May 29, 2009 5:16PM

Here Comes World Government

Colleague Dan Mitchell sent me this heart‐​warming press release from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international government organization.

Tax collectors worldwide to co‐​operate in revenue‐​raising to offset fiscal deficits.

The sub‐​heading is “Tax Commissioners Worldwide Join Forces To Tackle Fiscal Challenges Posed By The Financial And Economic Crisis.”


Crazy me, but I thought the way to get out of the economic crisis was for businesses and entrepreneurs to start investing and hiring again. But no, the key is apparently to launch a global drive to drain more money from the damaged private sector and fatten up the coffers of bloated governments.


The chair of the OECD’s Forum on Tax Administration, Pravin Gorhan, helpfully points out in the press release: “Tax plays a fundamental role in development through mobilising revenue, promoting growth, reducing inequalities and reinforcing governments’ legitimacy, as well as achieving a fair sharing of the costs and benefits of globalisation.”


You don’t have to be a libertarian to see what a government‐​centric view these OECD officials have. Taxes promote growth? I don’t think so. And we don’t need to hear about “reinforcing governments’ legitimacy” from an unelected government body that has been far overreaching its authority to force policy changes on the democratically elected governments of lower‐​tax nations.


If you don’t think this sort of worldwide police effort jibes with the American ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, you should contact your member of Congress because U.S. taxpayers pay one‐​fourth the budget of the Paris‐​based OECD.

May 29, 2009 4:03PM

“We Don’t Want Venezuela to Become a Totalitarian Communist State”

“We don’t want Venezuela to become a totalitarian communist state,” declared Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa yesterday in Caracas at the opening of a major conference organized by the market-liberal think tank, CEDICE. I’m in Venezuela this week with my Cato colleagues Juan Carlos Hidalgo and Gabriela Calderon to participate in the event and to run a seminar for 60 students and young leaders from Venezuela, which took place earlier this week.

Vargas Llosa’s concern is not about some remote possibility. Nor is it the opinion of an isolated intellectual detached from reality. His comments received sustained applause from the over-flow crowd of the 600 people in attendance and he has been mobbed by the press since he arrived here yesterday. Venezuela is not yet a full fledged dictatorship, evidenced by the fact that we are meeting here with leading liberal intellectuals from the region. But the environment of intolerance, arbitrary rule, and state vilification of anybody who disagrees with Hugo Chavez’s march toward socialism has worsened at an alarming rate in recent months.

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May 26, 2009 8:56AM

GOP Health Care Alternative: Not as Bad as Advertised

Like my colleague, Michael Cannon, I was convinced by the staff summary and general spin accompanying the Republican health care bill introduced by Sens. Tom Coburn (R‑OK) and Richard Burr (R‑NC), and Reps. Paul Ryan (R‑WI) and Devin Nunes (R‑CA) that the bill headed, albeit more slowly, down the same road to government‐​run health care as expected Democratic proposals. However, a closer reading of the actual bill shows that, while there are still reasons for concern, it may be much better than originally advertised.


First, it should be pointed out that the centerpiece of the bill is an important change to the tax treatment of employer‐​provided health insurance. The Coburn‐​Burr‐​Ryan‐​Nunez bill would replace the current tax exclusion for employer‐​provided health insurance with a refundable tax credit of $2,300 per year an individual worker or $5,700 per year for family coverage. This move to personal, portable health insurance has long been at the heart of free market healthy care proposals. The bill would also expand health savings accounts and make important reforms to Medicaid and Medicare.


And, the bill should receive credit for what it does not contain. There is no individual or employer mandate. (I could live without the auto‐​enroll provisions, but they look more obnoxious than truly dangerous). There is no government board determining the cost‐​effectiveness of treatment. There is no “public option” competing with private insurance. In short, the bill avoids most of the really bad ideas for health reform featured in my recent Policy Analysis.


Other aspects are more problematic. The authors still seem far too attached to the idea of an exchange/​connector/​portal. The summary implied that states would be required to establish such mechanism. In reality, however, the bill merely creates incentives for states to do so. Moreover, I have been repeatedly assured that the bill’s authors are aiming for the more benign Utah‐​style “portal,” rather than the bureaucratic nightmare that is the Massachusetts “connector.” Still, I would be more comfortable if the staff summary had not singled out Massachusetts as the only state reform worthy of being called “an achievement.”


And, if states choose to set up an exchange, a number of federal requirements kick in, such as a requirement that at least one plan offered through the exchange provide benefits equal to those on the low cost FEHBP plan. There is also a guaranteed issue requirement.


Elsewhere, there are also requirements that states set up some type of risk‐​adjustment mechanism although the bureaucratic ex‐​post option that I criticized previously, appears to be only one option among many for meeting this requirement. And, I wish the authors hadn’t jumped on the health IT bandwagon. Health IT is a very worthy concept, but one better handled by the private sector.


And, if we should praise the bill for what it doesn’t include, we should criticize it in the same way. The bill does not include one of the best free market reform proposals of recent years, Rep. John Shadegg’s call for letting people purchase health insurance across state lines.


The bills (there are minor differences between the House and Senate versions) run to nearly 300 pages, and additional details, both good and bad, may emerge as I have more opportunity to study them. But for now, the bill, while flawed, looks to have far more good than bad.

May 19, 2009 1:00PM

A Dialogue on School Choice, Part 4

A tax credit bill was recently proposed in South Carolina to give parents an easier choice between public and private schools. It would do this by cutting taxes on parents who pay for their own children’s education, and by cutting taxes on anyone who donates to a non‐​profit Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO). The SGOs would subsidize tuition for low income families (who owe little in taxes and so couldn’t benefit substantially from the direct tax credit). Charleston minister Rev. Joseph Darby opposes such programs, and I support them. We’ve decided to have this dialogue to explain why. Our closing comments appear below, and the previous installments are here and here and here.


Rev. Darby

Rev. Joe Darby

Closing Comment

Thanks for the research and references, Andrew, but I don’t live in Milwaukee, Africa or India — I live and grew up in South Carolina, and I remember when my state resisted desegregation. I remember the news reports, white protests and rhetoric about new private schools, where white children would be “safe.” Attorney Tom Turnipseed, a repentant racist in Columbia, SC, fought to create those schools and now willingly admits his prejudiced motivation for doing so. That legacy needs to be acknowledged and those schools need to demonstrate that they’ve changed before many citizens will be comfortable with them.

Many white parents who didn’t send their children to private schools in those days simply couldn’t afford to do so without governmental assistance. An irony of American racism is that poor whites have also suffered, but have been culturally conditioned to not collaborate with or trust those of other colors who have common interests.

Having said that, let me keep my promise from my last installment of our dialogue. You noted that some private school parents of modest means have found ways to augment government funding for things like transportation and uniforms. I said that I wasn’t surprised, because good parents will go to great lengths for their children’s well being — and have done so for years without public funding of private schools. My wife and I did so when we were young, struggling parents.

Our sons attended V.V. Reid Kindergarten and Day Care in Columbia, SC — a 54 year old private facility sponsored by Reid Chapel AME Church. That predominately black school has a reputation for excellence and a long waiting list, and now includes an elementary school. The tuition was — and still is — considerable, but we paid it as a matter of parental choice. They also attended and graduated from public elementary, middle and high schools — now labeled as “failing” — and are now very successful men. They attended V.V. Reid with the children of physicians and attorneys and the children of janitors and cooks, but all of those children had one thing in common — their parents paid — and still pay — the full tuition. V.V. Reid does not accept any government funds and the current pastor, Rev. Norvell Goff, says that they aren’t seeking governmental funding and don’t support tuition tax credits and scholarships. As Rev. Goff said, “Parents who care will pay the price.”

That points to what most puzzles me about the fight to give private schools public money, allegedly to educate needy children. The idea’s most consistently strident uncompensated supporters in South Carolina are not those of modest means or progressive political mind set, but conservative legislators and interest groups who usually tell the needy to pull themselves up by their “bootstraps” and consistently oppose what they call “handouts” or “pork” for struggling communities. From health care to infrastructure to housing, they condemn governmental involvement in the private sector, but they make a remarkable exception for education. Could they have had a miraculous social epiphany on education, or could they possibly see a financial and social benefit for their constituents and neighbors that wouldn’t be rhetorically prudent in “selling” privatization to struggling families?

I’ll conclude our dialogue with that question, with thanksgiving that a bipartisan, biracial majority of our Senators killed South Carolina’s current privatization legislation last week, and with the wise and true words of SC Education Secretary Jim Rex — when businesses consider locating in South Carolina, they never ask, “How are your private schools.” Public education does matter. I’m also sure the issue isn’t entirely dead, so be blessed, take care, and we’ll chat next year.

***

The Rev. Darby is senior pastor of the AME Morris Brown Church in Charleston, and First Vice President of the Charleston Branch of the NAACP.

Andrew Coulson

Andrew Coulson

Closing Comment

You wrote that “dangerous buildings can… be expeditiously made excellent and secure while occupied and before they catch fire.… The chronic inequities in public education can be expeditiously addressed with will and commitment.”

Before they catch fire”? Nearly half of all children in South Carolina drop out before finishing high school. Nearly HALF! Public schooling is burning NOW. It’s been ablaze for decades, reducing countless children’s dreams to ashes. Having another meeting to discuss fire codes would be madness. We need to get a ladder to these kids today.

And “fixed expeditiously with will and commitment”? Spending per pupil has more than doubled in real terms over the past forty years. Two generations of would‐​be reformers have worked feverishly to improve the system, passing one education bill after another at the state and federal levels, and introducing countless revisions to the curriculum and teacher training policies. Class sizes have been reduced, teachers’ salaries have been raised. Short of ritual sacrifices, there is nothing that has not already been tried, repeatedly, to fix the public schools.

You wrote that “studies on the success of privatization… are a ‘wash’ — each of us can find support for our positions.” This is simply not true. As I’ve noted, the research findings comparing market to monopoly schooling all over the world favor markets by a margin of 15 to 1. That’s based on the most comprehensive literature review to date. Social science, while imperfect, is science. And on this point, it is unambiguous.

As for your statement that South Carolina significantly and systematically underfunds rural black districts along the I‑95 corridor, I decided to check it out. Using this year’s data from South Carolina’s General Appropriations spending bill, I calculated the average expenditure per pupil: $11,815. For rural districts along the I‑95 corridor, it comes to $11,743 — a difference of $72.

You’ve said that, in the wake of the civil war, some middle‐​class blacks excluded lower‐​class blacks from their private schools. If that’s true, I would certainly join you in lamenting their behavior. But who is guilty of this cruelty today? Who is currently trying to keep poor young blacks from getting easier access to private schools? The NAACP supports scholarships for low‐​income students to attend private colleges, but fiercely opposes the same practice at the elementary and high school levels. Who’s blocking the schoolhouse door now?

Fortunately, school choice is advancing despite such misguided opposition. There are dozens of choice programs around the nation, and the best among them are growing rapidly and with bi‐​partisan support. Some black leaders of your own generation, such as South Carolina Senator Robert Ford, have gotten on board. Even more of the next generation of black leaders, from Corey Booker in New Jersey to Kevin Johnson in Sacramento, are on board as well. And some of the most eloquent voices in support of educational freedom are beneficiaries of school choice.

Perhaps, if you talk with some of the tens of thousands of families benefitting from school choice around the country, you’ll be convinced to join them aboard the educational freedom train. It’s pulling out of the station regardless.

In closing, I’d like to thank you for participating in this exchange. I hope people on all sides of the debate have found it useful.

***

Andrew Coulson is director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, and author of Market Education: The Unknown History.

May 13, 2009 10:04AM

We’re Not Talking about Socialized Medicine — I Swear

According to an unnamed “top White House official”:

It’s hard to talk about socialized medicine when the hospitals, doctors, insurers, the private sector players are working with us at the White House.

Let me get this straight. A president who is ideologically committed to socialized medicine is negotiating with an industry that’s committed to making as much money as possible off of socialized medicine.


But don’t worry. If there’s one thing they’re not discussing, it’s socialized medicine.

May 11, 2009 12:35PM

Barack Obama “Fatally Conceited” on Education

The AP reports today that president Obama wants the nation’s school districts to close 5,000 failing schools and re‐​open them with new principals and teachers. Here is why this won’t work:

  • Typically, public schools only dismiss teachers when they are forced to reduce their workforce for budget reasons, but the president has just infused the system with $100 billion to prevent such dismissals. And when teachers are let go, it is done starting with those with the least seniority, not the lowest performance. So the hundreds of thousands of teachers displaced from failing schools will simply move to other schools rather than being replaced by better teachers. This has been going on for decades. It is called “the parade of the lemons.” Overall, it achieves nothing.
  • The new principals who take over the formerly failing schools have to come from somewhere. So for every school that gets one of the system’s “good” principals, there will be another school that loses one. Public schooling has no incentive structure to ensure that it can identify, hire, and retain competent administrators to strengthen its ranks.

What the president is trying to do in education — as in the auto industry — is to replace the web of market forces that close failing businesses in the private sector with his own personal diktat. This is Hayek’s Fatal Conceit.


The market solves the problem of failing schools by allowing consumers to chose the ones that serve them best, which simultaneously accomplishes two things: it drives failing schools to either improve or go out of business, and it provides incentives for the expansion of successful schools and the hiring of effective teachers and administrators.


As I wrote here, and in expanded and updated form in vol. 3, no. 1, of the Journal of School Choice, the international scientific evidence reveals the overwhelming superiority of market over monopoly schooling. President Obama’s educational dirigism will fail.

April 30, 2009 10:12AM

Adam Smith Goes to Somalia: “Competition Keeps Prices Low”

Many people would agree that modern‐​day Somalia represents a Hobbesian state of nature. But could anarchy strengthen Somalia’s private sector? This article is certainly very old, but I came across it yesterday and thought the argument would be of interest to political theorists and classical liberals:

…local businesspeople find it easier to do business in a country where there is no government. “There is no need to obtain licences and, in contrast with many other parts of Africa, there is no state‐​run monopoly that prevents new competitors setting up. Keeping price low is helped by the absence of any need to pay taxes.”

Of course, the absence of a stable and legitimate political and judicial system, compounded by unyielding internecine violence, means individual and private property rights can never be fully protected and we aren’t likely to see foreign businesses flocking to this chaotic country in the foreseeable future. Generally speaking, the proper role of government is to protect individual rights. But the proper role of our government — abroad — should be limited to instances when our national sovereignty or territorial integrity is at risk. As exemplified in Somalia, America’s attempts to stabilize failed states or pacify foreign populations usually fail, exacerbate already disastrous situations, and are, in principle, gratuitous abuses of American power [See: the calamitous U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia].