October 25, 2012 11:50AM

Free Speech Week, Day 4

The New York Times has a column today about free speech on campus. Here is an excerpt:

Since the 1980s, in part because of “political correctness” concerns about racially insensitive speech and sexual harassment, and in part because of the dramatic expansion in the ranks of nonfaculty campus administrators, colleges have enacted stringent speech codes. These codes are sometimes well intended but, outside of the ivory tower, would violate the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. From protests and rallies to displays of posters and flags, students have been severely constrained in their ability to demonstrate their beliefs. The speech codes are at times intended to enforce civility, but they often backfire, suppressing free expression instead of allowing for open debate of controversial issues.

The author, Greg Lukianoff, is president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

Since this is Free Speech Week, let me note that two Cato scholars, Nat Hentoff and Harvey Silverglate are also affiliated with FIRE because of their strong commitment to free speech on campus.

October 25, 2012 11:28AM

More on the Public School Productivity Collapse

Employment has grown explosively in U.S. public schools over the past two generations, far faster than student enrollment, and I was delighted to see Jay Greene drawing attention to this recently (with one caveat). I am equally delighted to see the Friedman Foundation’s major foray into this area: a new report titled “The School Staffing Surge”.

This report describes the national employment and enrollment changes over two periods: 1950–2009 and 1992–2009, as well as the state‐​level changes for the 1992–2009 period. Check it out!


October 25, 2012 10:57AM

‘The Libertarian Vote’ — Now in an Ebook

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What a long way we’ve come since David Kirby and I first started writing about the libertarian vote in 2006. Back then liberal blogger Matt Yglesias neatly summarized the conventional political wisdom: the libertarian vote is “zero percent,” “a rounding error in the scheme of things.” Why would anyone care what libertarians think? And National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru suggested that Republicans would actually lose votes by appealing to libertarians.

In our new ebook, The Libertarian Vote: Swing Voters, Tea Parties, and the Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal Center, Kirby, Emily Ekins, and I bring together our studies and other writings on libertarian voters, along with some spiffy new graphics. (That’s the Amazon link; for multiple formats, go here.)

Today, libertarians are an increasingly influential and accepted part of the political mix. Ron Paul went deep into the 2012 Republican presidential primary, drawing crowds of thousands of young people and 2.1 million votes; and his son Sen. Rand Paul is being joined by other libertarian‐​leaning members of both houses of Congress. Tea partiers have strong libertarian roots, as Kirby and Emily Ekins discuss in two articles in this ebook. The “Audit the Fed” bill passed the U.S. House 327 to 98; all but one Republican and 89 Democrats voted yes. In academia, social scientist Jonathan Haidt teamed up with scholars at UCLA, USC, and NYU to conduct the largest study ever on “libertarian psychology.” Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch write about a “libertarian moment” in their book Declaration of Independents.

The latest Governance Survey from Gallup, earlier visions of which are cited throughout the book, finds 25 percent of respondents gave libertarian responses to two questions (“government is trying to do too many things” and “government should promote traditional values”), up from 17 percent in 2004, 21 percent in 2006, and 23 percent in 2008 and 2010. Analysts from GOPAC to Nate Silver at the New York Times have tried to measure the libertarian – or “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” – constituency.

Read all about it in The Libertarian Vote.

Those who doubt the relevance of the libertarian vote might consult the last commentary in the book, “The Real Swing Voters,” which finds evidence in an August 2012 ABC‐​Washington Post poll that the truly independent voters still up for grabs lean strongly libertarian.

October 25, 2012 10:38AM

A Nail in the Coffin of Louisiana’s Casket‐​Sales Cartel

It’s always nice to hear about victories for liberty out of my old stomping grounds, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (which covers Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi).

Yesterday, that court helped the monks of Saint Joseph Abbey put a nail in the coffin of Louisiana’s restrictive casket‐​sales law in a blistering opinion stating that the five‐​year campaign of the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors to prevent the monks from selling their handmade caskets was either — get this — unconstitutional or unauthorized by Louisiana law.

The Fifth Circuit rejected the state board’s main constitutional argument that industry insiders and government may team up to pass laws that suppress competition and clobber consumers: “Neither precedent nor broader principles suggest that mere economic protection of a pet industry is a legitimate governmental purpose.”

The court appeared equally engaged — rather than activist, restrained, or anything else that’s not applying law to facts — when it refused to accept the board’s argument that judges in economic liberty cases are supposed to rubber stamp whatever the government does: “The great deference due state economic regulation does not demand judicial blindness to the history of a challenged rule or the context of its adoption nor does it require courts to accept nonsensical explanations for naked transfers of wealth.”

While the decision was a big win for the monks and economic freedom, the federal appellate court took the unusual step of asking the Louisiana Supreme Court to weigh in on whether the state funeral law actually grants the state board the power to stop casket retailing. If the answer is yes, then the law is unconstitutional. If the answer is no, then the state board has been acting lawlessly against the monks and other entrepreneurs for years.

The only question left is how the government loses, not if: it’s a lose‐​lose proposition for the purveyors of crony capitalism. And if this back‐​and‐​forth between the Louisiana Supreme Court and the Fifth Circuit results in the latter striking down the challenged law as unconstitutional — which seems likely — this case could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. That result would open up the possibility of a nationally binding ruling against economic protectionism.

Note that the Institute for Justice represents the monks. Congrats to IJ for this amazing win for the right to earn an honest living!

October 24, 2012 7:04PM

Mr. President, Tuition Subsidies Are the Affordability Problem, Not the Solution

In 2008, then‐​Senator Barack Obama pledged to make college more affordable. President Obama kept his promises to increase grants and expand loan forgiveness, but the cost of attending college continues to rise. As the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center reports today, tuition at public universities rose 4.8% this year. While tuition didn’t grow as fast as in previous years, tuition continues to rise faster than inflation and growth in family income. And, as we know, student debt is exploding. Graduates of the class of 2011 carry an average of $26,600 in student loan debt, up 5% from the class of 2010. Nationwide debt from student loans exceeded $1 trillion this year,  surpassing all other forms of debt that Americans carry, including credit card debt and auto loans.

The Obama administration’s plan to make college more affordable has involved a massive increase in taxpayer subsidies to students. Even after adjusting for inflation, federal subsidies to higher education have more than doubled in the last decade to over $49 billion in 2011-12. The largest increase occurred in 2009-10 when the federal government’s share of tuition aid dramatically increased from 33% to 44%, with federal spending growing 167% from $26 billion to $44 billion.

Four‐​year degrees are increasingly expensive but the payoffs are not guaranteed. To pay off the student‐​loan debt and earn a decent return on investment for the time and money spent on college, graduates expect access to more and better‐​paying jobs. Increasingly, this hope is in vain. The New York Times reported last year that 22.4% of college graduates under age 25 were unemployed. An additional 22% were working in jobs that did not even require a college degree where their average annual income was under $16,000. Those fortunate enough to find jobs have discovered starting salaries down 10% on average from $30,000 in 2007–2008 to $27,000 in 2009–2010. Moreover, some studies have shown that four‐​year college students who rank near the bottom of their class earn about the same as those graduating near the top of two‐​year community colleges, further calling into question the universal value of a bachelor’s degree. It is no wonder then that Pew Research finds that 57% of Americans no longer believe that college is worth the money.

So is more money the answer? Actually, it is a part of the problem since colleges raise tuition in response to increased tuition aid. As my colleague Neal McCluskey explained in his testimony before Congress:

According to data from the College Board, between the 1981–82 and 2010-11 school years, inflation‐​adjusted aid per full‐​time equivalent student — the bulk of which came through the federal government — rose from $4,418 to $13,914, a 215 percent increase. Meanwhile, real tuition and fee costs at four‐​year colleges grew roughly apace. At four‐​year public institutions prices expanded from $2,242 in 1981–82 to $8,244 in 2011-12, a 268 percent ballooning. At four‐​year, nonprofit private institutions prices rose from $10,144 to $28,500, a 181 percent leap.

It is, of course, difficult to conclude definitively from simple aid and price comparisons that aid fuels price increases. But a growing body of research controlling for variables outside of aid supports the hypothesis that aid has an appreciable inflationary effect, though study results vary by type of aid and institution.

It should come as no surprise that subsidies raise prices. Fortunately, there are now a growing number of innovative alternatives to traditional four‐​year colleges that have the potential to dramatically reduce costs while providing a quality education. Instead of subsidizing the expensive, inefficient and too‐​often ineffective status quo, government should just get out of the way.

October 24, 2012 3:33PM

86ing the Arguments for California Props 30, 38

Californians are being asked to raise their taxes by between $7 billion (Prop 30) and $10 billion (Prop 38) to prop‐​up public school budgets. If they don’t, backers warn, public schools will face “devastating cuts.” That’s the fear mongering. This is the reality:

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Over the past four decades, real per pupil spending in California has roughly doubled. In dollar terms, Californians are spending $27 billion more today on K‑12 education than they did in 1974, when Gov. Jerry Brown was first elected to office—and that is after controlling for both enrollment growth and inflation.

The last dashed spike on the spending line is the increase if Prop 30 passes, as Governor Jerry Brown has been assuming. If it doesn’t pass, per pupil spending will still be up more than 80 percent over this period, after controlling for inflation. What’s more, there is no evidence that the fantastic spending increases of the past have done anything to improve student achievement.

The only state‐​level achievement data we have that go back this far are the SATs, and, taking into account the renorming that occurred in the mid 1990s, they have actually declined by five percent. None of the customary excuses can explain away this dismal record. A larger share of students participated in 1972 than do so today, so if a shrinking test‐​taking pool is the sign of a more elite subset of students taking the test, then scores should be higher today, not lower. And while state‐​level breakdowns by race and ethnicity are not available that far back, the national trend is similar and it shows stagnation in the scores of majority white students—which excludes changing demographics as an explanation.

As I wrote earlier this year:

It is true that a $7 billion tax increase would at least preserve a certain number of public sector jobs, even if those jobs have not, and likely will not, improve educational outcomes. But if that $7 billion is not taxed out of the free‐​enterprise sector of California’s economy, it will preserve or create private‐​sector jobs when it is spent or invested. And, contrary to the pattern shown in the accompanying chart, jobs in the free‐​enterprise sector do produce things that people value: from movies and music to citrus fruits and cellphones—thus generating new revenue. Tax away that money and you take away those private‐​sector jobs and revenue.

The final question boils down to this: Can Californians afford to tax $7 billion out of the productive sector of the economy and get nothing in return for the damage it would do?

That’s the question California voters must ask themselves on November 6th.

October 24, 2012 2:17PM

Free Speech Week, Day 3

Today, check out Cato work related to the defense of electronic speech: