Posts tagged ‘government spending’

Stop Stop Stop Stop STOP!

Please stop talking about there being a fiscal crisis or a government debt crisis.  All this does is give Democrats the opening next year to raise taxes.  "See," they will say, "we care about reducing the deficit."

What we have currently is a government spending crisis.   And the only way to solve it is with less spending.

Thanks, and we now return you to your regular programming.

Garbage In, Money Out

In my Forbes column this week, I discuss the incredible similarity between the computer models that are used to justify the Obama stimulus and the climate models that form the basis for the proposition that manmade CO2 is causing most of the world's warming.

The climate modeling approach is so similar to that used by the CEA to score the stimulus that there is even a climate equivalent to the multiplier found in macro-economic models. In climate models, small amounts of warming from man-made CO2 are multiplied many-fold to catastrophic levels by hypothetical positive feedbacks, in the same way that the first-order effects of government spending are multiplied in Keynesian economic models. In both cases, while these multipliers are the single most important drivers of the models' results, they also tend to be the most controversial assumptions. In an odd parallel, you can find both stimulus and climate debates arguing whether their multiplier is above or below one.

I Am Tired of Hearing About Liquidity Traps

Here is as good a reason as any why many businesses (like mine) are currently reluctant to invest:

I've noted any number of times that government taxes comprise 14% of the national income and government spending is at 25% of the national income.

OK, so politicians have two alternatives -- they can make tough choices to reduce spending and reduce their own power, or they can just take more money from taxpayers and in so doing increase their personal power.  Gee, I wonder which will occur?

Combine this is a health care bill no one understands but everyone suspects will raise the price of labor and a climate bill that won't quite die that will raise the price of energy and therefore most other inputs, and is it any wonder that businesses are reluctant to invest when their three highest costs (taxes, labor, energy) are going up by some undetermined amount?

Subsidies Beget Subsidies

For years in Arizona we have been told by the state government that we need to subsidize science.  I have never really figured out why my life would be better if scientists lived in Arizona instead of California, but apparently when governors get together and compare their states' penis lengths, this is one of the key topics that come up.  Why we need to subsidize, for example, bio-science in Arizona to keep up with California but folks in Kansas don't need to subsidize, say, awesome golf resorts to keep up with Arizona has always escaped me.  I have always felt that if we just keep taxes low and wait long enough, California is going to blow up and we will collect a lot of the best and brightest with no extra effort.

Well, I am starting to understand why we needed to subsidize bio-science with our Arizona taxes.  We apparently need to do so to ... attract large grants for Federal tax money.  So by subsidizing this sector locally, we built it up enough to attract Federal subsidies.  Great.  Actually we probably did not build up the sector per se, we just built a quality private bureaucracy that had the skills and incentives to write lots of successful grant applications.  Apparently there is still work left to do, though, as other states have invested in even larger grant-magnets:

States with strong science bases such as California, Massachusetts and New York, each landed more than 1,000 grants.

Twenty states secured fewer grants than Arizona's haul of 101 awards.

Arizona scientists will study things such as predicting asthma in babies, prostate cancer and the behavioral responses of kissing bugs, which are blood-sucking insects linked to a blood-borne disease that afflicts 11 million to 13 million people in Mexico and Latin America.

Arizona scientists say the batch of stimulus dollars through the NIH is a welcome change from years of stagnant federal funding for scientific research.

"There was no increase in federal funding for cancer research for five years - that was devastating," said Dr. David Alberts, director of the Arizona Cancer Center in Tucson. "Now, I'm encouraged."

Wow - thus we see why government spending grows so much faster than inflation.  Flat spending = devastating.

If I were in academia, the study I would like to do is to try to assess the total value destroyed by state and local governments merely in trying to move businesses and facilities from one part of the country to another.

My Greatest Fear on the Health Care Bill

There are a lot of problems with the health care bills in Congress.  At the end of the day, I will endure most of them, as I have every other indignity thrown at me by the Feds.  If they charge me 8% of my company's payroll as a health care tax, well, we can probably raise prices, particularly in the inflationary spiral the Fed has set us up for.  I will be sad to see the most successful in this country punished with high new taxes, but these taxes mostly won't apply to our family.  And I will find some way to get my family the health care it needs, even if we have to fly to India to do it.

But my biggest fear is for individual liberties, with the effect I have called "the health care Trojan Horse for fascism."  We all know that the government has developed a taste for meddling in the smallest details of our lives.  But as more of the nation's health care spending flows though government hands, nearly every decision you make will suddenly affect the government's budget.  What you eat, how heavy you are, whether you smoke, whether you play an athletic sport where you can get hurt, whether you pursue dangerous hobbies like rock climbing or skiing, whether you wear a bike or motorcycle helmet, whether you have a seat belt on, whether you drink alcohol, whether you like to use dangerous power tools -- all these become direct inputs into government spending via medical bills the government is paying.  And if you think that Congress will avoid legislating on these activities once it inevitably gets in financial trouble with health care, you have not studied much history.

And all this avoids discussion of other powerful individual liberty-related topics, such as the ability to get the end of life care you want or whether the government will even allow you to go "off plan" with your own money if you disagree with its Commissar's rulings on what care you should and should not receive.

It's fascinating for me to watch all these children of the sixties in the Democratic Party, most of whom screamed (rightly) at George Bush continuing to implement new plans where we give up individual liberties for security.  But here come those exact same people, with the exact same message - because this is what health care reform is about, at its core - giving up individual liberties in exchange for a (perceived) increase in security.

We Make Money the Old Fashioned Way -- Through Massive Public Subsidies

During and after the Obama proposal for lots more government spending on long-distance rail lines no one will ride, there was a lot of discussion about how European railroads make money with high speed lines.  This sounded like BS to me, from my experience.  Years ago I consulted briefly with the SNCF, the state railroad of France.  Just as one example, we found they had something like 100,000 freight cars and 125,000 freight car mechanics.  I tongue-in-cheek suggested they could assign each guy his own car to ride with full time and fix if necessary and still cut staff by 20%.

Anyway, it turns out the profitability claim is BS.  The Antiplanner links to this study by the Amtrak inspector general.   Here is the key chart, with the green the "reported" profits.  But it turns out they book subsidies as revenue.  The subsidies (including indirect subsidies like taking railroad pensions into the national system and off the railroad's books) are in red.

railroad-losses

Postscript: I have always been amazed that greens get all misty-eyed at European rail.  Sure, its cool to ride a fast train, but the cost of having an extensive passenger rail system is that most of Europe's freight pounds along highways, rather than via rail.  In the US, the mix is opposite, with few passengers on trains but much more of our freight moving by rail.  I would have thought that preferentially moving freight over rail rather than passengers was a much greener approach.

Peering Into the Details of The Stimulus Bill

The CBO is out with its scoring of the stimulus bill (pdf).  Kevin Drum seems to think it refutes my statement that it would be impossible to have any kind of real infrastructure impact in the next 1-2 years.  Drum says:

Specifically, they estimate that in the spending portion of the bill, $477 billion out of $604 billion would be disbursed either this fiscal year or in the next two fiscal years. That's 79% of the total.

I guess opinions can vary on this, but that strikes me as pretty good. What's more, most of the spending that comes in FY2012 or later is either for projects that simply take more than two years to complete (highways, school repairs) or infrastructure improvements that have long-term paybacks (renewable energy programs). There are a few other items in the out years that are more arguable, but they add up to a pretty small portion of the bill.

This is correct on its face.  But here is the issue, and what drives me crazy about politicians and their enablers like Drum.  This is being sold as an infrastructure bill.  And even by Drum's admission, all the infrastructure spending is in the out years, well beyond any reasonable time frame for the recession.

Picking through the report, the "spending"  (I object to calling tax cuts "spending") in the next two years, the recession window, is mainly in these categories ( I get slightly different numbers than Drum)

  • Tax cuts of $223.2 billion (lost revenue + outlays)
  • Transfer payments $202.2 billion
    • Unemployment & Child Support:  $42.2 billion
    • Health Insurance Assistance:  $36.6 billion (lost revenue + outlays)
    • Medicaid: $76.9 billion
    • Food Assistance:  $10.8 billion
    • Health and Human Services (unspecified):  $14.9 billion
    • Employment and job training:  $2.9 billion
    • School/College loans:  $14.7 billion
    • Housing assistance:  $3.2 billion
  • State government "stabilization":  $31.4 billion
  • Defense:  $6.2 billion
  • Other: $62.5 billion
    • Increase in department budgets  $28.4 billion (estimated, may be low)
    • Real infrastructure spending (mainly schools, federal buildings, highways, and other transit)  $26.7 billion (at most!)
    • Green energy / energy programs  $7.4 billion (at most!)

So do you see my point. The reason so much of this infrastructure bill can be spent in the next two years is that there is no infrastructure in it, at least in the first two years!  42% of the deficit impact in 2009/2010 is tax cuts, another 44% is in transfer payments to individuals and state governments.  1% is defense.  At least 5% seems to be just pumping up a number of budgets with no infrastructure impact (such as at Homeland Security).  And at most 6% is infrastructure and green energy.  I say at most because it is unclear if this stuff is really incremental, and much of this budget may be for planners and government departments rather than actual facilities on the ground.

So don't call this an infrastructure bill.  This is a tax cut and welfare bill, at least in 2010 and 2011.   I guess I can understand a rush to do things like the welfare pieces, but that would argue for splitting the bill, into an emergency transfer payment appropriation and a infrastructure appropriation that can be studied and debated in more depth.

But that is never going to happen, because what we see is a unique kind of political synergy.  The bundling of these two very difference spending streams gives yields two political advantages:

  1. The infrastructure piece, despite being less than 10% of the bill, allows politicians to call this "investment" and "green energy" and "infrastructure" which sell better with sections of the public than "welfare" and "transfer payments."  The minority infrastructure pieces allow Congress and Obama to call the bill new and forward looking, rather than the imitation of 1970s legislation that it really is.
  2. The emergency pieces of the bill allow politicians to stuff numerous bureaucracy increases and pork spending into the bill that would not stand up to scrutiny.  Despite the fact that much of this spending will not occur for years, they can keep saying "rush, emergency, hurry" to deflect scrutiny and criticism.

Update: The National Review has a lot more detail here.

Unvarnished Technocracy

The New York Times editorial board had one of the most jaw-dropping pieces I have read in a long time.  In it, they are absolutely unapologetic in saying that they think the government can spend your money better than you can -- and the larger the government take, the happier we all will be.

The munificence of American corporate titans warms the heart, sort of.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that the top 50 donors gave $7.3
billion to charity last year "” about $150 million per head....

Yet we'd be so much happier about all the good things America's
moneyed elite pay for if the government made needed public investments
.

The flip side of American private largess is the stinginess of
the public sector. Philanthropic contributions in the United States "”
about $300 billion in 2006 "” probably exceed those of any other
country. By contrast, America's tax take is nearly the lowest in the
industrial world.

Oh my God, does anyone actually believe that Congress does a better job spending your money than you do?  Apparently they do:

Critics of government spending argue that America's private sector does
a better job making socially necessary investments. But it doesn't.
Public spending is allocated democratically among competing demands.
Rich benefactors can spend on anything they want, and they tend to
spend on projects close to their hearts.

LOLOLOL.  Has anyone looked at the last highway bill?  How many tens of thousands of politically motivated earmarks were there?   

Philanthropic contributions are usually tax-free. They directly reduce
the government's ability to engage in public spending. Perhaps the
government should demand a role in charities' allocation of resources
in exchange for the tax deduction. Or maybe the deduction should go
altogether. Experts estimate that tax breaks motivate 25 percent to 30
percent of contributions.

At the end of the day, this is not about a better prioritization process for spending -- this is about the NY Times getting a bigger say for itself in said spending.  They know that Warren Buffet couldn't give a rat's behind what the NY Times thinks about how he spends his money, but Congressmen trying to get reelected do care.  The NY Times wields a lot of political, but little private, influence, so they want to see as much spending as possible shift to political hands where the Times wields clout.

Postscript: Boy, here is some quality journalism:

Federal, state and local tax collections amount to just more than 25.5
percent of the nation's economic output. The Finnish government
collects 48.8 percent. As a result, the United States spends less on
social programs than virtually every other rich industrial country,
according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The Finnish government probably has money to build children's health
clinics.

"Probably has money?"  What does that mean?  Do they have government-funded children's health clinics or not?  The Times couldn't work up enough energy to fact-check that?  And by the way, who, other than the NY Times, declared that the best marginal use of additional public funds is for children's health clinics?

Postscript #2: Many of the very rich have been funding schools that are competitive with government-monopoly schools.  In this and many other cases, wealthy people fund programs that work better and cheaper than government alternatives.  I am sure that not only would the feds be happy to have this money to spend themselves (on some fat earmarks for key donors, most likely) but they would additionally be thrilled to get rid of the competition.

Update:  I must be going senile.  I missed the most obvious logical fallacy of all.  The NY Times says that our democratic government is the best possible mechanism for allocating funds.  But doesn't that also mean its the best possible mechanism for setting spending levels?  How can it complain that our democratic government is doing a bad job in setting total spending levels but does a great job in allocating that spending?

Cool, There's a Word For This

I have been calling it "the health care Trojan horse for fascism."  It is the phenomenon where government funding of health care is used as an excuse to micro-regulate individual behaviors.  Apparently, the economic term is "government financing externalities."

These kinds of "government financing exernalities" are commonly used
to justify government regulations that restrict individual freedom.
Liberals use these arguments to justify such regulations as mandatory
seat belt laws, smoking bans (because government may end up subsidizing
smokers' medical treatment if they get lung cancer), and most recently
restrictions on morgage terms (because the government may bail out
people who end up defaulting). Conservatives have their own favorite
government financing externality arguments. For example, many argue
that we should restrict immigration because otherwise the immigrants
might collect welfare benefits that are paid for by taxpayers.
Obviously, the greater the role of government in financing a wide range
of activities, the greater the number of potential government financing
externalities. The expansion of government spending facilitates the
expansion of government regulation intended to curb the negative
effects of the spending.

Government financing externality arguments generate their appeal
from the fact that they seem not to be paternalistic. We are willing to
let you hurt yourself, advocates implicitly suggest, but we can't let
your bad behavior hurt the taxpayers.

The libertarian solution to this problem is to eliminate the
government financing that created the "externality" in the first place.
I

California Insanity

The WSJ ($) has an article on California showing the growth of expenditures and the budget deficit.  I took the expenditures numbers and converted them to 2007 dollars and put them on a dollar per state resident basis, to correct both for growing population and inflation.  Here are California government general fund expenditures on a 2007 dollar per person basis:

1990-1991: $2,755
1995-1996: $2,470
2000-2001: $3,558
2005-2006: $3,416
2007-2008: $3,767

From these figures, we can learn a couple of things.  First and foremost, the state of California demonstrates itself to be just as financially incompetent as any condo-flipping doctor who now finds himself stuck with a bunch of mortgages he can't pay.  Lured by the false prosperity of the Internet bubble, California increased real government spending per resident by nearly 50% in the latter half of the nineties, and has done nothing to reign this spending in (thus the deficits).  The only place where the analogy with the person caught short by the housing bust falls apart is that the person with expensive mortgages is probably not out buying a new Mercedes and big screen TV, whereas that is exactly what California is doing, passing a $14 billion a year health care plan that will whose price tag can only rise.

Corporate Welfare and Equal Protection

No state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the
equal protection of the laws  - 14th Amendment

The Arizona Republic had an article in the lead position on the business page that really got me fuming.  Here is the headline:

Bioscience push paying off.  But analysis says Arizona must do more

Apparently the Arizona and Phoenix governments decided several years ago it was their job to preferentially invest in getting biotech companies to move to Arizona.  And this article was about a consulting study the government engaged to see how they were doing against this original plan. 

Arizona's lucrative bet on the biosciences is yielding more high-wage
jobs, federal research dollars and new buildings that are expected to
birth scientific breakthroughs for decades to come.

But the state needs to accomplish a lot more to establish a thriving
research-based economy, particularly providing enough money, lab space
and support that will allow small research companies to grow and
prosper.

The study can be summarized as "The government spent lots of money.  Biotech jobs increased in Arizona, though we can't establish a link between the government spending and the job growth.  The government needs to spend even more money in the future."  These conclusions are from Battelle, a technology consulting company whose fortunes depend almost entirely on government spending for technology projects, and, magically, they came to the conclusion that government needs to spend a lot on technology projects.

Equal Protection

I seldom hear this argument about corporate welfare, but what the hell ever happened to the equal protection clause?  From the perspective of an Arizona corporation, my government is taxing me and every other business and handing our money over to businesses that call themselves "biotech."  What suddenly gives these other businesses such favored status?  Why is biotech somehow more desirable such that they are more equal under the law?   Or, for those of you on the Left who don't think businesses have equal protection rights, what about Arizona workers?  Why are workers in every other industry taxed so biotech workers can have more secure, higher paying jobs? 

The Worst Investor

Government is the worst investor.  I won't go into how bad they are historically at picking winners, but will make a different point this time.  Consider this hypothetical: 

You have some money to invest in real estate, and engage a consultant to invest your money for you.  The consultant comes back and says that he chose to invest in the most sought-after single property in town, where hundreds of other people were bidding against you for the project, but eventually you outbid them all and got it. 

What would be your reaction?  Mine would be rage and horror.  Why the hell did my consultant choose the project with the most competition, so prices were bid up into the sky?  How am I ever going to get a good return from that?  (Ask yourself what return the Japanese got for their high-profile real estate purchases of the eighties and nineties).

But this is exactly what Arizona has done.  They picked the sector to subsidize and fight for corporate relocations - biotech - that every other state and municipality in the US has also chosen as their highest priority.  They even admit this in their report:

Battelle representatives said Arizona's challenge is that bioscience is
an ultracompetitive field, and states across the nation are pursuing
initiatives to bring the good-paying jobs that the sector promises.

In business school, I would get an "F" for this.  Choosing to subsidize biotech means that for every potential company relocation, Arizona and Phoenix are up against ten other cities and states also throwing subsidy and tax abatement packages out there.  Stupid.

Circle Jerk

It just symbolized for me how stupid all this is when I saw that the big payoff of this state government spending was to attract ... federal government spending:

National Institutes of Health grants issued to Arizona-based
institutions jumped 30 percent from 2002 through 2005. That funding
growth outpaced the nation's top 10 research states.

No Linkage of "Investment" to "Returns"

When private firms make investments, they carefully track the returns from this investment to see if it was worth it.  However, when government makes what it calls "investments", this is impossible.  The study claims that biotech jobs in Arizona have risen faster than the national average, but shows no link to the government spending that had taken place.  Probably because there was little relation.  The fact is that just about any job sector you can name in Phoenix -- from electronics to garbage sorting -- has grown faster than the national average because Phoenix as a whole has grown faster than the national average.  Taking credit for the rising tide is a classic politician behavior.  Companies and individuals are moving to Phoenix because they like the climate and relatively low taxes and regulation, of which the latter are only hurt by corporate welfare programs for favored few.

Prisoner's Dilemma

I have written before how much the government subsidization of corporate relocations looks like a prisoner's dilemma game

I hope you can see the parallel to subsidizing business relocations
(replace prisoner with "governor" and confess with "subsidize").  In a
libertarian world where politicians all just say no to subsidizing
businesses, then businesses would end up reasonably evenly distributed
across the country (due to labor markets, distribution requirements,
etc.) and taxpayers would not be paying any subsidies.  However,
because politicians fear that their community will lose if they don't
play the subsidy game like everyone else (the equivalent of staying
silent while your partner is ratting you out in prison) what we end up
with is still having businesses reasonably evenly distributed across
the country, but with massive subsidies in place.

The practice of state governments spending massive amounts of tax money to move a few jobs over the state line, and then having other state governments spend even more money to move the jobs back, is a war of escalation that leaves everyone worse off except a few players with political pull or who work in a fair-haired favored industry.

It's all About the Sex Appeal

Here is the bottom line:  Programs like this are for politicians.
Period.  They benefit politicians by giving them things they can say in
elections, like "I brought biotech jobs to Arizona,"  which sounds
better than "I brought garbage-sorting jobs to Arizona."  This in
effect answers the equal protection question of "why biotech?"  The
answer is that biotech is currently sexy, and politicians in their focus
groups have found that tbiotech resonates the best among voters.  All of
which makes for a really crappy approach to "investing."

Long-Term Chernobyl Harm Revised Downwards

You know those towns along the highway where people joke "don't blink, or you'll miss it?"  Well, apparently I blinked and missed this story.  If the ice in a climatologist's bourbon & water melts faster than she expected, it gets a three-day spread in the New York Times, but this environmental good-new story (surely an oxymoron to most editors) seems to have been pushed to the back page last September:

The long-term health and environmental impacts of the 1986
accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, while severe,
were far less catastrophic than feared, according to a major new report
by eight U.N. agencies.

The governments of Ukraine,
Belarus and Russia, the three countries most affected by radioactive
fallout from Chernobyl, should strive to end the "paralyzing fatalism"
of tens of thousands of their citizens who wrongly believe they are
still at risk of an early death, according to the study released Monday.

The 600-page report found that as of the middle of this year, the
accident had caused fewer than 50 deaths directly attributable to
radiation, most of them among emergency workers who died in the first
months after the accident.

In fact, even the "while severe" added into the first paragraph seems to be the last gasp of an editor unwilling to accept any environmental good news, since nowhere in the article is there any evidence published of any negative long-term effect at all except that caused to the mental well-being of local citizenry by the continual onslaught of media and governmental horror-predictions.

In fact, the article goes on to say:

Over the next four years, a massive cleanup operation
involving 240,000 workers ensued, and there were fears that many of
these workers, called "liquidators," would suffer in subsequent years.
But most emergency workers and people living in contaminated areas
"received relatively low whole radiation doses, comparable to natural
background levels," a report summary noted. "No evidence or likelihood
of decreased fertility among the affected population has been found,
nor has there been any evidence of congenital malformations."

In
fact, the report said, apart from radiation-induced deaths, the
"largest public health problem created by the accident" was its effect
on the mental health of residents who were traumatized by their rapid
relocation and the fear, still lingering, that they would almost
certainly contract terminal cancer. The report said that lifestyle
diseases, such as alcoholism, among affected residents posed a much
greater threat than radiation exposure.

The other major "fallout" seems to be massively wasted government spending:

Officials said that the continued intense medical monitoring of tens of
thousands of people in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus is no longer a smart
use of limited resources and is, in fact, contributing to mental health
problems among many residents nearly 20 years later. In Belarus and
Ukraine, 5 percent to 7 percent of government spending is consumed by
benefits and programs for Chernobyl victims. And in the three
countries, as many as 7 million people are receiving Chernobyl-related
social benefits.

Sounds like post-Katrina proposals.  We have already seen more level-headed analysis debunk similar horror stories (remember "toxic soup") in New Orleans.  I wonder what a sober analysis of the real long-term health effects around the PG&E site that Erin Brockovitch made her name on would reveal?  When I lived in St. Louis, we had a local meteorologist we used to joke had "accurately predicted twelve of the last three blizzards".  Environmentalists who perplexedly scratch their heads as to why everyone does not yet fully buy into global warming should move past their "everyone is in the pay of the oil companies" explanation and maybe consider for a minute that their panicked prediction of twelve of the last three environmental disasters may be part of the explanation as well.

By the way, what really killed nuclear power was the costliness of the ridiculous regulatory regime.  In a prior post, I suggested an alternative regulatory regime, copied from airlines (see, we libertarians can sometimes hold our nose and actually make a regulatory reform proposal short of "throw it all out").  Reason's Hit and Run points to an example of those on the left reconsidering nuclear power.

Defeat for School Choice in Florida

I was gearing up to write a response to the Florida Supreme Court decision that strikes down a school choice plan as unconstitutional, but Baseball Crank did such a nice job, I will refer you to him.  The plan as crafted allowed students in low-performance schools to opt out with  a voucher for another public or private school.  The justices struck down the law because they felt that the Florida Constitution which requires a "uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system" of education thereby necessitates schools run by the government only.  Their "logic" was that using a public voucher at a private school thwarted the "uniform" part.

But here is the scary part of their interpretation of "uniform".  Most reasonable people would read the Constitution as meaning "uniform in quality".  But the voucher law as written almost by definition increases the uniformity of quality.  The vouchers were offered only to students at low performing schools.  The recipients of the vouchers could then stay at the same school or use the voucher to go to another school.  Since a voucher holder will only go to a different school if they perceive that school to be better than the school they are leaving, the law increases the net quality of education received (at least in the eyes of parents, though perhaps not in the eyes of the NEA or the education intelligentsia).  By any reasonable definition, improving the education of the kids receiving the worst education as determined by consistent standards should actually improve uniformity of quality, not reduce it.  From a quality standpoint, I would argue it is unconstitutional in Florida NOT to have this school choice plan.

So if it is not uniformity of quality that is being discussed, it must be uniformity of something else.  As Baseball Crank points out, what is left is a strongly Maoist overtone of uniformity of thought -- that everyone is receiving the same state programming.  This ability to opt out of state programming has always been at least as powerful of a driver for private and home schooling as bad quality.  While public education has been controlled mostly by the left, the right has been the main group "opting-out".  However, as the right takes over the left's cherished institutions, I made a plea a while back to the left to reconsider school choice:

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never
going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is
impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents
object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the
Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and
overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents
object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents
object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some
parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem,
while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't
learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just
test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one
day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly
increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these
softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by
just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.
Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking
about rolling back government spending or government commitment to
funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use
that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of
their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine,
they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus
on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their
kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love
nature and protect the environment - fine, do it...

OK, Top This

The Club for Growth has identified one of the most ridiculous pieces of government spending I have seen so far. 

So, you landed a big king salmon this summer? It can't
compare to the colossal king Alaska Airlines plans to land this morning in
Anchorage.

The Seattle-based carrier has painted nearly the full
length of a Boeing 737-400 passenger jet as a wild Alaska king, or chinook,
salmon. The airline has dubbed its flying fish the "Salmon-Thirty-Salmon."

It's a bold promotional move to celebrate wild Alaska
seafood and also the carrier's role in hauling millions of pounds of fresh
salmon, halibut, crab, shrimp and other seafood out of the state each year.

The plane is kind of cool looking, in a creepy sort of way:

Fish

But here is what was buried deep in the article on the "bold" plan:

A local nonprofit agency, the Alaska Fisheries Marketing
Board, gave Alaska Airlines a $500,000 grant to paint the jet. The money came
out of about $29 million in federal funding U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska and
his congressional colleagues have appropriated to the marketing board, created
in 2003, to promote and enhance the value of Alaska seafood. The senator's son,
state Sen. Ben Stevens, is chairman of the agency's board of directors.

Maybe they can use the plane to fly the route to New Orleans.  The scary part is the article plays this whole project straight up, as if it is perfectly normal and natural, even bold and innovative.

Spending other people's money, taken from them by force, on projects they don't necessarily support, does not make you bold, or compassionate, or caring, or innovative.  It just makes you a politician.

Porkbuster Letter

Porkbusterssm

Here is a copy of the letter I sent to my representative John Shadegg as part of the PorkBusters campaign:


Representative
John Shadegg
Arizona
3rd District

306
Cannon H. O. B.

Washington,
DC  20515

Congressman
Shadegg:

I
am a blogger who lives and runs a business in your district.  I know
that you were one of only 8 people in Congress to vote against the
recent pork-laden highway bill, something I congratulated you for on
my blog.  I now want to encourage you to continue fighting to reign
in government spending.  I am frankly flabbergasted to see the
current Republican leadership in Congress working so hard to resist
fiscal sanity, and am amazed that the Republican Party could have
drifted so far from its philosophical roots.

I
know that there are tremendous pressures on you to play the game with
everyone else in Congress, and bring home your share of pork to your
district.  Often those in your district will root for you to cut
other people's pork but not their own.  Let me say that I am totally
supportive of your cutting our 3rd district pork first, as
a message that everyone needs to contribute to the spending cuts the
President has called for to pay for Katrina-related expenses.  You
are probably aware that many of us in the blogging world have banded
together in the "Porkbusters" effort to signal our desire to cut
pork by identifying our own local earmarks for cuts first.

Technorati tag:  .

Arizona School Vouchers

The Arizona legislature has passed a school voucher bill, though the Democratic governor is likely to veto it.  The MSM generally hates vouchers - just check out this Google news search on the bill.  I have not even linked to a cached version - I just have complete confidence that any time you click on the link the preponderance of headlines will be negative.

I think that the legislature did make a tactical mistake in crafting this bill.  While over time, everyone should be eligible, it is much more intelligent politically to phase the law in with a means test.  Otherwise what happens is the initial beneficiaries in the first year of the plan, before new private schools begin to develop, are the rich who are already sending their kids to private school who will get back some of their tax money that went to public schools they did not use.  The optics of this are terrible, as seen in arguments like this that play on this effect, even if I find the class warfare elements of this extremely tedious.

If the bill were crafted to squelch this argument, the rest are easy to fight.  For example, the same article complains about:

the very different mandates and requirements public schools must comply with and private schools do not

Duh.  If private schools had to follow all the same stupid rules as public schools they would be bloated celebrants of mediocrity as well.

Another argument is that kids leaving public schools will drain the schools of money.  This is a huge scare headline by opponents of choice.  It also makes no sense.  In 2004, the average pending per pupil in Arizona (according to the teachers union, opponent #1 of choice) was $5,347.  Per the proposed law, the average voucher size per pupil is $4000.  So, for every student that leaves, the state will spend $4000 but save $5347, meaning that every student that leaves actually increases the money per pupil that can be spent on those left behind.  (by the way, more on the absurdity of NEA positions here and here).

The other argument that gets made is that private schools are all very expensive.  Again, duh.  Today, the only market
for public schools is to people who can afford to pay for their kids to
go to public school and then pay again for private school.  However,
private schools at the $3500 to $4500 level will appear if people have
a voucher in their hand and are looking for alternatives.  My kids
private school is awesome, and does not charge in the five figures - in
fact it is just a bit over $5000 a year.  Here is more on why more private schools don't exist today.

I would love to find a way to get the left, who in other circumstances seem to be all for choice, onto the school choice bandwagon.  This post had an invitation to the left to reconsider school choice:

After the last election, the Left is increasingly worried that red
state religious beliefs may creep back into public school, as evidenced
in part by this Kevin Drum post on creationism.
My sense is that you can find strange things going on in schools of
every political stripe, from Bible-based creationism to inappropriate environmental advocacy.
I personally would not send my kids to a school that taught creationism
nor would I send them to a school that had 7-year-olds protesting
outside of a Manhattan bank.

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never
going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is
impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents
object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the
Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and
overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents
object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents
object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some
parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem,
while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't
learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just
test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one
day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly
increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these
softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by
just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.
Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking
about rolling back government spending or government commitment to
funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use
that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of
their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine,
they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus
on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their
kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love
nature and protect the environment - fine, do it.

How to Spot a Dictatorship

Unfortunately, the libertarian "bloc" in the country tends to be a bit too small for either of the two major parties to fight over - kind of like expending energy on wooing left handed Eskimo pipe-welders.  However, last year, with many libertarians opposing key parts of the Patriot Act, the growth in government spending, and the war in Iraq, the left and the Democratic Party made a bid to woo libertarians over to the Kerry camp. 

I would have found this argument more compelling had the left proven themselves to be a bit more consistent supporters of democracy and individual rights around the world.  Many on the left bent themselves into pretzels supporting blatant totalitarians in hopes of seeing George Bush fail.  Other leftists continue to be strong Marxists, supporting socialist regimes with a blind eye towards their human rights records.

While the socialists are probably a loss, there is still hope for much of the left to craft a freedom- and individual-rights-based foreign policy that libertarians could find compelling -- I handed out some free advice here.  However, before they left can really make progress here, the need to learn how to recognize a dictatorship:

You Know its a Dictatorship When:

  1. Michael Moore portrays the country as a kite-flying paradise
  2. Jimmy Carter sanctioned their last election
  3. The UN certifies that there is no genocide
  4. They sign friendship pacts with other dictatorships (also here and here and here too)
  5. They are a member of the UN Human Rights commission (not 100% foolproof but getting closer every year)
  6. They were once a French colony, and/or France is opposing sanctions against it (also here too)
  7. Their people are impoverished and they lag the world in economic growth

Update:  Welcome Powerline and Instapundit readers. 

Might "Red Statism" Cause the Left to Embrace School Choice?

After the last election, the Left is increasingly worried that red state religious beliefs may creep back into public school, as evidenced in part by this Kevin Drum post on creationism.  My sense is that you can find strange things going on in schools of every political stripe, from Bible-based creationism to inappropriate environmental advocacy.  I personally would not send my kids to a school that taught creationism nor would I send them to a school that had 7-year-olds protesting outside of a Manhattan bank.

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem, while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.  Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking about rolling back government spending or government commitment to funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine, they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love nature and protect the environment - fine, do it.

Yes, I know, private schools to fit all these niches don't exist today.   However, given a few years of parents running around with $7000 vouchers in their hands, they will.  Yes, there will be problems.  Some schools will fail, some will be bad, some with be spectacular (though most will be better than what many urban kids, particularly blacks, have today).   Some current public schools will revitalize themselves in the face of comeptition, others will not. It may take decades for a new system to emerge, but the Left used to be the ones with the big, long-term visions.  The ultimate outcome, though, could be beautiful.  And the end state will be better if the Left, with its deep respect and support of publicly-funded education, is a part of the process.

Of course, there is one caveat that trips up both the Left and the Right:  To accept school choice, you have to be willing to accept that some parents will choose to educate their kids in a way you do not agree with, with science you do not necesarily accept, and with values that you do not hold.  If your response is, fine, as long as my kids can get the kind of education I want them to, then consider school choice.  However, if your response is that this is not just about your kids, this is about other people choosing to teach their kids in ways you don't agree with, then you are in truth seeking a collectivist (or fascist I guess, depending on your side of the aisle) indoctrination system.  Often I find that phrases like "shared public school experience" in the choice debate really are code words for retaining such indoctrination.

In other words, are you OK if Bob Jones high school or Adam Smith high school exist, as long as Greenpeace high school exists as well?  Or do you want to make everyone go to Greenpeace high school exclusively?

I honestly don't know how folks on the left would answer this question.  Is Kevin Drum hoping that all parents have the choice of a secular education available to their kids, or is he hoping that all parents are forced to have a secular education for their kids?  Is he trying to protect his kids from intrusive creationism supporters or is he trying to impose his beliefs on the children of those creationism supporters?  I can read the article and his fear of creationism either way.