Remember the ads in which actors...er, people...would enthusiastically do demeaning things for Klondike Bars? You know, ads like this one, in which Shakespeare stoops to writing a TV sitcom in exchange for one of those chocolate-encrusted ice cream blocks?
The message, of course, was that the Bard and all the other Klondike-cravers took the deals for the dessert, not, obviously, for the love of what they were being bribed to do. They just wanted the reward -- even the biggest idiot understood that.
Sadly, it seems that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan might be hoping that the public is dumber than the biggest idiot. In a recent interview, he talked as if there might actually be states suddenly making education changes needed to get part of his $5-billion "Race to the Top" fund not because they want the money, but because the reforms are the right thing to do.
"It's really not about the money - it's about pushing a strong reform agenda that's going to improve student achievement," he said. "We're going to invest in those states that aren't just talking the talk but that are walking the walk....If folks are doing this to chase money, it's for the wrong reasons."
Only in politics would you bribe people to act, then declare that they'd better not be acting just to get the bribe. But you wouldn't want the public realizing that politicians and bureaucrats are just as selfish as corporate titans or swindlers, would you?
The problem Duncan is trying to deal with, of course, is convincing the public that reforms coerced with Race-to-the-Top dollars will stay in place after the one-shot-deal bucks are gone. But as even the biggest couch potato knows, Shakespeare simply won't write for Gary Coleman if there's no ice cream at the end.
On Sunday, the Washington Post ran an op-ed by the chancellor and vice chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, in which the writers proposed that the federal government start pumping money into a select few public universities. Why? On the constantly repeated but never substantiated assertion that state and local governments have been cutting those schools off.
As I point out in the following, unpublished letter to the editor, that is what we in the business call "a lie:"
It’s unfortunate that officials of a taxpayer-funded university felt the need to deceive in order to get more taxpayer dough, but that’s what UC Berkeley’s Robert Birgeneau and Frank Yeary did. Writing about the supposedly dire financial straits of public higher education (“Rescuing Our Public Universities,” September 27), Birgeneau and Yeary lamented decades of “material and progressive disinvestment by states in higher education.” But there’s been no such disinvestment, at least over the last quarter-century. According to inflation-adjusted data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers, in 1983 state and local expenditures per public-college pupil totaled $6,478. In 2008 they hit $7,059. At the same time, public-college enrollment ballooned from under 8 million students to over 10 million. That translates into anything but a “disinvestment” in the public ivory tower, no matter what its penthouse residents may say.
Since letters to the editor typically have to be pretty short I left out readily available data for California, data which would, of course, be most relevant to the destitute scholars of Berkeley. Since I have more space here, let's take a look: In 1983, again using inflation-adjusted SHEEO numbers, state and local governments in the Golden State provided $5,963 per full-time-equivalent student. In 2008, they furnished $7,177, a 20 percent increase. And this while enrollment grew from about 1.2 million students to 1.7 million! Of course, spending didn't go up in a straight line -- it went up and down with the business cycle -- but in no way was there anything you could call appreciable "disinvestment."
Unfortunately, higher education is awash in lies like these. Therefore, our debunking will not stop here! On Tuesday, October 6, at a Cato Institute/Pope Center for Higher Education Policy debate, we'll deal with another of the ivory tower's great truth-defying proclamations: that colleges and universities raise their prices at astronomical rates not because abundant, largely taxpayer-funded student aid makes doing so easy, but because they have to!
It's a doozy of a declaration that should set off a doozy of a debate! To register to attend what should be a terrific event, or just to watch online, follow this link.
I hope to see you there, and remember: Don't believe everything your professors tell you, especially when it impacts their wallets!
USA Today's Dennis Cauchon reports that "state governments are rushing to borrow money to take advantage of cheap and plentiful credit at a time when tax collections are tumbling." That will allow them to "avoid some painful spending cuts," Cauchon notes, but it will sadly impose more pain on taxpayers down the road.
When politicians have the chance to act irresponsibly, they will act irresponsibly. Give them low interest rates and they go on a borrowing binge. The result is that they are in over their heads with massive piles of bond debt on top of the huge unfunded obligations they have built up for state pension and health care plans.
The chart shows that total state and local government debt soared 93 percent this decade. It jumped from $1.2 trillion in 2000 to $2.3 trillion by the second quarter of 2009, according to Federal Reserve data (Table D.3).
Government debt has soared during good times and bad. During recessions, politicians say that they need to borrow to avoid spending cuts. But during boomtimes, such as from 2003 to 2008, they say that borrowing makes sense because an expanding economy can handle a higher debt load. I've argued that there is little reason for allowing state and local government politicians to issue bond debt at all.
Unfortunately, the political urge to spend has resulted in the states shoving a massive pile of debt onto future taxpayers at the same time that they have built up huge unfunded obligations for worker retirement plans.
We've seen how uncontrolled debt issuance has encouraged spending sprees at the federal level. Sadly, it appears that the same debt-fueled spending disease has spread to the states and the cities.
In response to claims that texting-while-driving (TWD) causes traffic accidents, Congress is considering "a federal bill that would force states to ban texting while driving if they want to keep receiving federal highway money."
This approach to forcing a particular policy on the states mimics the 1984 Federal Uniform Driving Age Act, which threatened to withhold federal highway funds unless states adopted a 21-year-old minimum legal drinking age. The justification for that law was reducing traffic fatalities among 18-20 year olds.
A federal ban on TWD is not compelling:
1. Federal imposition of the 21-year old minimum drinking age did not save lives.
2. A ban on texting might increase other distractions: adjusting the radio, putting on makeup, eating a sandwich, reading a map, and so on. Relatedly, the evidence that TWD causes accidents is far from convincing. Traffic fatalities per vehicle mile travelled have declined substantially over the past 15 years, despite the explosion in text messaging.
3. TWD has benefits, not just costs. Truckers, for example, claim that
Crisscrossing the country, hundreds of thousands of long-haul truckers use computers in their cabs to get directions and stay in close contact with dispatchers, saving precious minutes that might otherwise be spent at the side of the road.
4. If the benefits of banning TWD become clear, most states will ban on their own.
Thus laws that penalize TWD might make sense. But this is an issue for states, not the federal government.
C/P Libertarianism, from A to Z.
- After last weekend's 9/12 March, you'd have to be deaf not to recognize that small-government conservatism remains a vital part of the national conversation. That, or you watch too much MSNBC.
- Nothing is simple when dealing with the so-called Democratic People's Republic of Korea. But here are a few ways the U.S. can engage the nuclear armed nation.
- Questions that must be answered before we proceed deeper into Afghanistan.
- Why it's time to abolish the Department of Transportation, and devolve federal transportation programs to the states.
By all accounts, the White House is going to unveil its proposal for indefinite detention within the next four to eight weeks, and it has begun dispatching proponents of that scheme to lay the rhetorical groundwork. In The Washington Post today, one of the proposal's architects -- Law Professor Robert Chesney, a member of Obama's Detention Policy Task Force -- showcased the trite and manipulative tactics that will be used by advocates of indefinite detention to win support for their radical program [anyone doubting that detention without trials is radical should recall that Obama's own White House counsel Greg Craig told Jane Mayer back in February that it's "hard to imagine Barack Obama as the first President of the United States to introduce a preventive-detention law"; New York Times reporter William Glaberson wrote that "Obama's detention policy "would be a departure from the way this country sees itself"; Sen. Russ Feingold warned that it "violates basic American values," "is likely unconstitutional," and "is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world"; The New York Times' Bob Herbert said that "Americans should recoil as one against the idea of preventive detention"; and the Obama policy's most vigorous Congressional proponents are Tom Coburn and Lindsey Graham].
According to Chesney, though, the real extremists are those "on the left" who oppose preventive detention; those who believe that radical liberties such as criminal charges, trials and due process are necessary before the state can put someone in a cage for life; those who agree with Thomas Jefferson that trial by jury is "the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." Chesney insists that such people (these "leftists") are (as always) the mirror images of the extremists on the Right, who "carelessly depict civil-liberties advocates as weak-kneed fools who are putting American lives at risk." These two equally partisan, radical, extremist sides (i.e., those who believe in due process and trials and those who oppose them) are -- sadly -- "shrink[ing] the political space within which reasonable, sustainable policies [i.e., Chesney's preventive detention scheme] might be crafted with bipartisan support."
...This is how political debates are typically carried out in Washington by the Serious Centrists and Responsible Adults. Chesney writes an entire Op-Ed defending the soon-to-be-unveiled preventive detention policy without describing a single aspect of it. To Serious people, the substance of the policy is irrelevant. What matters is that anyone who opposes it is a radical, partisan, shrill extremist. Conversely, as long as the Obama administration stays somewhere in the middle of the two sides -- between Tom Coburn and Russ Feingold -- then it proves they are being sensible, moderate and responsible, regardless of how extreme and dangerous their proposal actually is, and regardless of how close to Coburn and as far from Feingold as they end up.
No system of justice is perfect. But it's no improvement to decide that in certain cases we can just do better without one.
All that such a policy does is to move the act of judging back one level -- and to locate it at the point where someone, somewhere decides that this particular case doesn't get judged in the usual way. And so the accused gets "detention" rather than "trial, followed possibly by prison." But we are still putting a person, and perhaps a dangerous person, in a cage, are we not? The acts of judging and of punishing are still there, and we have hidden them only from ourselves.
It is no improvement to shift the fundamental problem of justice to a different location -- out of open courtrooms, out of review, out of established legal tradition -- and into a shadowy realm where potentially anything goes. We're deluding ourselves if we think that it is a step forward or a refinement in the criminal law to have its work done somewhere else, by someone else. The work goes on, and with it all of the associated dangers. Western legal philosophy has spent centuries forcing these dangers out into the open, so that we may confront them directly.
But oddly, Professor Chesney is actually right in one respect:
The problem is twofold. First, the national dialogue has been dominated by a pair of dueling narratives that together reduce the space available for nuanced, practical solutions that may require compromise from both camps. On the one hand, critics of the government's policies promiscuously invoke the post-Sept. 11 version of the Imperial Presidency narrative, reflexively depicting security-oriented policies in terms of executive branch power aggrandizement (with de rigueur references to former vice president Dick Cheney; his chief of staff, David Addington; or Justice Department attorney John Yoo, if not all three). On the other hand, supporters of the government's policies just as carelessly depict civil-liberties advocates as weak-kneed fools who are putting American lives at risk.
Second, individual issues in the debate over detention policy are often framed in stark and incompatible terms. Take, for example, the Guantanamo detainees, who are portrayed in some quarters as innocent bystanders to the last man and in other quarters as the "worst of the worst." While both extremes are misleading, their influence is pervasive.
True enough. A reasonable middle position? Give the detainees trials in which they can individually prove their guilt or innocence. Surely they aren't all guilty, and I don't believe I've ever seen anyone claim that they are all innocent, either. The truth really is somewhere in between, and it just so happens that we already have a mechanism for sorting out muddled cases like these.
Last month I blogged about attempts by various state governments to regulate yoga instructors by forcing them to obtain a costly government license. Today the Washington Post has a story on Virginia's efforts to place the government boot on the necks of its yogis:
The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia recently declared that studios offering yoga teacher instruction must be certified. That involves a $2,500 fee, audits, annual charges of at least $500 and a pile of paperwork.
Let's call this what it is: extortion. And if you still harbor the illusion that bureaucrats don't sit around thinking up ways to pilfer more money from productive members of society, think again:
In Virginia, yoga teacher training first hit the state's radar late last year after a state employee conducting school audits happened upon an advertisement, said Linda Woodley, the higher education council's director of private and out-of-state postsecondary education. Before that, Woodley said, 'I was not aware they existed, and they were not aware we existed.'
Well congratulations, Ms. Woodley -- the yogi community now knows you exist.
Studios can teach lotus poses to as many clients as they like, state officials said. But teacher training programs, which the state views as similar to dog grooming, massage therapy or other classes intended to prepare someone for a job, must be certified under state law. (For instance, Simply Ballroom Dance Teachers Academy, Danny Ward Horseshoeing School and Jiggers Bartending School are certified.)
Virginia citizens should sleep sound at night knowing ballroom dance teachers, horseshoers, and bartenders are government certified.
Woodley said it's also about ensuring that students who plunk down cash for training programs that can run a few thousand dollars are getting their money's worth. Plus, she said, being listed on the government registry will give schools a marketing tool, like a Good Housekeeping seal of approval.
Good Housekeeping seal of approval? Ladies and gentleman, this is the mentality of the state bureaucrats that the federal government has tasked with "stimulating" the economy with YOUR money.