pretty good point. Today, the only folks who have school choice are the wealthy, who can either choose a different school district by moving, or choose an independent school by paying tuition.

The poor, by contrast, are generally condemned to the public school to which they are assigned by the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen. How is this supposedly uniform system of public schooling working out for them?

America has the largest achievement gap between wealthy and poor students of any industrialized country in the world.

The only way that will change is if we extend choice to all families, regardless of income.

On Second Thought, Let’s Not Go Dutch

Heritage Foundation education analyst Dan Lips has a piece out today arguing for a federal school voucher program.

It does a great job documenting the dire educational situation facing millions of disadvantaged American kids, and wisely recommends giving them and their families unfettered choice of government and independent schools.

That said, it’s both dangerous and unconstitutional to have the federal government handing out school vouchers. I explain the problems (and the “going Dutch” reference) here, along with suggesting a safer, state-level alternative.