Topic: General

Next Week at Cato Unbound: Mexicans in America

Tune in Monday for the August issue of Cato Unbound, devoted to the topic of “Mexicans in America.”

Richard Rodriguez, author of the celebrated Hunger of Memory and, most recently, Brown: The Last Discovery of America, leads off this month’s issue with a provocative meditation on the role of Mexico and Mexicans in the U.S. economy and consciousness. Hoover Institution senior fellow Victor Davis Hanson, author of Mexifornia, will reply, along with Douglas Massey of Princeton University’s Mexican Migration Project, and labor economist and immigration expert Steve Trejo at the University of Texas.

Here’s the subject:

Today’s heated debate over immigration and border control is largely a debate about Mexicans. It is often argued that Mexican immigrants in particular place a heavy burden on social services, especially in border states, bring crime in their wake, depress wages, and displace American workers. Some argue that although we are a nation of immigrants, and that immigration is generally good, Mexican immigrants are different: they are either unwilling or unable to assimilate and become full-fledged Americans, and, therefore, a heavy concentration of Mexican immigrants in the Southwest threatens a distinctly American way of life. How much truth, if any, is in these arguments? A reasonable debate about Mexican immigration requires that we really know about Mexicans in America. Who are the Mexicans coming to the U.S.? Are they fitting in? Are their children fitting in? Their children’s children? What kind of contribution are they making to the American economy and national character? In what ways are the U.S. and Mexico interdependent? Are the new Mexican immigrants buying homes, starting businesses, setting down roots? Are they upwardly mobile? Civically active? Is their participation in the labor market hurting American workers? Making America richer, economically and culturally? Answers to these questions can make a huge difference–between belief in amnesty and openness, or deportation and a wall. Getting it right matters. So let’s try to get it right.

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Michael Gerson Thinks You Are “Morally Empty”

If you like the work of the Cato Institute, that is.  “Morally empty” is how Bush’s former head speechwriter described the “small-government” aspect of small-government conservatism in this interview with Foreign Policy magazine:

It is superficially attractive. But in the long run, it’s politically self-destructive because [candidates] end up talking about the size of government while others are talking about education, healthcare, and serious public concerns. It’s morally empty because, from my tradition and political philosophy, any political movement has to have a vision of social justice and the common good in order to appeal [to people]. And government can play a part in that. I’ve seen over the last five years that it clearly can.

And in case you had caught your breath after almost six years of Bush’s foreign policy, here he is on the question “Which of the president’s speeches do you think best expresses his worldview?”

Probably the second inaugural, which he wanted to be the democracy speech—the culmination of a series of doctrines and approaches that we had defined in the previous two to three years. It talks very frankly about the necessity of democratic transformation for the future of American security. Particularly in the Middle East, the cycle of tyranny and radicalism has produced an unsustainable situation. That dynamic has to be changed, and democracy is the only way to do it. Some of it is working with authoritarian governments that may go down the path of reform, some of it is standing up for dissidents and taking the side of the oppressed, and some of it is confronting outlaw regimes that threaten the international order. This is, in many ways, the clearest crystallization of his foreign policy.

It’d be comforting to think they’ve learned their lesson, but they clearly haven’t.  In case your outrage quotient isn’t yet filled, you can read this interview at Christianity Today.  Gerson on the Democratic Party:

I would love to see the Democratic Party return to a tradition of social justice that was found in people like William Jennings Bryan. During that period, many if not most politically engaged evangelicals were in the Democratic Party, because it was a party oriented toward justice.

I don’t see much of that now in the Democratic Party. Instead of an emphasis on the weak and suffering, there’s so much emphasis on autonomy and choice. And so the party of William Jennings Bryan, the party of Franklin Roosevelt, I’m not sure it exists any more. But it would be good if it did.

Gerson on Republicans:

There are some members of the Republican Party who…have a much more narrow view of government’s role. It would be a shame if conservatism were to return to a much more narrow and libertarian and nativist approach.

Your Republican Party, ladies and gentlemen.  Bomb-slash-democratize the Arabs, accomplish “social justice,” cure AIDS in Africa, and ban gay marriage.  There’s going to be a lot of work left for the federal government, apparently, even after Bush leaves office.

Cavanaugh on Lieberman

Tim Cavanaugh’s short, acerbic postmortem on Joe Lieberman is worth a read. Here’s a snippet:

Lieberman is possibly the least libertarian member of the United States Senate: An infinite-state liberal who always found ways to oppose Social Security reform (which he allegedly supported), an absurd moral scold who co-sponsored the “Silver Sewer Awards” with William Bennett, a values buttinski who couldn’t resist attaching himself to Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube, he was in the final analysis nothing but a fake, a tartuffe, a figure able to puff enough gas into every opportunistic action to make it seem like an example of high principle.

Lessons Learned

A couple of days ago I wrote a surprisingly upbeat blog entry about the third public draft of the federal Commission on the Future of Higher Education’s report on reforming the American ivory tower. I should have known better: Today commission chairman Charles Miller removed one of the highlights of the draft, a statement asserting that private sector lending should be a much bigger part of the college funding picture than it currently is.

Apparently, that bright spot – well, bright for anyone other than students who are trying to grab as much taxpayer money as they can possibly get their hands on – produced too much pressure for the chairman. A letter sent to him by the Project on Student Debt opposing the nod to the private sector – which I’ve boiled down to its main points below – illustrates just how persuasive the arguments by student interest groups can be:

  1. Private loans have no limits on interest rates. If overall market rates go up, student loan rates could too!
  2. Private loans have no set limits on the amount students can borrow. Like chickens without a farmer, student borrowers will apparently eat private loan money until they explode.
  3. Private loans don’t include all the ways for students to get out of paying them back that federal loans do. Unlike government loans, where taxpayers get stuck eating the losses when students don’t repay what they borrow, private lenders, it seems, actually want their money back.
  4. Encouraging middle-class students to get private instead of federal loans won’t free up federal resources. Apparently, lots of middle-class kids take federal loans today even though they accrue no benefits from them. So why don’t they just use private loans? Oh, right: Federal loans have artificially low interest rates thanks to being guaranteed with taxpayer money, and federal borrowers can slough off all or part of their debt on the American people.

Sadly, the Project on Student Debt’s kind of “reasoning” has prevailed in higher education policy for decades, and its letter illustrates better than I ever could why the only thing the higher education commission should recommend is that government withdraw completely from the ivory tower. Unfortunately, the chairman’s actions today illustrate another thing better than I ever could: This sort of revolting, taxpayer-robbing, special-interest “logic” almost always prevails in politics, and the commission’s final report will be no different.

“Chaoulli has brought Canadian Medicare to a fork in the road”

Colleen Flood of the University of Toronto law school has a working paper out on the impact of the Canadian Supreme Court’s ruling in Chaoulli v. Quebec. In that case the court basically said that if the government prohibits private health insurance, but then threatens people’s lives by making them wait for care in the state-run health care system, it is violating the people’s rights to life, liberty, and personal security.

Prof. Flood’s paper is titled, “Chaoulli’s Legacy for the Future of Canadian Health Care Policy.” From the abstract:

The decision was initially considered of limited importance by many given that technically it applied only to Quebec. In the six months since the decision was released, however, it has become clear that the legal impact of Chaoulli will be dwarfed by its normative impact on policy debates across the country. Chaoulli has brought Canadian Medicare to a fork in the road. At the time of writing, critical decisions are about to be taken across the country.

Flood’s paper is available from the Social Science Research Network here (subscription req’d).

Dr. Chaoulli – the chief litigant in the case – authored a paper for Cato on the ruling and its potential impact, available here.

Lamont’s Victory Exposes the True Nature of Campaign Finance “Reform”

There is not a line in McCain-Feingold that isn’t designed to protect incumbents. The so-called Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act makes it a crime to even mention the name of a candidate for federal office in a radio or television ad within 60 days of a general election. No criticizing incumbents! But the worst part of these laws came with the 1974 Amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act, which instituted a $1000 contribution limit to candidates running for federal office (now slightly more than $2000, but less in real terms than the ’74 limits). Incumbents have earmarks to pass around and large mailing lists. Challengers do not. Advantage, incumbents.

Ned Lamont’s remarkable victory over three-term incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman yesterday exposes the true nature of contribution limits. They aren’t about the “appearance of corruption.” They’re about preventing a challenger from having a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. The one “loophole” the Supremes created with their incoherent 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo was that candidates have rights the rest of us don’t have. Apparently, they can’t be corrupted by their own money, so there are no limits on what they can spend on their own campaigns.

More than 60 percent of Ned’s campaign expenditures came from Ned. Without Ned, Ned loses. In fact, no political observer thought any candidate dependent on a $2000 contribution limit had any kind of chance of ousting Lieberman. Ned was a very poor candidate. Inarticulate with zero charisma. But by spending his own money he enfranchised the Democrats of Connecticut who otherwise, given the contribution limits, were disenfranchised. The Democrats in Connecticut hate the war in Iraq, Lieberman has rather energetically endorsed it. Yet the federal election laws would have assured Lieberman reelection were it not for the “loophole.”

This anti-war election is directly analogous to my late friend Gene McCarthy’s race for the presidency in 1968. Gene used six-figure contributions from wealthy liberals like Stewart Mott who opposed the war in Vietnam to fund a campaign that ousted a sitting president from his own party. Gene often said that had the ’74 amendments to the FECA been in place in ’68, he would not have run. Campaign finance laws should not have the power to change American history. But they do. Give everyone the “loophole” of being able to spend as much of their own money to promote their political beliefs and we’ll throw a remarkable number of incumbents out of office. And with good candidates instead of bumbling millionaires.

Pluralism and School Choice

Allow me to jump into the exchange from a few days back between our own Neal McCluskey and the American Prospect’s Matt Yglesias on science education. One of the key arguments against school choice is that only the government can be entrusted with the dissemination of truth. Matt writes that in both private and public schools:

… children are going to be coerced into doing something or other. Under the circumstances, I think there’s good reason to take a pragmatic attitude – better than children be coerced into learning correct science than incorrect science.

The implication being that government schools are more likely to have correct teachings. (By the way, it’s totally outrageous to say that teaching is “coercive,” just because the kids don’t get to pick what they will be taught.) Neal rightly notes that it’s not always obvious what’s correct. Neal proposed school choice in the first place precisely because government school boards keep trying to get creationism into the curriculum. If there is a single curriculum in a district, then, unless it is remarkably homogenous, there will be some kind of ideological power struggle over control of its contents. Matt seems to assume that the side of “correct science” will tend to win in school board battles, and that public school teachers are somehow less motivated to teach falsehoods about science than private school teachers. It is truly hard to see why.

Take, for example, former Weather Undergroud terrorist Bill Ayers’ attempt to work his communism into the science curriculum through “radical” teacher education:

In 1997, Ayers and his mentor Maxine Greene persuaded Teachers College [Columbia] Press to launch a series of books on social justice teaching, with Ayers as editor and Greene serving on the editorial board (along with Rashid Khalidi, loyal supporter of the Palestinian cause and the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University). Twelve volumes have appeared so far, including one titled Teaching Science for Social Justice.

Teaching science for social justice? Let Teachers College professor Angela Calabrese Barton, the volume’s principal author, try to explain: “The marriages between capitalism and education and capitalism and science have created a foundation for science education that emphasizes corporate values at the expense of social justice and human dignity.” The alternative? “Science pedagogy framed around social justice concerns can become a medium to transform individuals, schools, communities, the environment, and science itself, in ways that promote equity and social justice. Creating a science education that is transformative implies not only how science is a political activity but also the ways in which students might see and use science and science education in ways transformative of the institutional and interpersonal power structures that play a role in their lives.” If you still can’t appreciate why it’s necessary for your child’s chemistry teacher to teach for social justice, you are probably hopelessly wedded to reason, empiricism, individual merit, and other capitalist and post-colonialist deformities.

Columbia’s Teacher’s College, it is worth emphasizing, is one of the most prestigious and influential schools of education in the U.S. As you’ll see reading Sol Stern’s eye-opening article, Bill Ayres is a man who looks with admiration to the example of tryannical murders like Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh, and he would like to get teachers to push their ideology into the science curriculum. Stern goes on to discuss Eric Gutstein, a public school math teacher, who incorporates socialist politics into his math lectures.

It’s odious that government schools should provide a platform for either creationist pseudoscience or vicious, pseudo-intellectual anti-liberalism. But there is simply no way around this if government insists on providing, as well as financing, education. There is no way creationist types are going to stand for Ayres’ and Gutstein’s nonsense, and vice versa, ensuring that curriculum will be politicized. And there is no mechanism that makes it likely that the truth will win. Average parents, who just wants their kids to get a decent education, and don’t have strong feelings about the origins of life, or their oppressed relationship to capital, aren’t going to be on fire to make sure only the truth is taught. Their kids just get stuck with whoever wins the fight, or caught in a balance of powers unrelated to their interests. You don’t solve the problem of ideological pluralism simply by hoping that the government school boards and teachers will get it right. They clearly often don’t, ensuring that everyone has to learn a few favorite falsehoods.

Worse yet, often nobody wins the ideological fight. Opposed ideological agendas often don’t balance each other out, but simply create a pedagogical muddle. Education schools, when not teaching “Proletarian Revolt through Algebra,” teach a great deal of insipid therapeutic pablum, and textbooks afraid of saying anything anybody might possibly disagree with often avoid saying anything at all. Kids in government schools too often end up knowing nothing, not knowing the wrong thing. I do not believe that by not teaching intelligent design the government schools are therefore churning out little Richard Dawkinses by the thousands.

I’ll happily run the risk of a few creationist and Marxist private schools at the margins if that’s what it takes to create a system that actually succeeds at educating children. The surpassingly small minority who get a boatload of ideological hooey will at least be capable of speaking intelligently about Leviticus or The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. That, at least, is something.