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Posts Tagged ‘Education’

People sometimes think I’m strange for being so focused on the economic harm that results from third-party payer. But bear with me and we’ll see why it’s a very important issue.

If you’re not already familiar with the term, third-party payer exists when someone other than the consumer is paying for something. And it’s a problem because people aren’t careful shoppers when they have (proverbially) someone else’s credit card.

Moreover, sellers have ample incentive to jack up prices, waste resources on featherbedding, and engage in inefficient practices when they know consumers are insensitive to price.

I’ve specifically addressed the problem of third-party payer in both the health-care sector and the higher education market.

But I’ve wondered whether my analysis was compelling. Is the damage of third-party payer sufficiently obvious when you see a chart showing that prices for cosmetic surgery, which generally is paid for directly by consumers, rise slower than the CPI, while other health care expenses, which generally are financed by government or insurance companies, rise faster than inflation?

Or is it clear that third-party payer leads to bad results when you watch a video exposing how subsidies for higher education simply make it possible for colleges and universities to increase tuition and fees at a very rapid clip?

That should be plenty of evidence, but I ran across a chart that may be even more convincing. It shows how prices have increased in various sectors over the past decade.

So what make this chart compelling and important?

Time for some background. The reason I saw the chart is because David Freddoso of the Washington Examiner shared it on his Twitter feed.

I don’t know if he added the commentary below, or simply passed it along, but I’m very grateful because it’s an excellent opportunity to show that sectors of our economy that are subsidized (mostly by third-party payer) are the ones plagued by rising prices.

It’s amazing to see that TVs, phones, and PCs have dropped dramatically in price at the same time that they’ve become far more advanced.

Yet higher education and health care, both of which are plagued by third-party payer, have become more expensive.

So think about your family budget and think about the quality of PCs, TVs, and phones you had 10 years ago, and the prices you paid, compared with today. You presumably are happy with the results.

Now think about what you’re getting from health care and higher education, particularly compared to the costs.

That’s the high price of third-party payer.

P.S. This video from Reason TV is a great illustration of how market-based prices make the health care sector far more rational.

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I had a very bad lunch today.

But not because of what I ate. My lunch was unpleasant because I moderated a noontime panel on Capitol Hill featuring Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and my Cato colleague Chris Edwards.

And I should hasten to add that they were splendid company. The unpleasant part of the lunch was the information they shared.

The Senator, in particular, looked at budgetary projections over the next 30 years and basically confirmed for the audience that an ever-expanding burden of federal spending is going to lead to a fiscal crisis.

To be blunt, he showed numbers that basically matched up with this Henry Payne cartoon.

Here’s a chart from his presentation. It shows the average burden of spending in past years, compared to various projections of how much bigger government will be – on average – over the next three decades.

The Senator warned that the most unfavorable projection (i.e., “CBO ALT FISC”) was also the most realistic one. In other words, federal spending will consume a much larger share of economic output over the next three decades than it has over the past two decades.

But our fiscal outlook is actually even worse than what you see in his slide.

The Senator’s numbers are based on average spending levels over the 2015-2044 period. That’s very useful – and sobering – data, but if you look at the annual numbers, you’ll see that the trendline gives us additional reasons to worry.

More specifically, spending for the major entitlement programs (Social Security and Medicare, as well as Medicaid) is closely tied to the aging population. So as more and more baby boomers retire over the next couple of decades, spending on these programs will become more burdensome.

In other words, our fiscal problem will be much larger in 2040 than it will be in 2020.

Here are the long-run numbers from the Congressional Budget Office. The blue line is federal spending on various programs and the pink line is total spending (i.e., programmatic spending plus interest payments). And keep in mind that these numbers don’t include state and local government spending, which presumably will chew up another 15 percent of our economic output!

In other words, America will become Greece.

And don’t delude yourself into thinking that CBO must be wrong. I’m not a big fan of the Congressional Budget Office (particularly CBO’s economic analysis), but these numbers are driven by demographics.

Moreover, CBO’s grim outlook is matched by similarly dismal numbers from the IMF, BIS, and OECD.

By the way, CBO doesn’t do projections once federal government debt exceeds 250 percent of GDP, so the gray-colored trendline beginning about 2048 is not an official projections. It’s merely an estimate of the total spending burden assuming that the federal budget is left on autopilot.

Of course, we’ll never reach that level. We will suffer a fiscal crisis before that point. But when it happens to us, the IMF won’t be there to bail us out for the simple reason that the IMF’s credibility is based on the backing of American taxpayers.

And we’ll already have been bled dry!

So unless we find some very rich Martians (who are also stupid enough to bail out profligate governments), it won’t be a pretty situation. I’m not sure we’ll have riots, such as the ones that have taken place in Europe, but there will be plenty of suffering.

Fortunately, there is a solution. All we need is a modest bit of fiscal restraint so that government grows slower than the private sector. That would completely reverse Senator Johnson’s dismal long-run numbers.

And some countries have shown that multi-year periods of fiscal restraint are possible.

The real question, though, is whether politicians in America would be willing to adopt the entitlement reforms that are needed to control the long-run growth of spending.

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I’ve often explained that “third-party payer” is a major problem in our healthcare sector.

This occurs when consumers can buy healthcare with other people’s money. For instance, nearly half of all healthcare spending in America is directly financed by government. And a big chunk of supposedly private healthcare spending is actually the result of government policies that encourage and subsidize over-insurance (in which case, people may be buying healthcare with their own money, at least indirectly, but in a system akin to a pre-paid all-you-can-eat buffet).

Anyhow, one of the big downsides of this system is that third-party payer undermines market discipline and leads to higher prices and massive inefficiency in the health sector.

This then leads to a perverse outcome as politicians point to the higher prices and inefficiency and say this is evidence of market failure!! In a stereotypical example of “Mitchell’s Law,” they then propose more government to ostensibly deal with problems created by government (and people wonder why I have lots of gray hair).

We have the same problem in higher education, except it may be even worse if you look at these charts. Simply stated, government loans and grants have enabled colleges, schools, and universities to dramatically boost tuition and engage in massive bureaucratic featherbedding.

Interestingly, the Obama Administration has a proposal that sort of addresses this issue. The Department of Education is proposing “gainful employment” regulations that would, among other provisions, limit loans and financial aid on the basis of whether a school produces students with high student-loan debt relative to post-graduate earnings.

This sounds like it might be a good idea. After all, it would presumably lead to less government spending.

But there’s a catch. A giant catch, as explained by Brian Garst of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

…if it is truly needed to protect students, why are public and private non-profit universities excluded? For-profit schools only serve about 20% of all higher education students, and yet are the exclusive target of the regulation.

Yes, you read correctly. The Obama Administration is not trying to save money or impose accountability. Instead, it is seeking to undermine competition.

You may think I’m making this up, but a former senior bureaucrat at the Department of Education bragged, in a speech to a left-wing group, that the goal is to stamp out for-profit schools.

Here’s another excerpt from the folks at the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

Former deputy undersecretary of education Robert Shireman, who initiated the Gainful Employment regulations, is currently under investigation for ethics violations and conflicts of interest relating to these effort. He has made clear through public comments that he sees eradicating private-sector colleges as his ultimate goal. In a recent speech delivered at the Center for American Progress, he said he does not believe that a business should own a college.

This fight illustrates why government intervention is so corrupting.

I don’t like any federal subsidies to education, whether for K-12 or for higher education. I don’t care whether the subsidies are for government schools, non-profit private schools, or for-profit private schools.

So I would like to cut off loans, grants, and other funds to for-profit schools, but that should happen at the same time that handouts also are being eliminated for other types of schools (Tim Carney has a very good explanation of why there are no good guys in this fight).

Let me close with an analogy.

I don’t want federal money in the healthcare system. So that means I don’t want payments of taxpayer money to private hospitals and private physicians.

But I would be even more agitated if the Obama White House said that it would “save money” by cutting off health funds, but only monies going to the private providers. The net result is that we all would be forced into VA-type treatment from government.

The moral of the story is to shrink government across the board.

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From a macro perspective, the most distressing aspect of America’s education system is that taxpayers spend a lot of money (more than any other people in the world, on a per-student basis) and we get very mediocre results.

And it’s getting worse over time. This famous chart, prepared by my colleague Andrew Coulson, shows how spending and bureaucracy have skyrocketed since 1970 while test scores have been stagnant.

Blacks and other minorities are the biggest victims. They are trapped in the worst-performing schools, largely because leftist politicians would rather curry favor with union bosses then help the poor.

But I don’t want to focus on these depressing macro issues.

Instead, we’re going to look at a depressing micro issue. To be more specific, let’s share a story about brain-dead political correctness (another one to add to a depressing collection).

Here are some details from a local news report.

First-grader Darin Simak is a little shy, a little upset and a little confused about why he can’t go back to Martin Elementary in New Kensington.

So what happened? Did he stab a classmate? Set fire to the classroom? Steal from the school’s petty cash fund?

No, none of those options. Instead, he did something far worse.

At least in the minds of brainless school bureaucrats.

Jennifer Mathabel said her son left his usual backpack in a friend’s car the night before, so he packed another one but missed the toy gun inside. “So I send my child to school. My child discovers a fake toy gun at about 1:30 p.m. He turns it in to the teacher and he’s sent to the office and suspended,” said Mathabel.

Yup, you read correctly. Darin found a toy gun in his backpack, and apparently he’s been successfully brainwashed that toy guns somehow are bad, so he gave it to the teacher.

The teacher then acted like a functionary from the Cuban KGB and turned Darin over to her superiors.

Not surprisingly, Darin’s mom is not happy that she’s paying taxes to subsidize such stupidity.

…she felt her son shouldn’t be suspended, and still sent him to school Thursday morning. “I got a phone call from the principal at 9 a.m., and she said, ‘Darin is not to be in school,’ and I said, ‘I’m sending him to school because he is entitled to be in school and be educated,'” said Mathabel. …The New Kensington-Arnold School District superintendent said that bringing a toy gun to school violates the district’s policy at the highest level and requires a child to be suspended immediately until a meeting can be held to discuss what happened and whether punishment is warranted.

You’ll be happy to know that our story has a happy ending.

Actually, allow me to modify that sentence. It’s a happy ending only in the sense that the school bureaucrats graciously and mercifully decided not to expel Darin.

Instead, he was suspended for two days.

Darin will not be expelled. The school district held a meeting and decided to suspend the first-grader for two days.

Astounding, in a horrible way. Makes you wonder whether government-run schools should be considered a form of child abuse.

Since we’re on the topic of government-run education (or mis-education, to use a clunky but more accurate phrase), let’s divert to the topic of common core.

Robby Soave of Reason explores an additional reason to dislike this new form of bureaucratized centralization.

Opponents of Common Core have plenty of ammunition by now: The standards erode local autonomy, are costly to implement, and some experts dispute their rigor. But an underexplored aspect of this problematic national education reform is the massive financial incentive that certain textbook and standardized test companies have to keep the U.S. on board with it. …the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)—recently invited curriculum companies to compete for the contract to design the tests. Textbook giant Pearson won the contract, surprising no one.

Soave explains why this should make parents (and taxpayers) worried.

A PARCC press release described the selection of Pearson as the result of a “competitive bidding process.” But it’s hard to tell whether the process was truly competitive, given that Pearson was the only company to even submit a bid. …Keep in mind that the contract is worth so much money that officials haven’t even attached a formal price tag. Instead, they have used the phrase “unprecedented in scale.” …it certainly undermines the notion that this is a “bottom up” education reform when state and federal lawmakers are colluding with mega corporations to dictate the tests to local school districts.

If you want to know more about the shortcomings of common core, I cite both George Will and one of Cato’s education experts in a post back in January.

But all you really need to know is that we’ll get a far better system of education if the federal government has less involvement, not more involvement.

Indeed, we should get rid of the entire Department of Education. Canada is doing better on education than the United States, and there’s no role for the national government in Ottawa.

Not that I’m a big fan of what state and local governments are doing.

The ideal system would be based on markets and competition. Which means we should copy nations with widespread school choice, such as Chile, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

We have some school choice in America, and the evidence is very strong that we get better results.

P.S. The virus of political correctness is so bad in America’s education system that some schools have even cancelled award ceremonies because they might make some students feel excluded.

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While I mostly focus on bad government policy in the United States, I also think we can learn lessons from what’s happening in other nations.

In some cases, I share positive stories, such as the success of privatized Social Security in Australia, nationwide school choice in Sweden, and genuine spending cuts in the Baltic nations.

In most cases, though, I’m pointing out bad policy.

Some topics deserve special treatment, such as the ongoing horror story of government-run healthcare in the United Kingdom.

In other cases, though, I share one-off stories about government incompetence and stupidity.

*Such as taxpayer-financed friends for mass murderers in Norway.

*Financing a giant “Burger Boy” in the United Kingdom.

*Promoting welfare tourism in the European Union.

*Spending $30 to collect $1 of tax in Germany.

*Regulation of coffee enemas in Japan.

Today, we’re going to share more stories of feckless behavior by foreign politicians and bureaucrats.

From Canada, we learn that the government of Manitoba is micro-managing daycare lunches in such bizarre ways that a family was fined because “grains” weren’t included in their kids’ meals.

Kristin Barkiw of Rossburn, Manitoba, Canada brought two of her children home from Little Cub’s Den daycare when she saw that her kids were sent home with a note. …the message told the mom she had failed to provide a nutritionally balanced lunch for her children, 5-year-old Logan and 3-year-old Natalie.  Not only that, Kristin was fined $10, $5 per child, for missing grains in their lunch of leftover roast beef, carrots, potatoes, an orange and milk. Further, the note said that the daycare staff gave Logan and Natalie Ritz crackers to fulfill the nutritional requirement of grains, which some see as a less than nutritious option. The nutritional regulation for daycare lunches is actually law in the province. The Manitoba government’s Early Learning and Child Care lunch regulations state that daycare programs must ensure children are given a lunch with a meat, a grain, a milk product and two servings of fruit and vegetables and any missing food groups must be supplemented by the care provider.

Heaven forbid that parents actually be in charge of what their kids eat!

You won’t be surprised to learn that France is on the list. It appears the government’s rail system is staffed by numbskulls.

France’s SNCF rail company has ordered 2,000 trains for an expanded regional network that are too wide for many station platforms, entailing costly repairs, the national rail operator said on Tuesday. A spokesman for the RFF national rail operator confirmed the error, first reported by satirical weekly Canard Enchaine in its Wednesday edition. …Construction work has already begun to displace equipment and widen hundreds of train platforms to accommodate the new trains, but hundreds more remain to be fixed, he added. …The RFF only gave the dimensions of platforms built less than 30 years ago, but most of France’s 1,200 platforms were built more than 50 years ago. Repair work has already cost 80 million euros ($110 million).

I guess I’m not surprised by that story since the French once built an aircraft carrier with a flight deck that was too small.

In Sweden, a novelty tourist hotel made of ice will have to install fire alarms.

The Ice Hotel, which is rebuilt every year in northern Sweden out of enormous chunks of ice from the Torne River in Jukkasjärvi, Kiruna, will this year come equipped with fire alarms – and the irony isn’t lost on the staff. “We were a little surprised when we found out,” hotel spokeswoman Beatrice Karlsson told The Local. …While it might sound crazy that a building made of water needs to be equipped with fire alarms, the fact that the hotel is built from scratch every year means it needs to abide by the rules that apply to every new building, rules set by the National Housing Board (Boverket).

If I had to pick a prize from today’s list, this might win the prize. It’s a stunning display of government in action. Though probably not as bad as the time it took a local government in the U.S. two days to notice a dead body in a community swimming pool.

And from Germany, we have a story about massive cost overruns incurred by a pan-European bureaucracy that supposedly helps encourage fiscal discipline.

“Do as we say, not as we do”

It was meant to cost £420m of European taxpayers’ money but the bill for the new headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) has more than doubled to £960m and could rise even further. The bank is the key enforcer of austerity measures in the troubled eurozone nations, but appears to be having trouble keeping its own finances in order. The 45-storey glass and steel building, made up of two joined towers, will be more than 600ft tall when it is finished. But it has already been under construction for a decade and is three years behind schedule.

Of course, it goes without saying that cost overruns and delays are par for the course with government.

Just in case anyone thinks I’m picking on foreigners, here’s a story that makes me ashamed to be American. Or, to be more precise, it makes me ashamed that we have some of the world’s most pathetic bureaucrats.

Honors Night at Cole Middle School is no more. Parents got an email from Principal Alexis Meyer over the weekend saying some members of the school community “have long expressed concerns related to the exclusive nature of Honors Night.” The email goes on to say students will be recognized in other ways. …Parents and students are not happy with the change. “How else are they suppose to learn coping skills, not just based on success, but relative failure, it might not be failure, but understand what it takes to achieve high levels,” said parent Joe Kosloski. …“That made me wanna work harder and a lot of other people work harder, so just the fact you can’t work towards it anymore then there is no goal,” said 8th grade student Kaitlyn Kosloski. Changes are also being made to the middle school’s sports awards.

You read correctly. They also won’t recognize athletic success.

I guess everyone gets a participation medal.

Except, of course, we still single out kids who commit horrible crimes in school. Such as having toy army men, eating a pop tart the wrong way, building a motion detector for a school science experiment, or countless other “offenses” that trigger anti-gun lunacy by brainless bureaucrats.

The moral of these stories, both from America and around the world, it that government is not the answer. Unless, of course, you’ve asked a really strange question.

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If you had to pick the most inane, pointless, and intrusive example of government stupidity, what would you pick?

We have lots of examples of regulators running amok.

But we also have really absurd examples of wasteful spending.

We even have examples of government stupidity that can be characterized as a combination of wasteful spending and foolish regulation, such as one part of the government squandering money on research about how to encourage condom use by providing prophylactics of different sizes while another part of the government has regulations preventing the private sector from providing prophylactics of different sizes.

Today’s post, however, could win a prize for the most profound and disturbing example of government stupidity. It mixes foolish red tape with over-the-top political correctness.

Here are some jaw-dropping details of the federal government running amok in Michigan.

A set of seating is being torn down outside the Plymouth Wildcats varsity boys’ baseball field, not long before the season begins, because the fields for boys’ and girls’ athletics must be equal. A group of parents raised money for a raised seating deck by the field, as it was hard to see the games through a chain-link fence. The parents even did the installation themselves, and also paid for a new scoreboard. But, after someone complained to the U.S Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, an investigated by the department determined the new addition was no longer equal to the girls’ softball field next door, which has old bleachers and an old scoreboard.

This is utterly absurd for several reasons, most notably that the federal government shouldn’t have any role in education, much less efforts to micro-manage high school sports facilities.

But even if one accepts that Washington bureaucrats should interfere in such matters, it’s important to understand that it is bureaucratic lunacy to interpret “Title IX requirements to offer equal athletic opportunities to both boys and girls” to somehow mean equal seating.

Sexist bleachers?!?

What happens if there are fewer people who want to watch female sports? Should there be a requirement to build bleachers that are mostly empty?

Or maybe we can blend Obamacare to Title IX and create a mandate that parents and others in the community have to attend female sporting events 50 percent of the time?

Actually, I shouldn’t even joke about such an idea, lest some bureaucrat think it’s a serious proposal.

P.S. The Keynesians will be happy. They like it when wealth and/or capital is destroyed since that supposedly forces “stimulative” rebuilding exercises.

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Imagine you’re a statist and you want to raise your kids to have the same spiteful and envious mindset.

What’s the best approach? Well, sending your children to a government school is an obvious first step.

But kids sometimes rebel against big-government orthodoxy, so perhaps you want to take additional measures such as a visit to their school from President Obama.

As shown in the image, he can tell them about the glories of redistribution.

You can also make sure to have them only visit certain houses on Halloween. That will help them appreciate class-warfare policy.

That being said, you probably want some insurance. An extra way of helping them understand the joy of living off other people.

So what could be better than these new toys, called the Kronies!

With these new toys, your kids will enjoy hours of fun as they learn to use mandates, protectionism, bailouts, and pork to obtain undeserved wealth!

They’ll definitely realize that big government is very profitable if you’re an insider!

P.S. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I feel compelled to inform left-wing readers that this post – including the video – is satire. In other words, there aren’t real action figures called the Kronies. If you want to teach your kids to rape and pillage other people using the coercive power of government, you’re on your own. My only advice is to keep them from reading about the fiscal chaos in Europe so they don’t realize the consequences of redistribution and corruption.

P.P.S. And for the rest of you readers, the Kronies satire video was produced by John Papola, who gave us the famous Keynes v. Hayek rap contest, followed by the equally entertaining sequel, featuring a boxing match between Keynes and Hayek. And even though it’s not the right time of year, he also gave us the satirical commercial for Keynesian Christmas carols.

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