All this National School Choice Week we have been looking at public schooling, school choice, and the shaping of a tolerant, harmonious society. Links to the week’s offerings can be found at the end of this post. For our final installment, I want to briefly discuss two spheres of liberty: one the freedom to act, the second preservation of a diverse society.
Liberty, from a political standpoint, essentially means freedom from force, with a necessary corollary that one not use force on others. It is, basically, maximizing the sphere of self‐determination. Closely connected to this is that government treat all people equally, not favor one or disfavor another in their pursuits of the “good life.”
Educational freedom is consistent with liberty, and public schooling is not. Public schooling inherently involves government taking money from people, ultimately at the point of a gun, and saying, “This is what children will learn, or not learn, with this money, and if you want or need something else, too bad. Pay for that with what you have left over.” Whether the process by which government decides what is taught is democratic or totalitarian, it is still curbing liberty.
There is an important caveat to this: As long as education is about children, someone will ultimately be making decisions for them, whether it is parents or the state. That makes a pure “freedom to act” argument for school choice more difficult. But protection of liberty still points towards expansive school choice.
For one thing, if parents allow their children to have a say in how they are educated—perhaps to even make the decision themselves—that removes a barrier to free decision‐making by the person to be educated. But if on top of that the state dictates where the child will go to school, or at least where their education funding will be sent, that child faces two barriers to self‐determination. And that latter barrier will likely be far harder for children, who cannot vote but can have heavy influence in a family, to break.
The other level of liberty that is served by educational freedom, and is threatened by public schooling, is pluralism. This is perhaps best understood as protecting diverse communities of people. Rather than directly protecting personal freedom, it put limits on government so that it cannot standardize society. It is a shield between government and civil and communal society.
When we think of diverse groups, we perhaps think of religious communities first—Southern Baptists, Buddhists, etc.—but this also includes ethnic communities, philosophical communities, and more. Public schooling rests on the premise that maybe all these communities are nice, but that the political majority—or a powerful minority—should decide what will go into children’s heads with the money it takes. As a practical matter, that means some groups will have greater influence on those decisions, some lesser, and some none at all. Government will help some groups grow and marginalize others. School choice, in contrast, keeps government out of the position to take sides on the make‐up of society.
At best, our current education system is inverted. Freedom from government control should be the norm in a country grounded in liberty. But instead of a system in which the default is education based in diverse communities and free family decisions, the default is uniform government provision. This does not mean choice is losing the race—it continues to make great progress—but the road should be much more clear. The only way to push aside the boulders and fill the potholes is to help more Americans understand why freedom is crucial, and why public schooling, despite many fine intentions, is simply incompatible with it.
And now, as promised, a quick rundown of our earlier posts:
Wednesday: Must We Fight over What Children Will Learn?
We hope you’ve had a terrific School Choice Week!
As we head into an election year, foreign policy is – for once – a key topic of discussion.
Representing the progressive wing of the Democratic party, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are both advocating a comprehensive re‐think of America’s approach to the world. Joe Biden, meanwhile is open about his intention to return to the post‐war liberal international consensus. Donald Trump continues to pursue a mostly conservative and nationalist approach to the world.
Topics that once were outside the realm of foreign policy – notably immigration and trade – are increasingly part of the debate on national security. Policy‐relevant academic research on international security is more important than ever.
In October 2020, the Cato Institute will be hosting our third annual Junior Scholars Symposium, a paper workshop for graduate students on topics broadly related to international security and national security policy.
Topics may include but are not limited to U.S. foreign policy, the causes and consequences of conflict, military effectiveness, grand strategy, civil‐military relations, alliances and security institutions, terrorism, military intervention, diplomatic history, arms control and nuclear proliferation. Papers that link national security to trade, political economy or immigration are also welcome.
Participants will be expected to produce an original paper of journal‐article length; the workshop will focus on paper presentations, discussion and suggestions for improvement, with the expectation that authors will go on to seek publication in external journals or to build upon this research as they move towards the dissertation phase of their studies.
Participants are particularly expected to highlight the policy relevance of their work. In keeping with the Cato Institute’s commitment to moving U.S. foreign policy towards prudence and restraint, the policy implications of papers should be broadly compatible with a pragmatic realist approach to foreign policy.
The workshop will be held at Cato’s offices in Washington, D.C on October 9th and 10th. Participants will receive a stipend of $500, and will have reasonable travel and accommodation costs for the workshop covered.
To apply, submit an abstract of no more than 500 words to email@example.com by April 6, 2020. The abstract should detail your proposed research project, and be accompanied by a CV. Candidates should have a background in political science, history, public policy or a related field, and must have completed at least one year of graduate study in a PhD program by the time of the workshop. All candidates will be notified of the status of their application by May 15th, and draft papers will be due on September 25th.
The House Ways and Means Committee held hearings on infrastructure yesterday. The testimony by D. J. Gribbin was excellent. He was special assistant to President Trump for infrastructure policy and is very experienced in the field.
Many of Gribbin’s themes support points I’ve made for years regarding infrastructure and federalism. Gribbin and I don’t come to the same policy conclusions, but his observations about current policy failings are spot on.
Here are eight lessons for infrastructure policy:
1. States Own Most Infrastructure. Gribbin notes, “the federal government owns less than 7 percent of the nation’s public, non-defense infrastructure.” The disconnect between federal funding and this state ownership leads to “inefficiencies.” That is for sure, I’ve discussed here and here.
2. Federal Funds Come from the States. Gribbin says, “The federal government does not have the ability to create funds, just reallocate them,” making the point that federal aid ultimately comes from taxpayers who live in the 50 states. To me that simple reality creates a high bar for federal action—why not let the states keep their own money and fund their own highways and transit?
3. Costly Federal Regulations Are Tied with Aid. Gribbin argues, “Expenditure of federal highway funds triggers the need for compliance with an exhaustive list of federal requirements. These requirements not only impose direct additional costs on projects, but can also cause delays, which in turn lead to further costs.” I discuss some of these costs here.
4. Federal Aid Induces States to Delay Projects. State and local governments delay high‐value projects for years waiting for federal money when they should go ahead and get the projects done. Gribbon calls this the “coupon effect” and points to a highway example in Kentucky. I’ve discussed (#12) this problem and pointed to delayed seaport, highway, and air traffic control projects. In my view, if the Feds got completely out of the way, infrastructure would be built faster and cheaper with fewer delays.
5. Federal Aid Crowds Out State Investment. Gribbon says that sometimes “state and local governments reduce their own, planned expenditures on infrastructure after having received federal grants.” He points to a Federal Reserve study finding crowd out of highway spending. A more serious problem I’ve noted (#17) is that federal aid crowds out the private provision of infrastructure such as airports, seaports, and transit.
6. U.S. Infrastructure Costs Are Suspiciously High. Gribbin is right that “U.S. infrastructure costs have become unacceptably, and inexplicably, high,” meaning the costs to build specific projects. He points to a study finding that “real per‑mile construction costs for the Interstate Highway System were three times higher in the 1990s than they were in the 1960s.” And Gribbin hits the nail on the head saying that policymakers put little effort into researching the root causes. Congress is all about more spending, never cost reduction.
7. Federal Regulations. Federal rules inflate construction costs, as I discuss here (#9). Gribbin says that his “anecdotal conversations with state transportation departments suggest that accepting federal funding reduces purchasing power by 20 to 30 percent due to myriad regulations.” Gribbon discusses how other countries have much shorter environmental reviews for projects such as highways.
8. Governments Fail at Maintenance. Gribbin says, “Today, state and local leaders are incentivized to ignore maintenance … so they can spend those funds elsewhere. Yet, poor maintenance practices damage the long-term quality of infrastructure and result in a maintenance backlog that must be met by future taxpayers.” Federal aid induces the states to buy expensive systems such as fancy rail projects. The politicians get the photo ops at groundbreaking, but then they ignore maintenance until a crisis hits, as we’ve seen with subway systems in Boston, New York, and D.C.
The solution to all these chronic problems is to end federal funding of infrastructure owned by the states, including highways, transit, airports, and seaports. In addition, the federal government should privatize or devolve to the states many of the assets it owns, including Army Corps facilities, the postal system, passenger rail, dams and water projects, and many other items.
Horace Mann, often called “the Father of the Common School,” believed that universal public schooling was the best way to forge citizens for a democracy. He believed that uniform schools were key to making all people virtuous, which he envisioned as holding broadly Protestant religious beliefs and putting the common good, often through service to the state, ahead of self‐interest.
Public schools are still thought to be crucial to forming good citizens, though the civic values they are expected to inculcate are secular. They should promote political knowledge and engagement, as well as cultivate inclusion and toleration of diversity. In 2016, U.S. Secretary of Education John King spoke about the importance of political engagement as part of a well‐rounded public‐school education. The public schools, because they are open to all, are thought to guarantee that all will obtain knowledge of how American government works, while simultaneously exposing students to diverse perspectives.
Private schools, on the other hand, are often assumed to be unreliable for promoting good citizenship. For one thing, they have the flexibility to promote the values of specific groups, which some fear will expose students to too narrow a set of perspectives. And there is no guarantee that they will provide civic knowledge, or promote values like tolerance, at all.
Ironically, studies show that private schools actually have a sizeable advantage over traditional public schools in promoting civic values and knowledge, perhaps precisely because they can embrace specific, concrete values.
A 2007 report examined the results of 21 quantitative studies tackling the effects of public and private school choice on 7 civic values: political tolerance, voluntarism, political knowledge, political participation, social capital, civic skills, and patriotism. Among the studies using more‐rigorous controls for factors other than schools that could affect outcomes, the author reported, “12 findings indicate statistically significant positive effects of school choice or private schooling on civic values and 10 suggest neutral results. Only one finding…indicates that traditional public schooling arrangements enhance a civic value.” Of 36 total findings in the less‐rigorous studies, 21 showed a choice advantage, 13 neutrality, and 2 an assigned public school advantage.
An analysis of 11 studies linking private school voucher programs to 3 civic values—tolerance, civic engagement, and social order—found large positive correlations between voucher use and civic values. The studies found that private school choice had a neutral to positive impact on tolerance, neutral to positive impact on civic engagement, and positive impact on social order.
In one of the studies, researchers asked students in the Washington, D.C. voucher program to identify groups such as the religious right and gay activists that they agreed with the least. The researchers then asked the students if they would allow members of the disliked groups to exercise free speech, run for president, and live in the same neighborhood as they did. Students that participated in the voucher programs were 50 percent more likely to answer “yes” to all three questions, associating the voucher program with increased tolerance.
One theory why students in private schools score higher on civic values is that in chosen schooling families and educators with shared moral, political, and social commitments can come together, enabling teachers to provide more concrete and rigorous content. In contrast, taking strong stands on questions such as whether the United States is a democracy or republic, or whether students have a moral obligation to volunteer in their communities, might be too controversial in public schools that bring in students based solely on their home address. Another possibility is that public schools that do not soft‐pedal or ignore controversial material fuel conflict, leading to greater polarization among groups than existed before.
Consistent with what Neal McCluskey observed a couple of days ago in our School Choice Week series of posts, civic education reality may be very different from the promises of public schooling champions.
With Brexit Day upon us and the United Kingdom poised to reclaim control of its trade policy for the first time in 47 years, it’s worth sharing some preliminary thoughts about an eventual free trade agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom.
The first thing to keep in mind is that this process could take a while. The United Kingdom and the European Union are entering a transition period during which the terms of their existing relationship will continue, while they seek agreement on the terms of a new one. Understanding the rules and contours of that new relationship will be crucial to other governments interested in negotiating with the United Kingdom. In other words, it will be difficult to conclude a comprehensive U.S.-UK trade agreement until the terms of the new UK-EU relationship are settled.
Meanwhile, some less comprehensive deals between the two countries that build toward a full‐fledged agreement are possible. But, eventually, there is likely to be a U.S.-UK free trade agreement, which we hope will move both countries closer to a state of free trade. Such a deal would reflect certain principles and include broadly liberalizing terms, as we described in a collaborative paper last year.
The core provisions of trade agreements concern market access for goods, services, and investment. The U.S.-UK deal should provide for the elimination of tariffs as quickly as possible, on as many goods as possible, and to the lowest levels possible. It should limit the use of so‐called trade remedy or trade defense measures, as well as measures rationalized as national security imperatives. It should open all government procurement markets to each other’s goods and services providers. It should open all sectors of the economy to investment from businesses and individuals in both countries. It should open all services markets without exception to competition from providers of the other country. It should ensure that the rules that determine whether products and services are originating (meaning that they come from one or both of the agreement’s parties) are not so restrictive that they limit the scope for supply chain innovations. Those rules should reflect the fact that globalization has made it difficult—and sometimes arbitrary—to define a product’s origin. Because of cross‐border investment and global supply chains, the DNA of products and services is very difficult to trace nowadays, and that is good. Finally, the agreement should simplify, streamline, and make transparent all administrative procedures governing customs clearance for goods and the admission of all qualifying persons for the purpose of conducting business services.
In addition to those free‐market requirements, the U.S.-UK agreement must also include rules governing e‑commerce. Digital trade—data flows that are essential components in the provision of goods and services in the 21st century—must remain untaxed and protected from misuse and abuse. Rules that prohibit governments from imposing localization requirements or any particular data architecture that reduce the efficacy of digital services should be included, and obligations should be imposed on entities to ensure data privacy, consistent with the requirement that data flow as smoothly as possible.
When border barriers come down, the potentially protectionist aspects of regulation and regulatory regimes become more evident. If those regulations are comparable when it comes to achieving the same social outcomes—consumer safety, product reliability, worker safety, environmental friendliness—there may be scope to allow businesses to comply with only one set of rules. A regulatory cooperation mechanism to promote mutual recognition would be a useful innovation, as a means to reducing business costs (provided no deep cultural aversion or science‐based reason exists for considering one regulation better than the other and worth the greater cost).
Finally, the rules must be enforceable. What’s the point of a trade agreement if its terms are just suggestions? To make sure governments keep their promises, the agreement should include a binding and enforceable dispute settlement mechanism. That mechanism would not be a true court, with the power to order governments to comply. Rather, the standard mechanism used in most trade agreements—with recourse to a third‐party adjudicator for a ruling and then self‐enforcement through authorized suspension of the trade agreement obligations—is sufficient.
On the other hand, some common free trade agreement provisions simply don’t belong in free trade agreements. Among the more prominent examples is overly protective intellectual property rules. It is important that intellectual property rules protect what is actually intellectual property and do not go beyond that or create rights where none actually exist.
Other examples include provisions on labor rights and environmental protections. These rules have expanded the scope of trade agreements far beyond traditional trade and commercial issues. The scope and reach of labor laws and environmental protections are a controversial domestic policy issue, and the use of international agreements to create a one‐size‐fits‐all solution in these areas is problematic.
Furthermore, the United States and the United Kingdom are open, transparent, and free market‐oriented economies. But if a U.S.-UK FTA is to be a model that applies to others, it is useful to set it up in a way that deals with issues that may arise down the road. Other countries’ economies are less open and have more state intervention; therefore, it is worth having the United States and the United Kingdom work out rules in this FTA that could apply to others who might want to join later. Examples include rules promoting transparency and disciplining the behavior of state‐owned enterprises. The United States and United Kingdom should be able to agree to very high standards in these areas, standards that other parties might not reach. And then through the open accession clause, parties that wanted to reap the benefits of this agreement would have to accept these disciplines.
Summing up, an eventual U.S.-UK FTA should remove barriers to trade in goods and services, open up all sectors of the both economies to investment, and, ultimately, go as far as possible to remove all administrative impediments to economic integration without encroaching on the sovereignty of governments to pass laws and regulate in the public interest in ways that do not discriminate against foreign goods, services, and companies.
In practical terms, that means (subject to good faith, non‐discriminatory public policy exceptions):
- Zero tariffs on all goods (agricultural commodities, primary industry resources, and manufacturing industry goods);
- Zero discriminatory non‐tariff barriers, which means no discrimination by either party in the content or exercise of the laws, regulations, or practices affecting the provision of services of either party, including no restrictions on the entry of business people in the conduct of the provision of business services;
- Zero restrictions on competition for government procurement;
- Zero restrictions on foreign direct investment in the economy;
- Zero restrictions on cross‐border data flow;
- Elimination to the fullest extent possible of impediments to expeditious customs clearance procedures for both imports and exports;
- Preclusion of antidumping or safeguard measures between the parties and special consideration for waivers when either party imposes trade restrictions for national security reasons.
Lawmakers in both houses of the Virginia legislature have approved resolutions endorsing the Equal Rights Amendment, a measure proposed by Congress in 1972. An Associated Press story, in line with proponents’ characterization, describes the actions in Richmond as a “ratification,” as “final,” and as making Virginia “the critical 38th state.” And today three state attorneys general (Virginia, Illinois, Nevada) sued the Archivist of the U.S. in an attempt to force recognition of the amendment as validly ratified. Has it been?
The Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice has issued an opinion concluding that because the requisite number of states did not ratify the Equal Rights Amendment before Congress’s previously imposed deadline, it cannot be adopted now without starting the amendment process over. The ruling binds executive branch agencies including the National Archives, which per AP “said it would abide by that opinion ‘unless otherwise directed by a final court order.’”
Proponents say the time limit written into the original ERA shouldn’t count because it appeared in the measure’s preamble rather than its main text, and argue that some combination of Congress and the courts are free if they like to count as valid all extensions (whether assented to by a supermajority or by a bare majority), revival measures, and ratification votes taking place at later times, while not counting as valid five states’ rescissions of earlier approval. The case of the 27th Amendment, which was proposed with no time limit and did not reach the requisite number of states until more than two centuries later, suggests that contemporaneous “meeting of the minds” is not so intrinsic a feature of the amendment process as many legal scholars once assumed; on the other hand, a 1921 Supreme Court case, Dillon v. Gloss, appears to confirm that Congress did not act unconstitutionally when it chose to prescribe a time limit for the Eighteenth Amendment, as it has done for many amendments in modern times.
For over a decade, Colorado law has prohibited businesses from discriminating against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation. Several small businesses in the state are owned and operated by individuals who believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Although these business owners are happy to serve customers of any sexual orientation, they have declined to offer their creative services to promote or celebrate same‐sex weddings, because they feel that doing so would convey a message that conflicts with their deeply held beliefs.
Famously, the owner of one such small business refused to create a cake for a same‐sex wedding in 2012, a controversy that ended up in the Supreme Court. Cato filed a brief in that case supporting the baker—the only organization to do so that also filed briefs supporting the plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) and the other marriage cases—and his right to refrain from conveying messages with which he disagrees.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop was exceedingly narrow and failed to clarify the crucial First Amendment issue: can a state compel an artistic professional to produce something conveying a message that he disagrees with? Lacking a definitive answer to this question, cases like the baker’s have surfaced repeatedly in Colorado and other states. (Cato filed a brief in in support of wedding videographers fighting a similar Minnesota law in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which ultimately held that the First Amendment stopped antidiscrimination laws from being used to compel speech in this way).
Cato has now filed an amicus brief, joined by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, in support of another challenger to the Colorado law: web designer Lorie Smith, who creates websites and graphic designs for clients through her one‐woman business. Lorie would like to create websites helping opposite‐sex couples celebrate their weddings, but knows that Colorado will then force her to also create sites celebrating same‐sex weddings, which she cannot do in good conscience. The Supreme Court has long held that the right to speak includes the right not to speak. Lorie brought this lawsuit to vindicate that right.
Just as the government can’t demand that a Cato scholar write an article supporting the government’s preferred policy, it can’t compel those in expressive professions like web and graphic design, photography, or musical performance to harness their artistic gifts in support of the state’s message. That the artists are offering their services commercially is no matter; how many rock bands play all their gigs for free?
Cato advocated that, so long as states were involved in the marriage business, they should extend marital licenses to gay couples. But private businesses aren’t the government and the messages they express aren’t government messages. The First Amendment demands that private citizens and businesses be able to maintain their freedom of speech and conscience, and we urge the Tenth Circuit to join the Eighth in saying so.