Using Twitter to Confront an Anti-Semitic Attack in Chile’s Paper of Record

After a morning workout and attending Mass this Sunday, I read El Mercurio (Chile’s paper of record) online. Although I seldom read Chilean newspapers blogs (too many attacks and too much dirt), I did so that morning because I was impressed by the indignation expressed by my friend Luis Larraín in his Sunday blog (titled “Canallas” – Shameless). I had named Larraín Superintendent of Social Security when he was 25 years old. At that time I was 30 and Secretary of Labor and Social Security.

With astonishment I discovered that a certain “Mr. Murillo”, in the comment number 10 on the blog (which I copied immediately, and backed up electronically), explicitly attacked another commenter, Mr. José Fregoso Edelstein, by saying that his previous comment was due to the fact that he is from a “bad race” because he is Jewish.

I immediately logged in to Twitter and posted a ‘tweet’ demanding El Mercurio delete the blog comment, because it is a terrible insult directed at a group of people that have suffered indescribable horrors, not only in the 20th Century, but throughout history. I would have done the same thing if the insult was directed at Palestinians, Lebanese, Croatians, or any other racial/religious/national group.

However, I found an unexpected surprise. Instead of receiving immediate support for an action I thought just and reasonable, several people on Twitter attacked Jews, and me for defending them (one wrote, “You have used your enormous prestige in Chile to become “a shield for the Jews”). They also accused me of “encouraging censorship”, suggesting a “media dictatorship”, etc… . I replied inmediately in Twitter to the least offensive ones. Fifteen minutes later I received a ‘tweet’ from an editor at El Mercurio, saying that they had seen my complaint in Twitter and that they were studying the situation. With another tweet I insisted on immediate deletion of the comment. Twenty minutes later the newspaper editors deleted the offensive comment number 10. I want to emphasize that the editorial mistake, even this grievous one, does not compromise the newspaper El Mercurio as a whole, and its fast action in regard to the issue speaks to the newspaper’s chief editor’s integrity. It was an extraordinary triumph of the fast boat Twitter over the “media carrier” in Chile, another demonstration of the liberating potential of the wonderful new technologies being developed in the land of the free and the brave.

What left me very worried, and the reason I wrote this, is having detected a worrisome anti-Semitic sentiment among my fellow countrymen. Is this unjust anti-Semitic sentiment widespread, though hidden, in Chile, or was this only a “black swan?” I declare myself in a state of alert. We are building a free and good country. There should be no place whatsoever for the language of hate and the discrimination of minorities. As the great Albert Einstein said: “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”

Government Schooling vs. Freedom

Yesterday, I posted a blog entry responding to an interview with historian Diane Ravitch in which she criticized “privatization” and asserted that “deregulation nearly destroyed our economy in the past decade.” My response was directed at Prof. Ravitch, but touches on a bigger issue with which all people in the education debate need to grapple: How much should the school choice debate be centered not around test scores or financial costs – though those are obviously very important considerations – but on the role and structure of education in a free society? Can we not trust free people to make their own education decisions? If not, how can our system of education be compatible with a nation firmly rooted in individual liberty?

That is a debate I think we desperately need to have – it is fundamental for a free society – and I hope others will join in.

Fear of Freedom Leaves Only Faith Healing for Our Schools

Historian Diane Ravitch drives me nuts. She has written numerous, terrific books chronicling the ills of government control of education, including the wrenching social conflict it has caused; the ejection of meaningful content from textbooks and tests it has required; and the dominance of educrats over parents and children it has enabled. She has been, essentially, the official historian of government-schooling’s failure. And yet, in a new blog interview with journalist John Merrow, she appears not to comprehend the most important lesson her copious works have to offer: that government education is doomed to fail.

Why the huge disconnect between her historiography and willingness to act on its clear implications? Because, it appears, as much as she knows that government schooling fails, she fears educational freedom even more. “Privatization,” in her mind, is simply too dangerous:

I remember your saying in an interview years ago that you favored public schools but not the public school system that we have.  In New Orleans Paul Vallas has called for ‘a system of schools, not a school system.’  What’s your ideal approach?  Are we moving in that direction?

If “a system of schools” means that the public schools should be handed over to anyone who wants to run a school, then I think we are headed in the wrong direction. Privatization will not help us achieve our goals. We know from the recent CREDO study at Stanford that charter schools run the gamut from excellent to abysmal, and many studies have found that charters, on average, produce no better results than the regular public schools. Deregulation nearly destroyed our economy in the past decade, and we better be careful that we don’t destroy our public schools too.

Unfortunately, while Prof. Ravitch knows a gigantic amount about education history, she exhibits precious little understanding of freedom or its economic subset, free markets. For one thing, charter schooling – a system by which public schools are given a right to exist and largely held accountable by government – isn’t even close to “privatization,” if by that we mean taking control from government and giving it to free, “private” individuals. Worse, Ravitch evinces a reflexive and, frankly, simplistic fear of free markets in hyperbolically asserting that “deregulation nearly destroyed our economy in the past decade.” I’d strongly suggest that she explore some non-education history – for instance, that of government-sponsored institutions such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; federal laws such as the Community Reinvestment Act; and federal regulation – before making any such over-the-top declaration again.

Ultimately, it seems likely that Prof. Ravitch fails to grasp – or, perhaps, to intuitively feel – how freedom works, and hence she fears it. Like many people, maybe she’s just not comfortable with seemingly ethereal spontaneous order, and needs to have some higher power pulling the strings to feel safe. Perhaps she fails to see how freedom, by fostering competition and innovation, produces all of the wonderful things we take for granted. Maybe she doesn’t really understand that it is due to freedom that we have an abundance of computers, coffee cups, cars, houses, package delivery services, miracle drugs, and pencils, not to mention religious pluralism, marketplaces of idea, and even happiness.

And then there’s the flip-side: government failure. While she has done more than perhaps any other historian to detail government failure and damage it has inflicted in education, Ravitch seems dead set against applying what she knows to public policy. She knows, for instance, that government often works precisely for the powerful special interests it’s supposed to keep in check. She doesn’t, though, seem to know why that is, and why it is the rule in government. She doesn’t appear to realize that the people who would be regulated, or who are employed by government, have by far the greatest motivation to get involved in the politics of their narrow areas, and hence exercise by far the most influence over them. And she doesn’t realize that it is only when special interests control government – not when they are in free markets – that they can exert unchecked power, because it is only then that they no longer have to get others to voluntarily do business with them.

Unfortunately, Ravitch’s apparent fear of freedom forces her to deny the only hope for making American education really work:  to empower all parents to choose, and to set educators free. Only then would schools be able to specialize in the needs of our hugely diverse children, and would children be able to attend them. Only then would educators have to compete for their money, forcing them to respond to the people they are supposed to serve rather than exercising political control over them. Only then would we see in education the kind of powerful innovation and progress we take for granted in everything from consumer electronics to restaurants.

And yes, freedom works in education, just as it does in almost every field of human endeavor. Despite much of the world having adopted the government-schooling model, we have ample evidence of this. For instance, James Tooley’s hugely important research reveals how private, for-profit schools are educating the world’s poorest children much more effectively than “free” government schools. And Andrew Coulson’s recent review of education research reveals that the more free an education system, the better its results.

Freedom, quite simply, works, and government, typically, does not. Which might be exactly why, after Ravitch has bashed “privatization” and “deregulation,” the only prescription she has left is blind, reality-ignoring hope: “At some point, we will have to get the kind of leadership that can figure out how to improve our public school system so that we have the education we want for our children.”

We should wait, in other words, for a miracle, a healing of that which is inherently broken. It is, of course, no solution at all, but both knowing the history of American education, and fearing real freedom, Ravitch has nothing else to offer.

Timmy Throws a Temper-Tantrum

As reported in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner called fellow bank regulators, included Fed Chair Ben Bernanke and FDIC Chair Sheila Bair, over for an obscenity-laced rant about their audacity in raising questions about his scheme to fix our financial system.

Reportedly the Secretary told regulators that “enough is enough” and that they’ve been heard, so the time for debate is over.  This sounds eerily like the President’s previous comments about including Republicans in the talks over the stimulus - you’ve been heard, so you were “included,” now shut up.   The shouting down of debate is becoming all too much a signature of this Administration.

The Secretary apparently also told the regulators in attendance that it was the administration and the Congress that sets policy.  Perhaps next he’ll tell us that the power of the purse lies with the Treasury and the Congress.  Secretary Geithner has no more constitutional authority to set policy than do any of the bank regulators.  It is the job of Congress to make laws, not the Treasury Secretary’s.  He can offer his opinion, just as they can, and should, offer theirs.

Of course, Secretary Geithner’s frustrations are understandable, given that his regulatory proposals have hit a brick-wall with both Congress and the Public.  He has made no effort to explain to either Congress or the public how exactly his plan will stop future bailouts.  Instead, any reasonable read of his proposal would lead to the conclusion that we will have more bailouts, rather than less, under the Obama-Geithner plan.  Instead of directing his energies at anger, he should put them toward coming up with solutions that actually increase the stability of our financial system.

We were all told during his confirmation process that we must overlook such facts as his failure to pay taxes, because Tim Geithner was the “boy-wonder” who would save our financial system.  As his recent out-bursts demonstrate, “boy-wonder” is only half-right.

The Boston Globe Misleads Readers About the Cost of Health Reform in Massachusetts

An editorial in today’s Boston Globe announces, “Mass. bashers take note: Health reform is working.” The editors write:

Pundits and politicians who oppose universal healthcare for the nation have a new straw man to kick around - the Massachusetts reform plan that covers more than 97 percent of the state’s residents. In the myth that these critics have manufactured, this state’s plan is bleeding taxpayers dry, creating nothing less than a medical Big Dig.

The facts - according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation - are quite different. Its report this spring put the cost to the state taxpayer at about $88 million a year, less than four-tenths of 1 percent of the state budget of $27 billion.

Here’s why the claim that the reforms cost Massachusetts taxpayers just $88 million per year is wrong.

  1. According to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, $88 million is not the annual cost of the law, but the average year-to-year increase in state spending due to the law.  It’s a marginal-cost estimate, not a total-cost estimate.
  2. The foundation used (uncertain) future spending cuts to make the average annual increase in spending appear smaller.  In 2009, the total cost to the state government, according to the foundation, will be $408 million, nearly five times what the Globe claims.
  3. That $408 million is just the cost to the state government.  According to the foundation’s estimates, the state government’s share amounts to just 20 percent of the law’s total cost of $2.1 billion in 2009. The remaining 80 percent is borne by the federal government (20 percent) and private individuals and employers complying with the law’s individual and employer mandates (60 percent).  Since Massachusetts taxpayers also pay federal taxes and must comply with the law’s mandates, state taxpayers pay much more than $88 million to comply with the law.  In fact, the total cost of the law is about 24 times what the Globe says it is.

So the Globe is wrong.  But here’s why the Globe should have known better.

I recently wrote an op-ed where I picked apart the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation numbers.  The op-ed hardly “manufactured myths” or “kicked around straw men.”  I reached these conclusions using the foundation’s own data, and by talking with foundation president Michael Widmer.  Widmer agrees with all of these points.  (With one exception: he maintains it’s legitimate to use assumed future savings to reduce the average year-to-year increase in spending.  But really, that’s a minor issue.)

I submitted that op-ed to The Boston Globe.  They sat on it for a week, then rejected it.  Which is fine. (FYI, the op-ed has been accepted at The Providence Journal.)

At a minimum, that raises the question of whether this misinformation was in fact disinformation.

On Health Reform, Massachusetts Is the Model

Last week, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) penned a wonderfully misleading oped for USA Today. In response, I submitted this poor, unsuccessful letter to the editor:

If Massachusetts were covering the uninsured for less than $800 a pop, as former Gov. Mitt Romney suggests [“Mr. President, What’s the Rush?”, July 30], then the health reforms he signed in 2006 would truly be a model for the nation.  Yet data from the very watchdog organization Romney cites (the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation) indicate something different.

The Massachusetts reforms cost more than five times what Romney claims, because the state pushed more than 80 percent of the cost off-budget, and onto private individuals and the federal government.  In fact, “RomneyCare” covers a family of four at a cost of at least $27,000 – more than twice the average cost of employer-sponsored coverage ($12,680).

Romney is correct that President Barack Obama has the wrong prescription for health reform.  But that’s because Obama’s approach is Romney’s approach.  Like Romney, Obama would have government force people to purchase health insurance; control the content, terms, and price of “private” health insurance policies; expand Medicaid; and create new government subsidies and bureaucracies.  Like Romney, Obama would push most of the cost off-budget by imposing mandates on states and private individuals – which constitutes a huge tax increase on the middle class.

ObamaCare, like RomneyCare, is socialized medicine with a private façade.