August 2009

August 31, 2009 6:24PM

Hillary: The Movie

The Supreme Court is soon to hear a case that may drastically roll back campaign finance regulation in the United States:

The case involves “Hillary: The Movie,” a mix of advocacy journalism and political commentary that is a relentlessly negative look at Mrs. Clinton’s character and career. The documentary was made by a conservative advocacy group called Citizens United, which lost a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission seeking permission to distribute it on a video‐​on‐​demand service. The film is available on the Internet and on DVD. The issue was that the McCain‐​Feingold law bans corporate money being used for electioneering.

The right position for the Court is that McCain‐​Feingold, and all other campaign finance regulation, constitutes unconstitutional limitation on free speech. This means reversing the Court’s 1974 Buckley v. Valeo decision, which held that government limits on campaign spending were unconstitutional but limits on contributions were not.

This distinction is meaningless. If it is OK for a millionaire to spend his own money promoting his own campaign, why can he not give that money to someone else, who might be a more effective advocate for that millionaire’s views, so that this other person can run for office?

More broadly, campaign finance regulation is thought control: it takes a position on whether money should influence political outcomes. Whether or not one agrees, this is only one possible view, and freedom of speech is meant to prevent government from promoting or discouraging particular points of view.

It would be a brave step for Court to reverse Buckley, but it is the right thing to do.

For more background on the case, watch this:

C/P Libertarianism, from A to Z

August 31, 2009 2:22PM

Britain’s Brown Bounces Betting Businesses

A further chapter in Britain’s economic suicide comes from Tax Notes International today (subscription only):

In a move apparently aimed at lowering their tax bills, major U.K. sports bookmakers William Hill and Ladbrokes plan to relocate their sports betting operations to Gibraltar, according to media reports.

The move by William Hill was announced on August 4 and was subsequently followed by Ladbrokes’ announcement on August 6. The moves are projected to cost the U.K. Treasury millions of pounds in tax revenue, according to an August 6 report on

The departure of these sports betting firms, particularly if other sports bookmakers follow, could put the U.K.‘s entire online gambling market (the largest legal betting market in the world) beyond the reach of either the Gambling Commission or the Treasury, according to media reports.

Ladbrokes CEO Christopher Bell cited “intense competitive pressure” as the main spur pushing his company offshore. “Our award winning sportsbook Lad​brokes​.com is the biggest in the U.K. market but faces aggressive competition from offshore operators who hold a very significant cost advantage by operating from low tax jurisdictions. Operating from the U.K. has become unsustainable and we will relocate by the year end,” he was quoted as saying in an August 6 statement on the Ladbrokes Web site.”

The 15 percent tax on online gambling (the industry had lobbied for a 2 percent or 3 percent tax), one of Gordon Brown’s last acts as chancellor of the Exchequer, has been generally seen as an embarrassment for London, which had sought to position the U.K. regulatory approach as world leading. Instead of applying for licenses with the Gambling Commission as the laws’ drafters had hoped, members of the online gambling industry have boycotted the U.K. and headed offshore.

“The U.K. has effectively turned its back on the industry. It will now be almost impossible for a U.K.-based operator to compete with offshore business,” John Coates, chair of the Remote Gambling Association, said in a March 2007 statement. Sports betting became the last gambling subindustry to remain onshore.

Currently, the total tax faced by U.K.-based sports bookmakers includes the 15 percent profits tax, a 15 percent VAT, corporate tax, and a special 10 percent tax for horse racing betting profits. Tax rates in offshore locations such as Gibraltar, Malta, or the Isle of Man are only about 1 percent to 2 percent, according to the statement on the Ladbrokes Web site, and there is no special horse racing profits tax.”

August 31, 2009 2:08PM

A Warning for President Obama

Last November’s rejection of the failed GOP didn’t mean voters were ready to embrace a massive increase in the size of the federal government, says Scott Keeter, director of survey research at Pew Research Center:

Obama campaigned for strong government action on the economy and health care, and most of his voters agreed with this direction. But Obama’s efforts to expand the role of government have alienated many of those who did not vote for him but nonetheless gave him high marks when first he took office.

Pew Research’s political values survey this spring showed no surge in public demand for more government. Indeed, anti‐​government sentiment, which had been building for years, was heightened by the financial bailout and stimulus program.

August 31, 2009 1:51PM

Anti‐​Sex School for Johns?

In a novel approach to punishing men who attempt to hire prostitutes, Nashville and other cities are sending first‐​time offenders to a one‐​day class where they learn from former prostitutes, health experts, psychologists and law enforcement officers about “the risks of hiring a prostitute.”

This is a waste of time.

Prostitution is “the oldest profession” for a reason: sex is a biological imperative. A day of anti‐​sex school will have no effect on the demand for prostitution.

The better approach is to legalize.

Under legalization, the vast majority of men would patronize legal establishments. This would also allow quality control, since competition would encourage prostitution services to certify their employees as free from STDs and above the age of consent. Legalization would help the women who serve as prostitutes by reducing the violence they suffer from johns and pimps. In particular, legalization would mainly eliminate forced prostitution.

The claim that prostitution encourages sexual assault does not pass the sniff test. Many countries, plus Nevada and Rhode Island, allow legal prostitution to varying degrees, but no evidence suggests they have a higher incidence of violence toward women.

C/P Libertarianism, from A to Z

August 31, 2009 12:36PM

Union‐​Funded Study Says Private Schools Expensive!

I know, it’s a bit of a dog‐​bites‐​man headline, but bear with me. A new study by a Rutgers University ed. professor purports to tell us about “Private Schooling in the U.S.: Expenditures, Supply, and Policy Implications.” The trouble is, the study presents no data that are representative of private schooling in the U.S.

Author and ed school professor Bruce Baker analyzed per pupil expenditures of private schools that had registered with Guidestar​.org. Based on its mission statement, Guidestar is a service brings together charities seeking donations with would‐​be donors, in an effort to encourage philanthropy. Only a fraction of the nation’s private schools participate, and they are self‐​selected into that group. It is reasonable to think that the schools that self‐​select into Guidestar are the ones most avidly seeking donations. According to a PowerPoint presentation on Guidestar’s site, its top five types of users are:

  • Non‐​Profit Development Directors
  • Non‐​Profit Fundraising Directors
  • Grant Writers
  • Foundation Grants Administrators and Donor Services Managers
  • Corporate Foundation Giving Program Managers

Quite possibly, the private schools most actively seeking non‐​tuition revenue are the ones… receiving the most non‐​tuition revenue. So not only is the Guidestar population of private schools not randomly selected, and non‐​representative of private schools nationally, there is reason to believe it is biased in the direction that its author and funders favor.

This would be bad enough, but it gets worse. The author makes no serious attempt to determine the extent of the bias, or to control for it. In fact, he consciously makes it worse: he choses to eliminate from consideration any private schools reporting revenues or expenditures under $500,000, thereby excluding smaller, less expensive schools.

I have literally NEVER seen a serious academic study that starts from a sample that is known to be biased in the direction favored by its funders and then consciously makes matters worse by actively skewing it even further!

An example of the kind of analysis that is supposed to accompany the presentation of a non‐​random sample to ascertain extent and direction of bias appears in my own 2006 study of Arizona private schools, available here. I dedicate five pages (beginning on page 14) to an assessment of whether and to what extent my survey respondents differed from the universe of all Arizona private schools. Significant effort was expended on that section of the study, because it is both necessary and expected. I was disappointed, though not surprised, by the absence of such a section in the Baker study.

Not only can the Baker study not tell you how much U.S. private schools really spend, it seems to have a little difficulty getting the public school spending figures right, too. For instance, there is a line on page 42 implying that DC public schools were spending $14,000 in 2007. Federally‐​reported data show that DC was already spending over $18,000 per pupil in 2005-06. And I’ve shown that it spent $28,000/pupil in 2008-09.

Finally, did I mention that Baker’s study was funded by the NEA‐​bankrolled “Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice”? As Ed Sector pointed out a couple of years ago: “The Great Lakes Center and the NEA’s Michigan affiliate are also linked on a personal level: [the Center’s director] Teri Battaglieri is married to Michigan Education Association Executive Director Lou Battaglieri.”


Update: Note that the reason Guidestar only has financial information for a small fraction of the nation’s private schools is that the vast majority of U.S. private schools are religious, and religious schools are not required to file IRS Form 990 (from which Guidestar gets its financial data). The religious private schools that do file Form 990 are thus a small self‐​selected group that is presumably seeking to maximize its revenue from charitable donations, and hence very likely biased toward higher spending schools.

August 31, 2009 12:21PM

Monday Links

  • Podcast: When Germany enacted their own “Cash for Clunkers” scheme, some of the old vehicles were illegally exported and sold out of the country before being destroyed. Could it happen here? Would that be so bad?
August 31, 2009 8:53AM

Lighting for People, not Politics

Unfortunately, there are many good (and sad) examples of Uncle Sam’s insatiable desire to regulate the smallest aspects of our lives. Legislators can’t even let us decide which light bulbs to buy. Government believes that it knows best, and is banning the venerable incandescent bulb.

Lighting consultant Howard Brandston makes a plaintive plea for lighting that serves people rather than politics:

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will effectively phase out incandescent light bulbs by 2012–2014 in favor of compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs. Other countries around the world have passed similar legislation to ban most incandescents.

Will some energy be saved? Probably. The problem is this benefit will be more than offset by rampant dissatisfaction with lighting. We are not talking about giving up a small luxury for the greater good. We are talking about compromising light. Light is fundamental. And light is obviously for people, not buildings. The primary objective in the design of any space is to make it comfortable and habitable. This is most critical in homes, where this law will impact our lives the most. And yet while energy conservation, a worthy cause, has strong advocacy in public policy, good lighting has very little.

He hopes for a congressional reversal of the ill‐​considered prohibition. If that doesn’t work, people do have one more option: stock‐​piling bulbs for future use. Of course, that probably would lead to the creation of a federal light bulb police, tasked with wiping out the black market in incandescent bulbs. “Use a bulb, go to jail” may become the newest law enforcement slogan!