Rev. Joe Darby of the NAACP and I Discuss School Choice

Tomorrow morning, the Rev. Joe Darby of Charleston, South Carolina and I will kick off a dialogue about school choice. As South Carolina’s legislature debates an education tax credit bill, Joe and I will debate the merits of school choice right here at Cato-at-Liberty.org.

Joe is an eloquent, thoughtful guy. I expect it to be very interesting.

Who’s Blogging about Cato

Here’s a roundup of bloggers who are writing about Cato research and commentary:

Are you blogging about Cato, but not on the list? cmoody [at] cato.org (Drop us a line) and let us know!

Topics:

Why Health Care Reform Is Not a Sure Thing

Over at NPR.org, I’ve got a commentary that explains why comprehensive health care reform is far from certain – current events notwithstanding.   Read it, recommend it, comment on it.

From the NPR piece:

There are two things standing in the way of Democrats’ plans for universal health insurance coverage: math and politics.

First, the math. According to the Urban Institute, covering the uninsured would cost a minimum $120 billion per year. Over 10 years, that comes to about $1.6 trillion.

That money’s gotta come from somewhere. And that’s where politics comes in. Everybody wants that money to come from someone else.

UPDATE: Here’s my appearance on Fox News today, discussing lobbyists’ proposal to cut health care costs:

Also, is health care a right?

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.

Now Is Not the Time to Reduce Credit Card Availability

With the House having passed credit card legislation and the Senate scheduled to take up its own bill this week, one questions keeps coming back to me: What’s the hurry?

We are in the midst of a recession, which will not turn around until consumer spending turns around—so why reduce the availability of consumer credit now? And the Federal Reserve has already proposed a rule that would address many of Congress’ supposed concerns. The Fed rule will be implemented July 2010. Were Congress to get a bill to the president by Memorial Day, as he has asked, the Federal Reserve and the industry still couldn’t implement it before maybe January, if they were lucky.

Congress should keep in mind that credit cards have been a significant source of consumer liquidity during this downturn. While few of us want to have to cover our basic living expenses on our credit card, that option is certainly better than going without those basic needs. The wide availability of credit cards has helped to significantly maintain some level of consumer purchasing, even while confidence and other indicators have nosedived.

It was the massive under-pricing of risk, often at the urging of Washington, that brought on our current financial market crisis. To now pressure credit card companies not to raise their fees or more accurately price credit risk, will only reduce the availability of credit while undermining the financial viability of the companies, ultimately prolonging the recession and potentially increasing the cost of bank bailouts to the taxpayer.

As Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has repeatedly said, some of the biggest credit card issuers will not be allowed to fail (think Citibank, American Express, Capital One, KepCorp) should they suffer significant losses to their credit card portfolios. Will taxpayers ultimately be the ones covering those losses?

Congress should also further examine the wisdom of restricting credit to college students under the age of 21. Outside of the obvious age discrimination, why treat adults between the ages of 18 and 21 any differently from those above 21? The basic premise of college is making sacrifices today in order to have a wealthier tomorrow—accordingly being able to borrow against that better tomorrow should be an option for any college student. Just as some small number of college students don’t benefit from college, some don’t benefit from credit cards, but throwing the “baby out with the bathwater” hardly seems the idea solution.

Are Health Care Industry Lobbyists Really Proposing to Reduce Their Members’ Revenue by $2 Trillion?

I smell a rat.  Lobbyists never advocate less revenue for their members.  Ever.  If they did, they would be fired and replaced with new lobbyists.

The industry wants universal coverage, because that means more customers and more revenue.  But universal coverage is expensive: it could cost $2 trillion itself.

If you tax your way to $2 trillion, the people revolt.  If you try to “free up” the money by cutting payments to the industry, the industry revolts.  Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) says he has reforms that will reduce health care spending over time, but the Congressional Budget Office won’t recognize those assumed savings.

So the industry may simply be trying to help Sen. Baucus cook the books by signaling, “Hey CBO – we’ll make sure those reforms work!” – with every intention of fighting those spending reductions later on.

Why Egypt?

President Obama will give a speech in Egypt on June 4 about America’s relations with the Muslim world. Why Egypt? I suspect many Americans think that Egypt is the largest Muslim country, but the White House and the State Department surely know that it’s not even in the top 5. I think White House press secretary Robert Gibbs touched on the reason when he was asked “Why Egypt?” and he responded that Egypt “represents the heart of the Arab world, and I think [the trip will be] an opportunity for the President to address and discuss our relationship with the Muslim world.”

Americans forget that the Muslim world and the Arab world are not synonymous. In fact, only 15 to 20 percent of Muslims live in Arab countries, barely more than the number in Indonesia alone and far fewer than the number in the Indian subcontinent. It seems to me that Obama would be better off delivering his message to the Muslim world somewhere closer to where most Muslims live. Perhaps even in his own childhood home of Indonesia.

Not only are there more Muslims in Asia than in the Middle East, the Muslim countries of south and southeast Asia have done a better job of integrating Islam and modern democratic capitalism. Obama has received some criticism for giving his speech in a repressive country and seeming to embrace Hosni Mubarak’s autocracy. But the criticism ought to go deeper: He should give his speech on U.S.-Islamic relations in the region of the world where most Muslims live, and where Muslims are successfully joining the modern world. Egypt is a fine place for a speech on the Arab-Israeli conflict. But in Indonesia, Malaysia, India, or Pakistan he could give a speech on America and the Muslim world surrounded by rival political leaders in a democratic country and by internationally recognized business leaders. It would be good for the president to draw attention to this more moderate version of Islam.

According to this chart based on the CIA World Factbook, Egypt is the seventh-largest Muslim country. Another chart shows Egypt fifth, but still far behind the Asian countries. Americans should take a close look, as we tend to associate Islam with the Arab world and its discontents. 

Country Muslim Population
1 Indonesia 182,570,000
2 Pakistan 134,480,000
3 India 121,000,000
4 Bangladesh 114,080,000
5 Turkey 65,510,000
6 Iran 62,430,000
7 Egypt 58,630,000
8 Nigeria 53,000,000
9 Algeria 30,530,000
10 Morocco 28,780,000
 
Source: CIA World Factbook