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I received my Ph.D. from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, and I have very fond memories of that experience, including interactions with great economists such as James Buchanan and Walter Williams.

But not everyone has favorable views of GMU’s market-friendly program. There’s a group, UnKoch My Campus, that pretends to be horrified that the school has attracted contributions from philanthropists such as Charles Koch and David Koch.

In a column for the Washington Post, Steven Pearlstein opines about the ostensible controversy.

Thanks to a group of courageous and persistent students, George Mason University was recently forced to acknowledge that it had accepted millions of dollars from billionaire Charles Koch and other conservatives under arrangements that gave the donors input into several appointments at the university’s famously libertarian economics department. These arrangements violated traditional norms meant to insulate academic institutions from donor influence… The story fits neatly into the liberal narrative that the Koch brothers, Charles and David, have used their inherited oil wealth to fund the development of radical economic theories at Koch-funded universities.

At the risk of digressing before I even get started, I have to correct Pearlstein’s snide comment about “inherited oil wealth.”

The Koch brothers did inherit a valuable company, but they are not dilettantes with trust funds. They took a successful company and built it into an extremely successful firm. I wouldn’t be surprised if more than 90 percent of any contributions they make are a result of value they created.

Also, Charles Koch is a libertarian rather than a conservative.

Anyhow, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Pearlstein may have taken a cheap shot at the Kochs, but at least he doesn’t blindly parrot the leftist narrative.

…at Mason, the story is more complicated… I’ve been a professor at Mason. …I’m not a member of the economics department — they wouldn’t have me. But over the years, I’ve gotten to know and admire many of the economists there. For the most part, I have found them to be good economists and teachers, incredibly smart, intellectually honest and curious. …In the case of Mason’s economics department, the faculty have driven the donor relationships. In most instances, it was the faculty who approached and solicited Koch and other donors with specific projects in mind, not the other way around. …Our economics department is not libertarian and conservative because it is funded by Koch and his friends; they fund our economics department because its faculty is — and always has been — overwhelmingly conservative and libertarian. …rules and norms of university governance give faculty the power to hire people who think like they do. …Sorting by political or academic ideology is a naturally occurring phenomenon at universities.

Pearlstein suggests that university administrators should insist on more intellectual diversity.

The challenge is figuring out what to do about it. …It would have been better if Mason’s presidents and provosts had insisted on more ideological diversity in the law school and the economics department.

Perhaps there’s merit to that idea.

But if that’s Pearlstein’s goal, he should first focus on other departments at other schools. Because there’s an overwhelming bias in the other direction when looking at America’s system of higher education.

Here’s a report from Inside Higher Ed about some academic research by Mitchell Langbert, Anthony Quain, and Daniel Klein.

A new study…, published online by Econ Journal Watch, considered voter registration data for faculty members at 40 leading U.S. institutions in economics, history, communications, law and psychology. Of 7,243 professors total, about half are registered. Some 3,623 are Democrats while just 314 are Republicans. Economists are the most mixed group, with a ratio of 4.5 Democrats for every Republican. Historians as a group are the most lopsided, at 33.5 to one… There are also regional effects, with ratios highest in New England. …Women are much more likely to be registered Democrats, at 24.8 to one. Among men, the ratio is nine to one. …Brown University has the highest ratio for all five disciplines combined, at 60 to one, Democrat to Republican. It’s followed by Boston University (40 to one), Johns Hopkins University and the University of Rochester (both 35 to one), and Northeastern University (33 to one). The lowest ratio — that is, the most even mix of registered Democrats and Republicans — is at Pepperdine University, at 1.2 registered Democrats for every Republican. Case Western Reserve University is next, at 3.1 to one.

Here’s a chart from the report showing that economics is the most balanced discipline, but even in that field Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 4.5:1 margin.

Professor Langbert has some new research on this topic.

And, as pointed out in this report, the problem isn’t getting better.

An extensive study of 8,688 tenure-track professors at 51 of the 66 top-ranked liberal arts colleges in the U.S. published by the National Association of Scholars found that the ratio of faculty members registered as Democrats compared to those registered Republican is now a stunning 10.4 to 1. If two military colleges that are technically described as “liberal arts colleges” are removed from the calculations, the ratio is 12.7 to 1. …nearly 40% of the colleges in the study had zero faculty members who were registered Republican. Not a single one. Nearly 80% of the 51 colleges had so few Republican faculty members that they were statistically insignificant. …this trend toward an increasingly uniformly left-leaning faculty has spanned decades, both in the United States and Britain. “More than a decade ago, Stanley Rothman and colleagues provided evidence that while 39 percent of the professoriate on average described itself as Left in 1984, 72 percent did so in 1999,” Langbert writes. “They find a national average D:R ratio of 4.5:1.

Wow. University professors may be even further to the left than journalists.

Let’s circle back to the controversy at George Mason University.

The Wall Street Journal recently editorialized on the faux controversy.

Progressives dominate all but a few corners of American academia, but apparently they want it all. Witness the political and media assault on George Mason University, an island of intellectual diversity in Northern Virginia… an outfit called UnKoch My Campus…claims that donors like Charles and David Koch inappropriately influence university decisions. The demand is for “transparency” but the real goal is to silence conservative views. …Among the horrors supposedly uncovered by UnKoch is that one condition of these gifts was that George Mason rename its law school after Antonin Scalia. …The truth is that the naming request and decision went through normal university channels that included a vote by the university’s Board of Visitors, as well as the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia. …Donors are committing no crime in trying to judge if their philanthropy is fulfilling its purpose. The Kochs, God bless them, believe in supporting academics who believe in the principles of liberty and market economics. …Researchers from Stanford, Harvard and the University of Chicago Law School found last year that only 15% of American law school professors are conservative. We’re surprised it’s that many.

My two cents is that universities – either faculty and/or administrators – should be free to hire whoever they want under whatever rules they want. And students (or their parents) should be able to say no to schools that go overboard.

But here’s the catch. I don’t want to pay for any of it, either directly or via my kids. Let’s get rid of federal handouts for higher education.

The good news is that the no-subsidy approach also would reduce tuition costs since there no longer would be a third-party-payer problem.

Sounds like a win-win scenario.

P.S. My dissertation topic at GMU was Australia’s private retirement system, which was a clever decision on my part. Nobody in the United States at the time knew anything about the Aussie approach, which meant it was a) comparatively easy to make a contribution to the literature, and b) the professors on my committee didn’t know enough about the topic to nit-pick. Best of all worlds.

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Education spending and teacher pay has become a big issue in certain states.

Unfortunately, not for the right reason. In an ideal world, taxpayers would be demanding systemic reform because government schools are getting record amounts of money (higher than any other nation on a per-student basis) while producing sub-par results.

Instead, we live in a surreal parallel universe where teacher unions are pushing a narrative that taxpayers should cough up more money because teachers supposedly are underpaid.

Let’s look at the data.

An article in City Journal debunks the claim that teachers are underpaid.

…protests across the country have reinforced the perception that public school teachers are dramatically underpaid. They’re not: the average teacher already enjoys market-level wages plus retirement benefits vastly exceeding those of private-sector workers. Across-the-board salary increases, such as those enacted in Arizona, West Virginia, and Kentucky, are the wrong solution to a non-problem. …At the lowest skill levels—a GS-6 on the federal scale—teachers earn salaries about 26 percent higher than similar white-collar workers. …The average public school teaching position rated an 8.8 on the federal GS scale. After adjustment to reflect the time that teachers work outside the formal school day, the BLS data show that public school teachers on average receive salaries about 8 percent above similar private-sector jobs. …Data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation show that teachers who change to non-teaching jobs take an average salary cut of about 3 percent. Studies using administrative records in Florida, Missouri, Georgia, and Montana showed similar results. …public-employee retirement and health benefits are bleeding dry state and local budgets. Neither the public nor teachers fully appreciates the costs of these programs. We forget the value of benefits when considering how teacher pay compares with private-sector work.

And keep in mind those lavish pensions are woefully underfunded, so taxpayers are paying too much now and they’ll have to pay even more in the future.

But I think the key factoid from the above article is that teachers take a pay cut, on average, when they leave the profession. Along with the “JOLTS” data, that’s real-world evidence that teachers are getting paid more than counterparts in the economy’s productive sector.

Allysia Finley of the Wall Street Journal also punctures the false claims of the union bosses.

Teachers unions… They’re using misleading statistics… They conflate school funding and state education spending. In Oklahoma, unions proclaimed that per pupil school spending fell by 28.2% over the past decade. That refers to the inflation-adjusted state’s general funding formula. But total per pupil outlays increased by 16% in nominal terms between 2006 and 2016… They use elevated spending baselines. Teachers unions nearly always compare school spending and teacher salaries today with peak levels before the great recession, which were inflated like housing prices. Between 2000 and 2009, average per pupil spending across the country increased 52%…per pupil spending ticked up by 7.5% between 2012 and 2015. School spending growth…increased faster than the consumer price index. …They don’t account for other forms of compensation. Since 2000, per pupil spending on employee benefits has doubled. …pensions and health benefits are the fastest-growing expenses for many school districts, and most of the money goes to retired teachers. …the unions are lying with statistics.

In a column for the Denver Post, a parent showed that his state’s teachers are getting above-average compensation.

Teachers are…mostly paid via a union “salary schedule,” meaning they get pay raises based on only two factors: the number of college degrees and certificates they earn, and how many years they’ve been on the job. That makes a pretty lousy incentive structure… We keep hearing Colorado is 49th in the country for educational spending. That lie is repeated so often it becomes legend. Funding for Colorado schools are split between the local school district and the state. So, if you compare only the state funding part to states that have no local match, yep, ours looks low. But when you look at total funding, which can be counted in different ways, the picture doesn’t look so dire. …According to the Colorado Department of Education, the average salary for teachers here is $52,728. But that’s only one piece of the compensation. The school year is about 180 days, or 36 weeks. So, the pay is $1,465 for every week a teacher is teaching. Vacation time? Well, 52 weeks in a year, minus 36 weeks in the classroom, that’s 16 weeks off, roughly 4 months! Compare that to someone who only gets 2 weeks off but still gets paid $1,465 a week when working, that’s the equivalent of $73,233. And let’s count the present-cost value of their retirement benefits. …Not bad for a system where you can retire at 58.

Let’s close with some excerpts from Jason Riley’s column in the Wall Street Journal.

The nation’s K-12 schools are…turning into hotbeds of political activism. …teachers are demanding higher pay, better benefits and more education funding overall. …The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association have thousands of state and local affiliates. They are among the richest and best-organized pressure groups in the country. And they are on a roll. That’s good news for their members but not necessarily for children, parents and taxpayers. …Teachers unions support work rules that prevent the most capable teachers from being sent to low-performing schools, that shield teachers from meaningful evaluations, and that require instructors to be laid off based on seniority instead of performance. …those rules do nothing to address the needs of students. …politicians love to highlight education outlays. It helps them win votes and ward off union agitators. But the connection between school spending and educational outcomes is tenuous. …total spending per pupil at the state level rose, on average, by an inflation-adjusted 18%. During this period, it fell in Arizona… Yet on 2015 federal standardized exams, Arizona made more progress than any other state. New York, by contrast, boasts the highest spending per pupil and teacher pay in the country, but you wouldn’t know it from the test results.

For what it’s worth, the final few sentences in the above excerpt should be main issue being discussed in state capitals. Lawmakers should be asking why more and more money never produces better outcomes.

But that’s really not the problem. It’s the symptom of the problem.

Our primary challenge in education is that we rely on government monopolies that are captured by special interests. We need school choice so that competitive forces can be unleashed to generate better results. There’s strong evidence that choice produces good outcomes in the limited instances where it is allowed in the United States.

And in that kind of system, we may actually wind up with better teachers that are paid just as much. Or maybe even more.

P.S. There’s also strong evidence for school choice from nations such as SwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

P.P.S. Needless to say, eliminating the Department of Education is part of the solution.

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I wrote yesterday about the global evidence showing that more money does not improve the lackluster performance of government schools.

Those results are not surprising because we see the same thing in the United States. More money is good for the education bureaucracy, but it doesn’t lead to better student outcomes.

Now let’s focus on the solution to this problem. Simply stated, we need to break up the government education monopoly and unleash market forces.

Previous columns have looked at the success of school choice in SwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

Now let’s look at India, another country where private education has experienced amazing growth. I’m actually in that country for some speeches on regulatory reform (specifically, how India can improve its Doing Business score) and I’ve taken advantage of this situation to learn about the amazing developments in education.

We’ll start with some excerpts from a remarkable story in the Hindustan Times.

Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, student enrollment in government schools across 20 Indian states fell by 13 million, while private schools acquired 17.5 million new students, according to a new study that offers insights into India’s public-school education crisis. Average enrollment in government schools–where teachers are paid, on average, salaries that are four times those in China–declined from 122 to 108 students per school over five years, while it rose from 202 to 208 in private schools… Why are students opting out of India’s government schools, which educate the poorest and most vulnerable students until the age of 14 for free, and migrating to fee-charging private institutions in such large numbers? …private schools offer better value for money and better teaching than government schools.

Yet you won’t be surprised to learn that teachers in the government schools are lavishly compensated.

India’s government teachers earn more than…their counterparts in private schools… Teacher salaries in of teachers in Uttar Pradesh are four to five times India’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) and more than 15 times the state’s, according to a 2013 analysis by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze. This is much higher than the salaries paid to teachers in OECD countries and India’s neighbours.

Much of the data in that story was taken from a 2017 study published by a German think tank.

Here are some of the other findings from that report.

Official data show a steep growth of private schooling and a corresponding rapid shrinkage in the size of the government school sector in India, suggesting parental abandonment of government schools. …affordability is an important factor behind the migration towards and growth of private schools. The main reason for the very low fee levels in private schools is their lower teacher salaries, which the data show to be a small fraction of the salaries paid in government schools; this is possible because private schools pay the market-clearing wage…whereas government schools pay bureaucratically determined minimum-wages. Private schools’ substantially lower per-student-cost combined with their students’ modestly higher learning achievement levels, means that they are significantly more cost-effective than government schools.

The study is filled with extensive data.

But rather than quote long passages, here are two charts that caught my eye. First, we see better performance in private schools.

Given these impressive results, the logical response would be for India to scrap government schools and adopt a nationwide system of school choice.

But there’s a very powerful interest group standing in the way. As you can see from this second chart, government teachers are grossly overpaid and they will fight to the death to maintain the status quo.

Now let’s look at some of the findings from a report prepared by Ernst & Young on elementary and secondary education in India.

Once again, we see that parents are voting with their money to send their kids to private schools. Why? Because even though government schools are “free,” parents actually want their kids to get a good education.

…one of the most striking trends in Indian school education is the increase of private sector participation with an estimated 3 lakh private schools with 40% of the total student enrollment. Private enrollment in elementary schools is approximately 35% and over 50% at the secondary level. …private schools deliver higher quality education as gauged by educational outcomes such as performance on board exams and evidence from standardized assessments.

And here are some charts from the report, starting with a look at the share of kids in private schools.

And here’s some additional evidence that private schools generate better student outcomes.

What makes these results especially amazing is that the government has created all sorts of barriers to private schools.

I wrote about this in 2013, but the E&Y report quantifies how politicians and bureaucrats are trying to stifle competition.

Let’s take a look at some more research.

The Centre for Civil Society also has a must-read report on private education in India.

We’ll start with an excerpt that reinforces the fact that parents are voting with their scarce funds because they want a better future for their children.

Private fee charging schools are loved and loathed in equal measure in India: loved in the sense of being sought after by parents for their children’s education and often reviled by the press/ public/ authorities… The emptying of government schools…is largely the result of an exodus of students from government schools and migration toward private schools… The evidence suggests that most private schools in India can be considered ‘low fee’ in the precise sense that their fee is below the government’s… This evidence discredits the oft-repeated belief that much of private schooling in India is elite and exclusive.

Here’s data showing that the private schools cost less.

And here’s data showing that private schools deliver better results.

Finally, let’s look at a study by the World Bank that measures inputs and outputs to determine “value for money” (VFM).

PPE in MP government school system is Rs 9384 per annum and in private schools Rs 3700 per annum. Thus, government schools’ PPE is 2.5 times private schools’ PPE. However, the learning units are higher in private schools: 58% of private school students and 28% of government students of class 5 could read a class 2 level text in 2014-15. Thus government schools’ learning output is just about half that in private schools. Putting the output and expenditure items together, we find that the cost per unit of achievement is Rs 338 in government schools and Rs 63 in private schools, implying that private schools are 5.3 times as cost effective as public schools, or that government schools are one fifth as efficient in producing output as private schools. …When home background is strictly controlled for, the raw public-private learning gap greatly falls but is usually not eliminated. … if only 25% of the raw public-private achievement gap of MP is attributed to superior private school quality (e.g., lower teacher absence rates), then private schools are 3.25 more efficient than government schools, rather than 5.3 times. …In summary, there is very low VFM from government expenditure on education, in terms of producing the valued outcome of ‘learning’ among students. The private schooling sector gets significantly higher VFM.

And here are a couple of visuals from the report.

We’ll start with a look at enrollment patterns (a “lakh” = 100,000), further confirming that an ever-growing number of parents would rather pay for a private school than send their kids to a “free” government school.

And here’s some data starkly showing how government teachers are vastly overpaid.

All of which reinforces the “value for money” argument that the private schools get far more bang for the buck.

Let’s conclude with a video. One of the world’s experts on private education in the developing world is James Tooley and his interest was triggered by what he saw in India.

Here he discusses developments in India and other developing nations.

P.S. For those interested in more information about India, I wrote last year about how excessive government is stifling the nation’s economy. Indeed, the country is ranked a lowly #95 in the latest iteration of Economic Freedom of the World. This is very unfortunate because India should be a rich country. Indian-Americans, for instance, are the most successful immigrant group in America.

P.P.S. But it will be hard for Indians in India to achieve similar success since the government keeps imposing bad policies such as “demonetization.”

P.P.P.S. India is also home to the most perverse example of how handouts encourage bad behavior.

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I’ve written several times about how dumping more money into government schools is not a recipe for improved education.

Indeed, I would argue that this chart is the most powerful image I’ve ever seen. More and more money gets plowed into the system (even after adjusting for inflation!), but the only effect is that school systems hired more bureaucrats.

There hasn’t been any positive impact on student test scores.

It’s especially depressing when you compare the United States with other developed nations. We spend more than other countries, on a per-student basis, yet our test scores are below average.

Politicians periodically admit there is a problem, but their solutions – such as Bush’s no-bureaucrat-left-behind scheme and Obama’s common-core boondoggle – simply squander money and rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Let’s examine whether this pattern is true in other nations. I already shared some research showing that big spending increases in Indonesia didn’t have a positive impact.

Now let’s look at multi-country analysis. We’ll start by looking at a study by a scholar from the World Bank and Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Cross national data show no association between the increases in human capital attributable to rising educational attainment of the labor force and the rate of growth of output per worker. This implies the association of educational capital growth with conventional measures of TFP is large, strongly statistically significant, and negative. …Three causes could explain why the impact of education varied widely across countries and fell short of what was hoped. First, the institutional/governance environment could have been sufficiently perverse that the educational capital accumulation lowered economic growth. Second, perhaps the marginal returns to education fell rapidly as the supply expanded while demand for educated labor was stagnant. Third, educational quality could have been so low that “years of schooling” have created no human capital.

Here’s some statistical analysis from Professor Garett Jones of George Mason University.

Between the 60’s and the 90’s every country in this sample boosted its average years of education–it was a golden age of alleged human capital investment.  Some nations boosted schooling more, some less. How did that turn out? …The trendline points down slightly, but for the time being let’s just call it a draw.  It’s a well-known fact that countries that started the 1960’s with high education levels grew faster…, but this graph is about something different.  This graph shows that countries that increased their education levels did not grow faster.

And here’s his graph.

This data clearly shows that dumping more money into education doesn’t work.

So perhaps the problem is the way the money is getting spent, not the amount.

That’s why the moral of the story is that we need to break up government school monopolies and harness the power of the market by giving parents and students genuine school choice. For what it’s worth, there’s strong evidence that choice produces good outcomes in the limited instances where it is allowed in the United States.

P.S. There’s also strong evidence for school choice from nations such as SwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

P.P.S. Needless to say, eliminating the Department of Education is part of the solution.

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Whenever I discuss education policy with one of my leftist friends, it usually follows the same script.

They’ll ask whether I want good education for kids. I’ll say yes. They’ll then say we should devote more money to government schools.

I then show them this powerful chart and point out that we’ve been following their approach for 40-plus years and that it hasn’t worked.

None of them has ever had an effective or coherent response.

I then point out that the United States spends far more than other developed nations, on a per-pupil basis. Yet our national test scores are dismal compared to other developed nations.

Once again, none of them has ever had an effective or coherent response.

The simple reality if that giving more money to government schools is a foolish gesture.

Today, we’re going to look at some additional evidence.

Research from the World Bank pours cold water on the notion that more money for teachers leads to better outcomes for students.

…countries sometimes implement large increases in public-sector salaries to attract higher-quality applicants to government jobs and to better motivate existing employees. …understanding the extent to which unconditional pay increases make incumbent public-sector workers more motivated and productive is a key consideration in evaluating the cost effectiveness of such salary increases. …In this paper, we provide experimental evidence on the impact of a large unconditional salary increase on the effort and productivity of incumbent public employees. Our study was conducted in the context of a policy change in Indonesia that permanently doubled the base pay of eligible civil-service teachers… The reform moved teacher salaries from the 50th to the 90th percentile of the college-graduate salary distribution. Civil-service teachers in Indonesia also enjoy generous benefits and high job security, and quit rates were very low even before the pay increase. Thus, the teachers in our study are typical of public-sector employees in many low- and middle-income countries, who hold highly coveted jobs and enjoy a significant wage premium relative to their private-sector counterparts.

So what were the results of this experiment? The good news, as you might expect, is that teachers were quite happy.

The experiment significantly improved measures of teacher welfare: At the end of two and three years of the experiment, teachers in treated schools had higher income, were more likely to be satisfied with their income, and were less likely to report financial stress.

But for those of us who actually want better education for children, the results were not very satisfactory.

…despite this improvement in incumbent teachers’ pay, satisfaction, …the policy did not improve either their effort or student learning. Teachers in treated schools did not score better on tests of teacher subject knowledge, and we find no consistent pattern of impact on self-reported measures of teacher attendance. Most importantly, we find no difference in student test scores in language, mathematics, or science across treatment and control schools. …Finally, we use the school-level random assignment as an instrumental variable for being taught by a certified teacher in a given year, and find no improvement in student test scores from being taught by a certified teacher (relative to students in control schools taught by similar “target” teachers). These effects are also precisely estimated…our results are consistent with other studies finding no correlation between teacher salaries in the public sector and their teaching effectiveness (Muralidharan and Sundararaman 2011, Bau and Das 2017), and with studies finding that contract teachers who are paid much lower salaries than civil-service teachers are no less effective (Muralidharan and Sundararaman 2013, Duflo, Dupas, and Kremer 2015, Bau and Das 2017).

Indonesia is not similar to the United States, so some people will want to dismiss these finding.

But the authors note that U.S.-focused studies have reached the same conclusion.

Our results are consistent with prior studies finding no correlation between in creases in teacher pay and improved student performance in the US (Hanushek 1986; Betts 1995; Grogger 1996).

If giving teachers more money doesn’t work, is it possible that spending more money on facilities will help?

Let’s look at another academic study, published in the Journal of Public Economics, for some insight. Here’s the approach used by the scholars.

In this paper we provide the most comprehensive assessment of achievement effects from school facility investments initiated and financed by local school districts. The first part of the analysis examines the impact of nearly 1400 capital campaigns initiated by 748 school districts in the state of Texas over a 14-year period. …We examine the impact of capital campaigns on student outcomes using information on all tested students in the state over this time period, which includes all 3rd through 8th graders and 10th or 11th graders that take the state’s high school exit exam.

And here are the very disappointing results.

…the second part of the study directly measures the effect of capital investment on students actually exposed to it by analyzing more than 1300 major campus renovations. Controls for lagged individual test scores permit us to address changes in student composition resulting from capital investment, analogous to “value-added” models of teacher effectiveness. With or without this adjustment, we find no evidence of achievement effects of major campus renovations, even for renovations that appear to have generated large improvements in school facility conditions. Our estimates are sufficiently precise such that we can rule out positive effects larger than about 0.02 for math and 0.01 for reading for the first four years following a campus renovation.

By the way, I’m not arguing that pay and facilities are irrelevant. I think the takeaway from these studies is that more money doesn’t help when the underlying structure of the education system is faulty. So long as we have a centralized monopoly, more money isn’t going to help.

Unfortunately, American politicians are part of the problem.

Under President George W. Bush, the federal government spent more money on education and grabbed more control of the sector as part of the so-called No Child Left Behind initiative. That didn’t yield good results.

Under President Barack Obama, the same thing happened. Thanks to Common Core, the federal government spent more money on education and grabbed more control of the sector. That didn’t yield good results.

Indeed, a report last year for the National Center for Policy Analysis notes the dismal impact of the federal government.

Over the years, federal funding of primary and secondary education has increased, while students’ academic performance has flatlined. For instance, the high school reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress show that student performance has remained flat for the past 20 years… education reform initiatives by several administrations produced, at best, minimal improvements in student performance at a high price to taxpayers. Given its track record, the federal government should get out of the education business. Federal education reforms have failed to achieve their goals and failed to have a positive impact on education performance.

Amen. The Department of Education in Washington should be eliminated. It’s part of the problem.

Let’s close with a Reason video that looks at some absurd examples of how taxpayer money is wasted by the government school monopoly.

P.S. Let’s close with a bit of humor showing the evolution of math lessons in government schools.

P.P.S. If you want some unintentional humor, the New York Times thinks that government education spending has been reduced.

P.P.P.S. And you’ll also be amused (and outraged and disgusted) by the truly bizarre examples of political correctness in government schools.

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While most of my disdain is reserved for the federal government in Washington, I periodically share horror stories about foreign governments and state governments.

And today we’re going to add to our collection of bone-headed policies by local governments.

In some past cases, the examples captured systemic flaws. In other cases, we looked at specific bad examples. Today, we have an interesting mix.

We’ll start with an example of bad policy that is easy to mock. It focuses on the predatory interventions by a town, as illustrated by this story from Alabama.

Teens in Gardendale are in for a rude awakening this summer when it comes to cutting grass. According to the city’s ordinance, you must have a business license. Teenagers have been threatened by officials…to show their city issued license before cutting a person’s lawn for extra summer cash. Cutting grass is often one of the first jobs many have in the summer. But a business license in Gardendale costs $110. And for a job, just for a couple of months, that can be a bit extreme.

What’s really disappointing about this story is that adults are ratting out the teenagers.

I can understand that they’re irked that they pay the license fee while the kids don’t, but that’s still wrong.

“One of the men that cuts several yards made a remark to one of our neighbors, ‘that if he saw her cutting grass again that he was going to call Gardendale because she didn’t have a business license,” said Campbell. …Mayor Stan Hogeland said when operating a business for pay within the city limits, you must have a business license.

Hey, Mr. Mayor, I have a better idea. Get rid of licensing rules and give freedom a try.

If your residents want to freely contract with each other, let them. Whether they’re kids or adults.

Makes me wonder if Gardendale is one of those places that puts the boot of government on the necks of kids who set up – gasp! – unlicensed lemonade stands?

If so, I imagine Daniela Earnest and Julie Murphy can offer the mayor some useful advice.

Now let’s shift to an example of local government abuse that is more troubling. And apparently more systemic.

A column in the Washington Post reveals that local governments try to make families pay if their kids wind up in the legal system, even if they’re ultimately declared not guilty of any offense.

In dozens of one-on-one meetings every week, a lawyer retained by the city of Philadelphia summons parents whose children have just been jailed, pulls out his calculator and hands them more bad news: a bill for their kids’ incarceration. Even if a child is later proved innocent, the parents still must pay a nightly rate for the detention. Bills run up to $1,000 a month… The lawyer, Steven Kaplan…is paid up to $316,000 a year in salary and bonuses, more than any city employee, including the mayor.

I haven’t given any thought to whether families should cough up money if kids are found guilty and then incarcerated.

But I find it to be outrageous that bills are sent to families when the kids are found to be not guilty.

And let’s be honest. Such a policy is not about criminal justice. It’s about figuring out new ways of pillaging people to finance bureaucracy.

To add insult to injury, most of the families are poor, so it’s very difficult to collect revenue. Indeed, very little money is collected after paying the lawyer.

Because these parents are so often from poor communities, even the most aggressive efforts to bill them seldom bring in meaningful revenue. Philadelphia netted $551,261 from parents of delinquent children in fiscal 2016.

And when you look at the consequences for poor families, it’s hard to think this is a good policy. Especially if the kid isn’t convicted of any crime!

When parents fail to pay on time, the state can send collection agencies after them, tack on interest, garnish 50 percent of their wages, seize their bank accounts, intercept their tax refunds, suspend their driver’s licenses or charge them with contempt of court.

Here’s an example from the west coast.

When Mariana Cuevas’s son was released from a California jail, after being locked up in a juvenile hall for more than 300 days for a homicide he did not commit, the boy’s public defender, Jeffrey Landau, thought his work was done. The case had been dismissed; his client was free. But at a celebratory dinner afterward, Cuevas, a Bay Area home cleaner, pulled out a plastic bag full of bills and showed Landau that the state had tried to collect nearly $10,000 for her child’s imprisonment. …In fiscal 2014-2015, Alameda County, which contains Oakland, spent $250,938 collecting $419,830 from parents. An internal county report called that “little financial gain.”

This is astounding. Trying to pillage a poor family for $10,000 when the kid didn’t commit the crime. If you care about decency and justice, this may even be worse than civil asset forfeiture.

Let’s close with another example of easy-to-mock local government.

The New York Post reports that the city is largely incapable of getting rid of incompetent teachers. So they’re paid to sit in a room and do nothing.

In one of the “reassignment centers,” 16 exiled educators sit in a city Department of Education building in Long Island City, Queens, including a dozen packed into one room — where they do virtually no work. They listen to music, do crossword puzzles, chat — and as this exclusive Post photo reveals, doze on the taxpayer’s dime. The rules forbid beach chairs and air mattresses, but not nap time. The teacher sprawled on the floor, pulled a wool hat over his eyes to shut out the fluorescent lights and slept. Others prop up two chairs to recline or just lay their heads on the table. …the city denies the existence of the derided holding pens. “There are no more rubber rooms,” DOE officials told The Post last week, saying reassigned staffers are given “administrative duties.” …The DOE refused to say how many removed teachers and other tenured staffers remain in limbo, but sources estimate 200 to 400 get paid while awaiting disciplinary hearings. Their salaries total $15 million to $20 million a year. …They mainly just kill time to get through a six-hour, 20-minute day. “I’m so exhausted from being in this place doing nothing,” one said. Several teachers on the payroll have been benched for up to five years due to a stunning bureaucratic breakdown.

Yes, this is bureaucratic breakdown.

But if you really want to understand the story behind the story, the real problem is that the unions representing government employee unions give a lot of money to politicians. Those politicians then turn around and “negotiate” contracts that provide excessive pay to regular bureaucrats and absurd protections to bad bureaucrats.

In this case, bad teachers are removed from the classroom, but it’s very difficult to fire them. So they get paid to do nothing.

P.S. Of course, that reminds me of the standard joke that most bureaucrats get paid to do nothing. There’s even a video version of that joke.

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Several years ago, I would regularly share horror stories about innocent kids being abused by politically correct government school administrators who overreacted to anything remotely resembling a gun.

I even had a U.S. vs. U.K. stupidity contest that featured many examples of anti-gun lunacy, though Canada may actually win the prize for the most absurd case of political correctness.

But I eventually stopped sharing these types of stories because it seemed there were so many and I felt like I was making the same points over and over again.

Time for the hiatus to end. I’ve run across a handful of stories that are so preposterous that I can’t resist revisiting the issue.

Here’s our first example. A local television station in North Carolina reports that a little girl was suspended because she pretended that a stick was a gun while playing with her friends.

A local mother is outraged after her 5-year-old daughter was suspended from school because of a stick that resembled a gun. …It started Friday when her mother got a call from the principal about a playground incident. Caitlin explained that she and her two friends were using their imaginations, playing “King and Queen.” In this case, Caitlin was the guard protecting the royals and picked up the gun to imitate shooting an intruder into the kingdom. Hoke County Schools said Caitlin posed a threat to other students when she made a shooting motion, thus violating policy 4331. …Miller says Caitlin was alienated by her friends and teachers as a result of the suspension. She hopes that the school will issue some sort of apology to her daughter.

I’m not the only one who thinks this is insane.

Now for our second story.

It’s about a very dangerous 11-year old girl who – gasp!! – . A Florida television station has the details.

A South Florida couple is outraged after they said their daughter was suspended from her middle school for using a child butter knife at lunchtime to cut a peach. …Souto’s daughter is an honor roll student at Silver Trail Middle School in Pembroke Pines. …Ronald and Andrea Souto told Local 10 News reporter Michael Seiden that their 11-year-old daughter was suspended for six days for bringing the knife to school. “This is a set of a spoon, fork and knife for toddlers — one year old,” Andrea Souto said. “It is made for children to learn how to eat properly. She’s used it since she was baby.” According to the school district, the girl violated the county’s weapon policy when she used her butter knife in the cafeteria to cut the peach. …Ronald said he hopes what happened to his daughter will bring change to the district, specifically new polices when it comes to weapons.

But this rogue child didn’t just get suspended. She may become an actual criminal.

The Soutos said they were shocked about the suspension and are now concerned that their daughter’s act of kindness could lead to criminal charges. …The Pembroke Pines Police Department said it has turned over their investigation to the State Attorney’s Office. It’s unclear whether prosecutors will file charges.

Our third story comes from a St. Louis TV station and it involves a four-year old boy who was suspended for a shell casing.

Hunter, 4, has been suspended from his preschool for bringing a shell casing from a fired bullet to school. He’d been at the preschool for about a year, she said, and now was in tears. Neither she nor Hunter’s dad knew it, but he found something he thought was pretty neat and he took it to school Tuesday to show his friends. …Hunter’s parents got a letter from the school’s director saying Hunter had been suspended for 7 days. …It turns out the casing came from a visit with Hunter’s grandpa who is a Caseyville police officer, Jackson said. …The school’s vice-president e-mailed her that he was notifying the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

The last sentence is particularly chilling since DCFS bureaucrats presumably have the power to take children from their families. So imagine the horrible position of Hunter’s parents, who not only have to deal with their kid being suspended for doing nothing wrong, but also have to worry about the state kidnapping their child if some anti-gun bureaucrat woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

Our fourth and final story is courtesy of the Montgomery Advertiser in Alabama, where a teenager was expelled for a year because of a water gun.

A family is up in arms after their 16-year-old daughter was expelled from Prattville High School for having a water gun on campus. …she was banned from school property and any extra-curricular activities for the same period. …She said a male classmate handed the toy to her daughter “as a joke.” “…the second you picked it up, you know its plastic and a toy,” she said. “So we can understand the initial reaction, not knowing it wasn’t a real gun. But after the principal and school officials knew it was a water gun, things should never have progressed this far.” …The family wants any reference to the expulsion removed from Laney’s academic records, McPhillips’ letters read. …If the expulsion isn’t removed from Laney’s academic record, the family is considering filing legal action

I suppose there are two big-picture lessons to be learned.

First, it’s hard to be optimistic about the education system after reading this type of story.

If bureaucrats at government schools don’t have common sense, how can they teach reading, writing, and arithmetic?

Maybe (especially given the shocking lack of results after record levels of staffing and funding) we should break up the government school monopoly and let parents choose better-quality schools.

Second, keep in mind that anti-gun statists know they can’t win the intellectual argument against private gun ownership, so they’re trying to stigmatize anything remotely connected to guns in hopes of eventually winning the political argument.

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What federal program is most sacrosanct, even though it delivers poor results?

Those are all good answers, and you could also add housing subsidies, the drug war, and lot of other example to the list of programs that enjoy lots of political support even though they produce bad results.

But I’m guessing that the activity that has the greatest level of undeserved support is government intervention for “pre-K” kids, with Head Start being the most prominent example.

I haven’t written about the failure of that particular program since 2013, which is unfortunate because two of the most compelling visuals about Head Start were released in 2014.

First, this AEI research reveals that the supposed academic consensus for the program evaporates under close examination.

Second, this table from an article in National Affairs shows that the program doesn’t produce long-run benefits.

Yet these empirical results don’t seem to influence the debate. Every year, programs such as Head Start get funded because politicians only seem to care about intentions.

And positive headlines for themselves, of course. After all, we’re supposed to believe that they care about kids because they spend other people’s money on programs with nice goals.

With this as background, now let’s zoom in on a specific example of how supposedly good intentions in this field translate into occupational restrictions that have very bad results for the less fortunate people in society.

The Washington Post reports that the city’s local government has decided that additional regulation is needed to boost the quality of programs for pre-K kids.

More than a decade after Washington, D.C., set out to create the most comprehensive public preschool system in the country, the city is directing its attention to overhauling the patchwork of programs that serve infants and toddlers.  The new regulations put the District at the forefront of a national effort to improve the quality of care and education for the youngest learners. City officials want to address an academic achievement gap between children from poor and middle-class families that research shows is already evident by the age of 18 months.

And what exactly did the city government propose to achieve these nice-sounding goals?

They’ve imposed “new licensing regulations…for child-care centers” that will mandate college degrees.

The District set the minimum credential for lead teachers as an associate degree… The deadline to earn the degree is December 2020. New regulations also call for child-care center directors to earn a bachelor’s degree and for home care providers and assistant teachers to earn a CDA.

Gee, this sounds nice. Don’t we all want the best-trained staff so that we can get the best outcomes for kids?

Yes, but let’s consider costs and benefits. Especially, as noted in the article, costs that are imposed on people without a lot of money who are working at childcare centers.

…for many child-care workers, often hired with little more than a high school diploma, returning to school is a difficult, expensive proposition with questionable reward. …prospects are slim that a degree will bring a significantly higher income — a bachelor’s degree in early-childhood education yields the lowest lifetime earnings of any major.

And poor people without a lot of money who are clients of childcare centers.

Many parents in the District are maxed out, paying among the highest annual tuitions nationally, at $1,800 a month.

And taxpayers who pick up part of the cost.

…government subsidies that help fund care…and generous funding for preschool.

In other words, imposing this kind of mandate will be rather expensive, especially for lower-income Washingtonians who either work at these centers of send their children to them.

That’s the cost side of the equation. Now let’s look at the benefits.

Except there’s no real-world evidence included in the article. Instead, all we get it some theorizing.

…a 2015 report by the National Academies that says the child-care workforce has not kept pace with the science of child development and early learning. From the first days of life, learning is complex and cumulative, the report says. Infants are capable of abstract thought, forming theories about what is happening in the physical world and whom to trust. Scientists concluded that teachers need the skills and insight to offer the kinds of learning experiences that challenge them and make them feel safe. They need tools to diagnose and intervene when they see learning or emotional problems. And they need literacy skills to introduce young learners to an expansive vocabulary, exposure many children do not have at home and are not getting in day care.

Scott Shackford of Reason is appropriately skeptical about this regulatory scheme.

Scientists say that higher education for pre-school child-care workers is a good idea. So of course D.C. is going to make it mandatory that child-care workers get associate’s degrees and completely screw over an entire class of lower-skilled workers. …The news story doesn’t engage in the question of why parents can’t decide for themselves how important it is for their child-care workers to have advanced degrees. Perhaps that’s because early education advocates might not like the answers, once the realities of the likely cost increases get factored in. …such a subsidy plan would not do much for lower-income families. And so not only would poorer families be even less able to afford child care, they’re also going to be locked out of jobs within the industry itself.

Though he does identify one group that would benefit.

To be sure, this D.C. law is a jobs program—it’s a jobs program for people who work in the field of post-secondary education itself. Nothing like using a regulatory mandate to create a demand for your educational services that might not exist otherwise. The story makes it abundantly clear that advocates for increased education of child-care workers—who, wouldn’t you know it, work in the field of education—want to spread this program well beyond D.C.’s borders.

And there’s another group of beneficiaries. The new DC regulations will be good news for childcare workers who already have college degrees. That’s because the city government is using a form of licensing to force competing workers out of the market (as Scott pointed out, the new rules “screw over…lower-skilled workers”). And that means that the college-educated workers will have more ability to extract higher salaries.

Just as unions urge higher minimum-wage mandates in order to undermine competition from other workers.

In other words, this is a classic “public choice” case study of a couple of interest groups using government coercion to unfairly line their pockets.

P.S. Speaking of public choice, here’s the real-world explanation of how a bill becomes law (h/t: Imgur).

Very accurate. I especially like the variation of Mitchell’s Law at the end.

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The story of the private sector is that competition generates ever-more output in ways that bring ever-higher living standards to ever-greater numbers of people.

By contrast, the story of the government is inefficiency and waste as interest groups figure out how to grab ever-larger amounts of unmerited goodies, often while doing less and less.

In some cases, where government is doing bad things (stealing property, subsidizing big corporations, fleecing poor people, etc), I actually favor inefficiency.

Sadly, the government seems to be most inefficient in areas where we all hope for good results. Education is a powerful (and sad) example.

A story in the LA Weekly is a perfect illustration of this phenomenon.

A little more than a decade ago, something unexpected happened. The district’s enrollment, which peaked in 2004 at just under 750,000, began to drop. …Today, LAUSD’s enrollment is around 514,000, a number that the district estimates will fall below half a million by 2018.

Anyone want to guess whether this means less spending?

Of course not.

L.A. Unified’s costs have not gone down. They’ve gone up. This year’s $7.59 billion budget is half a billion dollars more than last year’s. …Today, the district has more than 60,000 employees, fewer than half of whom are teachers. …LAUSD’s administrative staff had grown 22 percent over the previous five years. Over that same period of time, the number of teachers had dropped by 9 percent.

If these trends continue, maybe we’ll get an example of “peak bureaucracy,” with a giant workforce that does absolutely nothing!

Based on his famous chart, the late Andrew Coulson probably wouldn’t be too surprised by that outcome.

There’s also lots of waste and inefficiency when Uncle Sam gets involved. With great fanfare, President Obama spent buckets of money to supposedly boost government schools. The results were predictably bad.

It was such a failure than even a story in the Washington Post admitted the money was wasted (in other words, there wasn’t enough lipstick to make the pig look attractive).

One of the Obama administration’s signature efforts in education, which pumped billions of federal dollars into overhauling the nation’s worst schools, failed to produce meaningful results, according to a federal analysis. Test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment were no different in schools that received money through the School Improvement Grants program — the largest federal investment ever targeted to failing schools — than in schools that did not. …The School Improvement Grants program…received an enormous boost under Obama. The administration funneled $7 billion into the program between 2010 and 2015… Arne Duncan, Obama’s education secretary from 2009 to 2016, said his aim was to turn around 1,000 schools every year for five years. ..The school turnaround effort, he told The Washington Post days before he left office in 2016, was arguably the administration’s “biggest bet.”

It was a “bet,” but he used our money. And he lost. Or, to be more accurate, taxpayers lost. And children lost.

Some education experts say that the administration closed its eyes to mounting evidence about the program’s problems in its own interim evaluations, which were released in the years after the first big infusion of cash. …Smarick said he had never seen such a huge investment produce zero results. …Results from the School Improvement Grants have shored up previous research showing that pouring money into dysfunctional schools and systems does not work.

Indeed, I’ve seen this movie before. Many times. Bush’s no-bureaucrat-left-behind initiative flopped. Obama’s latest initiative flopped. Common Core also failed. Various schemes at the state level to dump more money into government schools also lead to failure. Local initiative to spend more don’t lead to good results, either.

Gee, it’s almost as if a social scientist (or anybody with a greater-than-room-temperature IQ) could draw a logical conclusion from these repeated failures.

And, to be fair, some folks on the left have begun to wake up. Consider this recent study by Jonathan Rothwell, published by Brookings, which has some very sobering findings.

…the productivity of the education sector depends on the relationship between how much it generates in value—learning, in this case—relative to its costs. Unfortunately, productivity is way down. …This weak performance is even more disturbing given that the U.S. spends more on education, on a per student basis, than almost any other country. So what’s going wrong? …In primary and secondary public education, where price increases have been less dramatic, there has been a decline in bureaucratic efficiency. The number of students for every district-level administrator fell from 519 in 1980 to 365 in 2012. Principals and assistant principals managed 382 students in 1980 but only 294 in 2012.

The conclusion is stark.

Declining education productivity disproportionately harms the poor. …unlike their affluent peers, low-income parents lack the resources to overcome weak quality by home-schooling their children or hiring private tutors. Over the last 30 to 40 years, the United States has invested heavily in education, with little to show for it. The result is a society with more inequality and less economic growth; a high price.

Incidentally, even private money is largely wasted when it goes into government schools. Facebook’s founder famously donated $100 million to Newark’s schools back in 2010.

So how did that work out? As a Washington Post columnist explained, the funds that went to government schools was basically money down the toilet.

It is a story of the earnest young billionaire whose conviction that the key to fixing schools is paying the best teachers well collided with the reality of seniority protections not only written into teacher contracts but also embedded in state law.

But there is a bit of good news. Some of the money helped enable charter schools.

there is a more optimistic way to interpret the Newark experience, much of which has to do with the success of the city’s fast-growing charter schools. …The reasons are obvious. Unencumbered by bureaucracy and legacy labor costs, charters can devote far more resources to students, providing the kind of wraparound services that students like Beyah need. An analysis by Advocates for Children of New Jersey noted “a substantial and persistent achievement gap” between students at charter and traditional public schools: “For example, while 71 percent of charter school students in Newark passed third-grade language arts tests in 2013-14 — higher than the state average of 66 percent — only 41 percent of students in Newark traditional public schools passed those tests.”

The Wall Street Journal also opined about this topic.

‘What happened with the $100 million that Newark’s schools got from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg?” asks a recent headline. “Not much” is the short answer. …The Facebook founder negotiated his gift with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and then-Mayor Cory Booker in 2010, and it flowed into Newark’s public-school system shortly thereafter. The bulk of the funds supported consultants and the salaries and pensions of teachers and administrators, so the donation only reinforced the bureaucratic and political ills that have long plagued public education in the Garden State.

The editorial explains that this isn’t the first time a wealthy philanthropist squandered money on government schools.

In 1993, philanthropist Walter Annenberg sought to improve education by awarding $500 million to America’s public schools. …But the $1.1 billion in spending that resulted, thanks to matching grants, accomplished little. An assessment by the Consortium on Chicago School Research on the schools that received funds reached a dismal conclusion: “Findings from large-scale survey analyses, longitudinal field research, and student achievement test score analyses reveal that . . . there is little evidence of an overall Annenberg school improvement effect.” The report did not explain why the campaign failed, but the reason is fairly obvious: The funds wound up in the hands of the unions, administrators and political figures who created the problems in the first place.

Fortunately, not all rich people believe in wasting money. Some of them actually want to help kids succeed.

In 1998, John Walton and Ted Forstmann each gave $50 million to fund scholarships for low-income children to attend private schools. More than 140,000 students have attended schools with graduation and college matriculation rates that exceed 90% instead of going to the failing schools in their neighborhoods. Earlier this summer, hedge-fund manager John Paulson pledged $8.5 million to the Success Academy charter-school network, where 93% of students are proficient in math, compared with 35% of their traditional public-school peers. His gift will allow more such schools to open. The financier Stephen Schwarzman and his wife, Christine, a former attorney, donated $40 million to help endow the Inner-City Scholarship Fund, which provides financial aid to needy children attending Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New York.

Which is a good segue into the real lesson for today about the type of reforms that actually could boost education.

I’ve shared in the past very strong evidence about how school choice delivers better education results.

Which is what everyone should expect since competition is superior to monopoly.

Well, as explained in another Wall street Journal editorial, it also generates superior results at lower cost. Especially when you factor in the long-run benefits.

…a study shows that Milwaukee’s landmark voucher program will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. …the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a nonprofit that advocates for limited government and education reform, decided to look at the relative cost and benefits of choice schools. And, what do you know, it found that students participating in Milwaukee’s voucher program will provide the city, state and students nearly $500 million in economic benefits through 2035 thanks to higher graduation and lower crime rates. …More education translates into higher incomes, more tax revenue and a lower likelihood of reliance on government welfare or other payments. Meanwhile, greater economic opportunity also prevents young adults from turning to crime.

Wow. It’s not just that it costs less to educate children in private schools. There’s also a big long-run payoff from having more productive (and law-abiding) citizens.

That’s a real multiplier effect, unlike the nonsense we get from Keynesian stimulus schemes.

P.S. School choice doesn’t automatically mean every child will be an educational success, but evidence from SwedenChile, and the Netherlands shows good results after breaking up state-run education monopolies.

And there’s growing evidence that it also works in the limited cases where it exists in the United States.

P.P.S. Or we can just stick with the status quo, which involves spending more money, per student, than any other nation while getting dismal results.

P.P.P.S. This is a depressing post, so let’s close with a bit of humor showing the evolution of math lessons in government schools.

P.P.P.P.S. If you want some unintentional humor, the New York Times thinks that education spending has been reduced.

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While I have great fondness for some of the visuals I’ve created over the years (especially “two wagons” and “apple harvesting“), I confess that none of my creations have ever been as clear and convincing as the iconic graph on education spending and education outcomes created by the late Andrew Coulson.

I can’t imagine anyone looking at his chart and not immediately realizing that you don’t get better results by pouring more money into the government’s education monopoly.

But the edu-crat lobby acts as if evidence doesn’t matter. At the national level, the state level, and the local level, the drumbeat is the same: Give us more money if you care about kids.

So let’s build on Coulson’s chart to show why teachers’ unions and other special interests are wrong.

Gerard Robinson of the American Enterprise Institute and Professor Benjamin Scafidi from Kennesaw State University take a close look at this issue.

…education is important to the economic and social well-being of our nation, which is why it is the No. 1 line item in 41 state budgets. …Schools need extra money to help struggling students, or so goes the long-standing thinking of traditional education reformers who believe a lack of resources – teachers, counselors, social workers, technology, books, school supplies – is the problem. …a look back at the progress we’ve made under reformers’ traditional response to fixing low-performing schools – simply showering them with more money – makes it clear that this approach has been a costly failure.

And when the authors say it’s been a “costly failure,” they’re not exaggerating.

Since World War II, inflation-adjusted spending per student in American public schools has increased by 663 percent. Where did all of that money go? One place it went was to hire more personnel. Between 1950 and 2009, American public schools experienced a 96 percent increase in student population. During that time, public schools increased their staff by 386 percent – four times the increase in students. The number of teachers increased by 252 percent, over 2.5 times the increase in students. The number of administrators and other staff increased by over seven times the increase in students. …This staffing surge still exists today. From 1992 to 2014 – the most recent year of available data – American public schools saw a 19 percent increase in their student population and a staffing increase of 36 percent. This decades-long staffing surge in American public schools has been tremendously expensive for taxpayers, yet it has not led to significant changes in student achievement. For example, public school national math scores have been flat (and national reading scores declined slightly) for 17-year-olds since 1992.

By the way, the failure of government schools doesn’t affect everyone equally.

Parents with economic resources (such as high-profile politicians) can either send their kids to private schools or move to communities where government schools still maintain some standards.

But for lower-income households, their options are very limited.

Minorities disproportionately suffer, as explained by Juan Williams in the Wall Street Journal.

While 40% of white Americans age 25-29 held bachelor’s degrees in 2013, that distinction belonged to only 15% of Hispanics, and 20% of blacks. …The root of this problem: Millions of black and Hispanic students in U.S. schools simply aren’t taught to read well enough to flourish academically.  …according to a March report by Child Trends, based on 2015 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 21% of Hispanic fourth-grade students were deemed “proficient” in reading. This is bad news. A fourth-grader’s reading level is a key indicator of whether he or she will graduate from high school. The situation is worse for African-Americans: A mere 18% were considered “proficient” in reading by fourth grade.

But Juan points out that the problems aren’t confined to minority communities. The United States has a national education problem.

The problem isn’t limited to minority students. Only 46% of white fourth-graders—and 35% of fourth-graders of all races—were judged “proficient” in reading in 2015. In general, American students are outperformed by students abroad. According to the most recent Program for International Student Assessment, a series of math, science and reading tests given to 15-year-olds around the world, the U.S. placed 17th among the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries in reading.

This is very grim news, especially when you consider that the United States spends more on education – on a per-pupil basis – than any other country.

Here’s a table confirming Juan’s argument. It lacks the simple clarity of Andrew Coulson’s graph, but if you look at these numbers, it’s difficult to reach any conclusion other than we spend a lot in America and get very mediocre results.

Juan concludes his column with a plea for diversity, innovation, and competition.

For black and Hispanic students falling behind at an early age, their best hope is for every state, no matter its minority-student poverty rate, to take full responsibility for all students who aren’t making the grade—and get those students help now. That means adopting an attitude of urgency when it comes to saving a child’s education. Specifically, it requires cities and states to push past any union rules that protect underperforming schools and bad teachers. Urgency also means increasing options for parents, from magnet to charter schools. Embracing competition among schools is essential to heading off complacency based on a few positive signs. American K-12 education is in trouble, especially for minority children, and its continuing neglect is a scandal.

He’s right, but he should focus his ire on his leftist friends and colleagues. They’re the ones (including the NAACP!) standing in the proverbial schoolhouse door and blocking the right kind of education reform.

P.S. This is a depressing post, so let’s close with a bit of humor showing the evolution of math lessons in government schools.

P.P.S. If you want some unintentional humor, the New York Times thinks that education spending has been reduced.

P.P.P.S. Shifting to a different topic, another great visual (which also happens to be the most popular item I’ve ever shared on International Liberty) is the simple image properly defining the enemies of liberty and progress.

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I’ve explained many times that an economy’s wealth and output depend on the quantity and quality of labor and capital and how effectively those two factors of production are combined.

Let’s look today on the labor portion of that formula. And since I’ve already expressed my concerns about the quantity of labor that is being productively utilized, now let’s focus on the quality of labor. In other words, we’ll look at the degree to which the workforce has the skills, knowledge, and ethics to be productive.

This is why education is very important, but also why we have big reasons to be concerned in the United States. Consider, for instance, the late Andrew Coulson’s famous (and discouraging) chart. It shows that politicians routinely increase the amount of money that’s being spent (on a per-student basis, American schools get more funding than any other nation), yet student test scores are both mediocre and flat.

But that’s just part of the story. We also have the national disgrace of substandard education for minority communities.

Here’s some of what Walter Williams wrote about the scandalous failure of government schools to produce quality education for minority children.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, sometimes called the Nation’s Report Card, nationally, most black 12th-graders’ test scores are either basic or below basic in reading, writing, math and science. “Below basic” is the score received when a student is unable to demonstrate even partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at his grade level. “Basic” indicates only partial mastery. Put another way, the average black 12th-grader has the academic achievement level of the average white seventh- or eighth-grader. …In terms of public policy, what to do? …Many black parents want a better education and safer schools for their children. The way to deliver on that desire is to offer parents alternatives to poorly performing and unsafe public schools. Expansion of charter schools is one way to provide choice. The problem is that charter school waiting lists number in the tens of thousands. In Philadelphia, for example, there are 22,000 families on charter school waiting lists. Charter school advocates estimate that nationally, over 1 million parents are on charter school waiting lists.

The above excerpt from Walter’s column is scandalous.

The excerpt that follows is nauseating.

The National Education Association and its political and civil rights organization handmaidens preach that we should improve, not abandon, public schools. Such a position is callous deceit, for many of them have abandoned public schools. Let’s look at it. Nationwide, about 12 percent of parents have their children enrolled in private schools. In Chicago, 44 percent of public-school teachers have their own children enrolled in private schools. In Philadelphia, it’s also 44 percent. In Baltimore, it’s 35 percent, and in San Francisco, it’s 34 percent. That ought to tell us something. …Politicians who fight against school choice behave the way teachers do. Fifty-two percent of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who have school-age children have them enrolled in private schools.

By the way, what happens when ordinary black children have a chance to escape the government’s monopoly school system?

Thomas Sowell has opined on the amazingly positive results that occur when black children have this opportunity.

We keep hearing that “black lives matter,” but they seem to matter only when that helps politicians to get votes… What about black success? Does that matter? Apparently not so much. We have heard a lot about black students failing to meet academic standards. So you might think that it would be front-page news when…ghetto schools not only meet, but exceed, the academic standards of schools in more upscale communities. …Only 39 percent of all students in New York state schools who were tested recently scored at the “proficient” level in math, but 100 percent of the students at the Crown Heights Success Academy school scored at that level in math. Blacks and Hispanics are 90 percent of the students in the Crown Heights Success Academy. The Success Academy schools in general ranked in the top 2 percent in English and in the top 1 percent in math. …Black students in these Success Academy schools reached the “proficient” level more than twice as often as black students in the regular public schools. What makes this all the more amazing is that these charter schools are typically located in the same ghettos or barrios where other blacks or Hispanics are failing miserably on the same tests. More than that, successful charter schools are often physically housed in the very same buildings as the unsuccessful public schools.

But Prof. Sowell echoes the point Prof. Williams made about poor children being trapped in bad schools because of limits on school choice.

If black success was considered half as newsworthy as black failures, such facts would be headline news — and people who have the real interests of black and other minority students at heart would be asking, “Wow! How can we get more kids into these charter schools?” …minority parents have already taken notice. More than 43,000 families are on waiting lists to get their children into charter schools. But admission is by lottery, and far more have to be turned away than can be admitted. Why? Because the teachers’ unions are opposed to charter schools — and they give big bucks to politicians, who in turn put obstacles and restrictions on the expansion of charter schools. …If you want to understand this crazy and unconscionable situation, just follow the money and follow the votes. Black success is a threat to political empires and to a whole social vision behind those empires. That social vision has politicians like Bill de Blasio and Hillary Clinton cast in the role of rescuers and protectors of blacks.

Notwithstanding everything written up to this point, the purpose of today’s column isn’t to argue in favor of school choice.

Yes, that’s critical for the nation and vitally important for minority advancement.

But I want to focus instead on the question of why school choice hasn’t become the civil rights issue of the 21st century. And to be even more specific, I want to explore the scandalous decision by some people at the NAACP to betray black children.

The Wall Street Journal opined about this topic today.

The outfit that helped end segregation in public education now works to trap poor and minority kids in dysfunctional schools. Last month the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People introduced a resolution at its national convention in Cincinnati calling for a moratorium on charter schools… The resolution must be formally adopted at a board meeting later this year.

Here’s some very relevant data.

Some 28% of charter-school students are black, which is almost double the figure for traditional public schools. A report last year from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that across 41 urban areas black students in charters gained on average 36 extra days in math learning a year and 26 in reading… Black students in poverty notched 59 more days in math. This is the definition of “advancement.” …A 2013 poll of black voters in four southern states by the Black Alliance for Educational Options found that at least 85% agreed that “government should provide parents with as many choices as possible.” …Another sign of support is the hundreds of thousands of black students nationwide who sign up for lotteries for a seat at a charter.

The conclusion is very unflattering.

The group’s real motive is following orders from its teacher-union patrons. …The National Education Association dropped $100,000 in 2014 for a partnership with the NAACP.

Jason Russell of the Washington Examiner was similarly scathing about the NAACP’s actions.

One of the few education reforms that has actually succeeded in helping African-American students get a better education is school choice, especially the growth of public charter schools. So it didn’t make much sense, to put it kindly, when the NAACP approved a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools. …Jacqueline Cooper, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, told the Washington Examiner that…”The fact that the NAACP wants a national moratorium on charter schools, many of which offer a high-quality education to low-income and working-class black children, is inexplicable,”…Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, also criticized the NAACP in a statement. “The public charter school moratorium put forward at this year’s NAACP convention does a disservice to communities of color,” Jeffries said. …Steve Perry, founder and head of Capital Preparatory Schools,…said the national group is “out of touch even with their own chapters … This is more proof that the NAACP has been mortgaged by the teachers union and they keep paying y’all to say what they want to say.”

Since this has been a depressing topic, let’s end with an uplifting video from Reason TV about the success of various models of charter schools.

P.S. Even though I’m not partisan, I understand that coalition politics are important. Reagan, for instance, had his three-legged stool of small-government libertarians, social conservatives, and military/foreign policy hawks. All three groups were united in the belief that their respective goals could be advanced by Reagan, even if they bickered with each other about the relative importance of various issues and occasionally had fights with each other (one of my first battles in Washington was advocating for a sequester during Reagan’s second term over the objections of the hawks, a battle that was repeated back in 2013).

With this in mind (and especially since the teacher unions bring a lot of campaign money to the table), I definitely understand why Democratic politicians are willing to sacrifice the interests of black families and their children by opposing education reform. I even partially understand why the NAACP feels pressure to accommodate the demands of teacher unions (and I fully understand, from the perspective of coalition politics, why the NAACP made absurd accusations against the Tea Party).

But surely there must be a point where coalition politics has to take second place and the interests of black families should be in first place (an issue addressed in another great video from Reason).

P.P.S. Some folks on the left are willing to break ranks. Jonathan Alter wrote about charter schools for the Daily Beast. Here are some excerpts.

…the backlash against education reform among liberals who should know better has been disheartening. …the top quintile of charters—the highly effective ones run by experienced and widely-respected charter operators—not only beat traditional public schools serving students in the same demographic cohorts, they often outperform them by 20, 30, or even 50 points on many metrics.

He cites New Orleans as an example.

New Orleans is a good example of where charters, which now educate 95 percent of New Orleans public school students, are working. A decade ago, New Orleans had the worst schools in the country…The results in New Orleans are impressive. Over the last decade, graduation rates have surged from 54 percent to 73 percent, and college enrollment after graduation from 37 percent to 59 percent. (There’s also a new emphasis on helping those who attend college to complete it.) Before Katrina, 62 percent of schools were failing. Today, it’s 6 percent. The biggest beneficiaries have been African-American children, who make up 85 percent of New Orleans enrollment. The high school graduation rate nationally for black students is 59 percent. In New Orleans, it’s 65 percent, which is also much higher than the state average. Test scores are still low overall, but thousands more African-American students are taking the ACTs and doing better on them.

And even Newark.

In Newark, where 25 percent of students attend charter schools, the percentage of African-Americans choosing charters is closer to 50 percent in some grade levels. Contrary to the claim that charters succeed only by “skimming” or “creaming” the students from more stable and middle-class families, Newark’s charters enroll a higher percentage of poor students than district schools.CREDO numbers show Newark charter school students gaining the equivalent of more than five months per year in performance in reading and math—a huge advantage over their counterparts in district schools. The percentage of black students in Newark who are doing better than the state average for African-Americans has more than doubled.

I guess this means I’ll have to add Mr. Alter to my collection of honest leftists.

As for the NAACP, I can’t even imagine how the advocates of the resolution can look at themselves in the mirror.

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“So many bad ideas, so little time.”

That’s my attitude about Hillary Clinton. She proposes misguided policies at such a rapid rate that I feel like I’m having to spend too much of each day trying to correct all the economic mistakes that emanate from her and her campaign.

For the fifth time over the last seven days (see other examples here, here, here, and here), I feel obliged to do it again.

Our topic is her proposal to increase handouts, subsidies, and bailouts for colleges and universities.

Here’s a brief interview I just did on the topic. Our discussion had to be abruptly ended because of what the industry calls a “hard break,” but I got out my main points that 1) subsidies benefit college bureaucracies rather than students and 2) that Hillary’s ostensible reforms will make things worse.

By the way, I can’t resist chuckling about the main assertion put forth by Alan Colmes. He thought it would be effective to point out that some of the handouts started under President George W. Bush.

But so what?!? The fact that a bad policy originated under a Republican before being expanded by a Democrat doesn’t somehow turn a pig’s ear into a silk purse.

Also, just in case you’re curious about what I was planning to say when the interview was cut off. I was going to point out that I agreed with Alan about President Bush’s role, but I was going to say that was additional evidence (given Bush’s overall statist record while president) against what Hillary is proposing.

And then, my additional point was going to be that it’s a very bad idea to allow loan forgiveness just for former students who become bureaucrats (i.e., go into “public service”). For Heaven’s sake, people who get government jobs already are getting far higher compensation than taxpayers in the private sector. Needless to say, it’s not a good idea to make a life of bureaucratic indolence even more attractive.

But let’s return to the bigger issue of why it’s misguided to have bailouts, subsidies, and handouts for higher education. If you want the opinions of a real expert on this issue, Charlie Sykes has a column on the topic in the Wall Street Journal.

Hillary Clinton’s plan for higher education is simple: a massive bailout wrapped in the promise of free tuition and relief from student loans. It’s a proposal that seems specifically designed to further inflate the higher-education bubble, while relieving the college-industrial complex of any pressure to reform. …College today costs too much, takes too long and offers dubious value to too many students. For decades, the price of a degree has risen much faster than the rate of inflation. …schools are spending more than ever on administration, promotions, athletics and noninstructional student services. The New England Center for Investigative Reporting and the American Institutes for Research found that between 1987 and 2012, colleges added 517,636 administrators and professional employees, creating a ratio at public colleges of two non-academic staffers for every full-time, tenure-track faculty member.

The current system has been bad news for students, who – thanks to subsidy-induced increases in tuition and fees – have been trapped on a treadmill.

Mr Sykes elaborates.

If the student finances the bill with loans, it’s more like buying a Lamborghini on credit—and then driving it off a cliff. Total student-loan debt has hit $1.3 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve, exceeding both the nation’s credit-card debt and its auto loans. Two-thirds of students now borrow to pay for their education, up from 45% in 1993, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data. At the end of 2014 the average student-loan borrower owed $26,700,according to analysts at the New York Fed, while 4% owed $100,000 or more.

More giveaways from government may seem like a good idea for students, but that’s only made possible by instead hurting taxpayers.

And students almost surely will suffer as well when you consider the indirect effects of this intervention.

Forgiving student debt or providing “free” tuition, with no new accountability measures, will only worsen today’s problems for future generations. The multibillion-dollar bailout Mrs. Clinton has proposed would only shift the costs of higher education to taxpayers, many of whom have not had the benefit of college. The Democratic nominee’s plan would also encourage more students to make poor educational choices by creating the illusion that college is free.

By the way, it’s very important to note that taxpayers are getting a rotten deal.

We’ve had lots more spending in recent decades, but no actual improvement in education.

Over the past five decades, billions in state and federal subsidies have contributed significantly to the exploding cost of higher education by making it easier for colleges to justify outrageous amenities. “Free” tuition will only further distort the incentives. …there is little evidence that additional spending has enhanced the value of the college degree. In a 2014 academic study of collegiate spending, economists Robert E. Martin and R. Carter Hill noted that research universities had cumulatively spent more than half a trillion dollars from 1987 to 2005. “There should be evidence of higher quality at these investment levels,” they wrote. Instead, “completion rates declined, grade inflation increased, students spend less time studying, adult numeracy/literacy rates declined, and critical thinking skills did not improve.”

Amen.

Indeed, this is exactly what we’ve seen in K-12 education.

Someone (more clever than me) needs to come up with the collegiate equivalent of this famous chart from the late Andrew Coulson.

We already know that the United States spends more per student on K-12 education than any other nation and gets mediocre results . That’s probably mostly due to the inefficient monopoly structure of elementary and secondary education.

The problems at the collegiate level are third-party payer and the inevitable negative effects of bureaucratic bloat and inefficiency.

The bottom line is that Hillary is right when she says higher-education spending is an investment. The problem is that she likes making investments that generate negative returns.

P.S. You won’t be surprised to learn that Paul Krugman also approves of investments with negative returns.

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Normally, leftists get upset if there’s a big industry that charges high prices, engages in lots of featherbedding, and manipulates the political system for handouts.

But for some reason, when the industry is higher education, folks like Hillary Clinton think the answer is to shower colleges and universities with ever-greater subsidies.

She says the subsidies are for students, but I point out in this interview that the real beneficiaries are the schools that simply boost tuition and fees to capture any increase in student loans.

And I also pointed out that the colleges and universities don’t even use the money wisely.

Instead, they build bureaucratic empires with ever-larger numbers of administrators while money devoted to the classroom shrinks.

Sort of a pay-more-get-less business model.

Though that only works when there are government subsidies to enable the inefficiency and bloat.

But don’t take my word for it. According to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (h/t: James Pethokoukis), tuition subsidies get captured by colleges and universities.

With all factors present, net tuition increases from $6,100 to $12,559 [and] the demand shocks — which consist mostly of changes in financial aid — account for the lion’s share of the higher tuition. …These results accord strongly with the Bennett hypothesis, which asserts that colleges respond to expansions of financial aid by increasing tuition. In fact, the tuition response completely crowds out any additional enrollment that the financial aid expansion would otherwise induce, resulting instead in an enrollment decline… Furthermore, the students who do enroll take out $6,876 in loans compared to $4,663 in the initial steady state. The college, in turn, uses these funds to finance an increase of investment expenditures from $21,550 to $27,338… Lastly, the model predicts that demand shocks in isolation generate a surge in the default rate from 17% to 32%. Essentially, demand shocks lead to higher college costs and more debt, and in the absence of higher labor market returns, more loan default inevitably occurs. …Our model also suggests that financial aid increases tuition at the bottom of the tuition distribution more so than it does at the top.

By the way, I closed the above interview by stating that I want to make colleges and universities at least partially liable if students don’t pay back their loans because that will create a better incentive structure.

Two scholars from the American Enterprise Institute addressed this issue in an article for National Review.

Just as government-subsidized easy money fueled a real-estate bubble in the 1990s and 2000s, boosting house prices while promoting unwise borrowing and lending, today government-subsidized easy money is fueling an education bubble — boosting tuition rates and reducing students’ incentives to choose education options smartly. …Like the brokers who caused the subprime-mortgage crisis, colleges push naïve students to take on debt regardless of their ability to repay, because colleges bear no cost when graduates default. A true solution requires a new financing system where colleges retain “skin in the game.”

The authors point out that default and delinquency are very common, but they point out that this is merely a symptom of a system with screwed-up incentives.

The high delinquency rate is a symptom of a wider problem — a broken higher-education system. Colleges are paid tuition regardless of whether their alumni succeed. They face little incentive to control costs when those costs can be passed on to students who fund them with government-guaranteed loans that are available regardless of the students’ ability to repay.

It’s not just whether they have an incentive to control costs. The current approach gives them carte blanche to waste money and jack up tuition and fees.

Between 1975 and 2015, the real cost of attending a private college increased by 171 percent while the real cost of public universities rose by 150 percent. If the tuition, room and board, and other fees at a four-year private college in 1975 were projected forward to 2015, adjusting for the average inflation rate, the cost of college in 2015 would have been $16,213. Instead, the actual cost in 2015 was $43,921. A large share of rising college costs can be attributed to expanded administration, new non-educational services, athletic programs, and government regulation. Colleges have economized by switching to part-time adjunct faculty. The American Association of University Professors estimates that roughly 3 out of 4 college courses are taught by adjuncts.

Amen. This is what I mean by the pay-more-get-less business model.

The solution, of course, it to make fat and lazy college administrators have to worry that their budgets will shrink if they continue to jack up tuition while providing sub-par education.

The key to controlling costs and student-debt burdens is to require colleges themselves to have “skin in the game” so they have strong incentives not only to provide a good education, but also to safeguard the financial solvency of their graduates. …With “skin in the game,” colleges will face pressure to control unnecessary costs and limit student indebtedness. Colleges will redouble their efforts to ensure that students graduate with the skills necessary to succeed in the job market. Resources will no longer be freely available for unnecessary non-educational university spending.

The bottom line is that bad things happen when the visible foot of the government supplants the invisible hand of the market.

That’s what I basically was trying to say in the interview when I made the crack about a reverse Midas touch whenever there is government intervention.

The solution, of course, is to phase out the subsidies that have created the problem.

But (just as is the case with healthcare) that’s a challenge because of the inefficiency that is now built into the system. Consumers will be worried that tuition and fees will remain high, which will mean higher out-of-pockets costs for college.

So while I understand why politicians will be reluctant to address the issue, the longer they wait, the worse the problem will become.

P.S. This video from Learn Liberty, featuring Professor Daniel Lin, is a great (albeit depressing) introduction to the issue of how government handouts lead to higher tuition.

P.P.S. Is there a “bubble” in higher education? While government intervention and handouts definitely have enabled needlessly high tuition, I’ve explained that those high prices will probably be permanent so long as the subsidies continue.

P.P.P.S. Unsurprisingly, Paul Krugman doesn’t understand the issue.

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While there are many things I admire about Scandinavian nations, I’ve never understood why leftists such as Bernie Sanders think they are great role models.

Not only are income levels and living standards higher in the United States, but the data show that Americans of Swedish origin in America have much higher incomes than the Swedes who still live in Sweden. And the same is true for other Nordic nations.

The Nordics-to-Nordics comparisons seem especially persuasive because they’re based on apples-to-apples data. What other explanation can there be, after all, if the same people earn more and produce more when government is smaller?

The same point seems appropriate when examining how people of Chinese origin earn very high incomes in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United States (all places with reasonably high levels of economic liberty), but are relatively poor in China (where there is still far too much government control over economic affairs).

Again, what possible explanation is there other than the degree of economic freedom?

Let’s now look at two other examples of how leftist arguments fall apart when using apples-to-apples comparisons.

A few years ago, there was a major political fight in Wisconsin over the power of unionized government bureaucracies. State policy makers eventually succeeded in curtailing union privileges.

Some commentators groused that this would make Wisconsin more like non-union Texas. And the Lone Star States was not a good role model for educating children, according to Paul Krugman.

This led David Burge (a.k.a., Iowahawk) to take a close look at the numbers to see which state actually did a better job of educating students. And when you compare apples to apples, it turns out that Longhorns rule and Badgers drool.

…white students in Texas perform better than white students in Wisconsin, black students in Texas perform better than black students in Wisconsin, Hispanic students in Texas perform better than Hispanic students in Wisconsin. In 18 separate ethnicity-controlled comparisons, the only one where Wisconsin students performed better than their peers in Texas was 4th grade science for Hispanic students (statistically insignificant), and this was reversed by 8th grade. Further, Texas students exceeded the national average for their ethnic cohort in all 18 comparisons; Wisconsinites were below the national average in 8… Not only did white Texas students outperform white Wisconsin students, the gap between white students and minority students in Texas was much less than the gap between white and minority students in Wisconsin. In other words, students are better off in Texas schools than in Wisconsin schools – especially minority students.

This is what I call a devastating debunking.

Though Krugman routinely invites mockery, and I’ve enjoyed exposing his disingenuous, sloppy, and dishonest use of data on issues such as Obamanomics, California jobs, American fiscal policy, Greek economics, U.S. and U.K. austerity, German fiscal policy, Estonian economics, British fiscal policy, inflation, European austerity, the financial crisis, and the Heritage Foundation.

Gee, with all these examples, I wonder if there’s a pattern?

Our second example showing the value of apples-to-apples comparisons deals with gun control.

Writing for PJ Media, Clayton Cramer compares murder rates in adjoining American states and Canadian provinces. he starts by acknowledging that a generic US-v.-Canada comparison might lead people to think gun rights are somehow a factor in more deaths.

…for Canada as a whole, murder rates are still considerably lower than for the United States as a whole. For 2011, Canada had 1.73 homicides per 100,000 people; the United States had 4.8 murders and non-negligent homicides per 100,000 people.

But he then makes comparisons that suggest guns are not a relevant factor.

…look at murder rates for Canadian provinces and compare them to their immediate American state neighbors. When you do that, you discover some very curious differences that show gun availability must be either a very minor factor in determining murder rates, or if it is a major factor, it is overwhelmed by factors that are vastly more important.

Gun ownership is easy and widespread in Idaho, for instance, but murder rates are lower than in many otherwise similar Canadian provinces.

I live in Idaho.  In 2011, our murder rate was 2.3 per 100,000 people.  We have almost no gun-control laws here. You need a permit to carry concealed in cities, but nearly anyone who may legally own a firearm and is over 21 can get that permit.  We are subject to the federal background check on firearms, but otherwise there are no restrictions. Do you want a machine gun? And yes, I mean a real machine gun, not a semiautomatic AR-15. There is the federal paperwork required, but the state imposes no licensing of its own.  I have friends with completely legal full-automatic Thompson submachine guns. Surely with such lax gun-control laws, our murder rate must be much higher than our Canadian counterparts’ rate. But this is not the case: I was surprised to find that not only Nunavut (21.01) and the Northwest Territories (6.87) in Canada had much higher murder rates than Idaho, but even Nova Scotia (2.33), Manitoba (4.24), Saskatchewan (3.59), and Alberta (2.88) had higher murder rates.

The same is true for other states (all with laws that favor gun ownership) that border Canada.

What about Minnesota? It had 1.4 murders per 100,000 in 2011, lower than not only all those prairie provinces, but even lower than Canada as a whole.  Montana had 2.8 murders per 100,000, still better than four Canadian provinces and one Canadian territory.  When you get to North Dakota, another one of these American states with far less gun control than Canada, the murder rate is 3.5 per 100,000, still lower than Manitoba, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.  And let me emphasize that Minnesota, Montana, and North Dakota, like Idaho, are all shall-issue concealed-weapon permit states: nearly any adult without a felony conviction or a domestic violence misdemeanor conviction can obtain a concealed weapon permit with little or no effort.

The takeaway from this evidence (as well as other evidence I have shared) is that availability of guns doesn’t cause murders.

Other factors dominate.

P.S. Regarding the gun control data shared above, some leftists might be tempted to somehow argue that American states with cold weather somehow are less prone to violence. That doesn’t make sense since the Canadian provinces presumably are even colder. Moreover, that argument conflicts with this bit of satire comparing murder rates in chilly Chicago and steamy Houston.

P.P.S. In his role as Iowahawk, David Burge has produced some great political satire, including extortion by Obama’s teleprompter, the bible according to Obama, mockery of the Obama campaign’s life-of-Julia moocher, and (my favorite) the video about a government-designed car.

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When I accuse my left-wing friends of deciding policy on the basis of feelings, intentions, and ideology, that’s not because I think those are bad motives.

After all, I’m also guided by many of these factors. I have empathy for others, especially the disadvantaged. My goals are to have a more peaceful and prosperous society. And I’m guided by the libertarian non-aggression principle.

What makes libertarians different is that we also think evidence matters. For instance, I like lower taxes and believe that the right kind of tax cuts produce revenue feedback, but I openly admit that the vast majority of tax cuts nonetheless lose revenue.

And I’m even willing to admit that some types of government spending may be associated with better economic performance.

Leftists, by contrast, seem very dogmatic. Government is good, they reflexively think, so more government is always better. And because they’re so committed to bigger government, they are prone to cross the line from fact to exaggeration and then from exaggeration to untruth.

For instance, when an article in the New York Times asserted that “public schools are starved of funding” back in 2012, I couldn’t help but point out that this was utter, complete, and ridiculous nonsense.

Leftists also think that higher education is starved of funding, which is perversely ironic since they created all the subsidies and handouts that have given colleges and universities carte blanche to dramatically increase tuition and fees.

As you might expect, any effort to restrain government spending on higher education is treated like the end of the world. Paul Krugman, for instance, claims that there’s not enough money being diverted to finance the school where he teaches.

Here’s some of what he recently wrote in the New York Times.

Governor Cuomo’s sudden proposal, seemingly out the blue, to cut half a billion dollars in state funding for CUNY and shift the burden to the city…would be a terrible idea. …CUNY as an institution is doing such obvious good, especially in an era of growing inequality and hardening class lines, that it’s hard to understand why anyone who isn’t the hardest of hard-line conservatives would want to undermine it. …If you look at the student body today, you see a portrait of the American dream in action: hundreds of thousands of students, roughly 40 percent of whom are their family’s first generation in college, come from households with income less than $20,000, or both, all getting an affordable education that leaves them far less burdened by debt than all too many of their contemporaries.

But it’s absurd to argue that politicians have been stingy with taxpayer funding of higher education. There have been large increases in recent decades.

Indeed, politicians have created a third-party-payer-fueled explosion in college costs because of all the subsidies and handouts.

Here are the federal numbers, as calculated by the College Board. And keep in mind these are inflation-adjusted numbers.

And here are the state numbers, also in real dollars.

To be fair, Krugman’s specific complaint is about the amount of money being spent on CUNY, so it’s possible that this institution is the exception that proves the rule.

But I would be utterly shocked if the long-run numbers showed that CUNY was being weaned off the dole. Indeed, if anybody can show a reduction (even using inflation-adjusted numbers) in the amount of government-provided handouts to CUNY over the past 10 or 20 years, I’ll commit to doing something utterly disgusting and unpleasant, such as posting a picture of myself wearing a Florida Gators cap.

It’s not just that statists are wrong about the amount of spending on education. They also appear to be remarkably unconcerned about the quality of such expenditures. For all intents and purposes, they fixate on inputs and are oblivious to outputs.

For instance, we know that a big chunk of the additional money that’s been funneled to colleges and universities has been used for bureaucratic empire building rather than classroom instruction.

One would think that this would upset folks like Krugman, at least if he’s serious about what he wrote about places such as CUNY being a “portrait of the American dream in action.”

But good luck finding a column where he criticizes a bureaucracy for squandering money. That would not be consistent with a polemical career based on feelings, intentions, and ideology.

By the way, this isn’t the first time that Krugman has pushed an agenda that’s inconsistent with real-world evidence.

  • Earlier this year, Krugman asserted that America was outperforming Europe because our fiscal policy was more Keynesian, yet the data showed that the United States had bigger spending reductions and less red ink.
  • Last year, he asserted that a supposed “California comeback” in jobs somehow proved my analysis of a tax hike was wrong, yet only four states at the time had a higher unemployment rate than California.
  • And here’s my favorite: In 2012, Krugman engaged in the policy version of time travel by blaming Estonia’s 2008 recession on spending cuts that took place in 2009.

And if you enjoyed those examples, you can find more of the same by clicking here,here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

P.S. For what it’s worth, I think libertarians are very intellectually honest. Most of us think that government should be providing national defense and legal protection, for instance, but that doesn’t stop us from pointing out that the Pentagon wastes money or that local police forces can be inefficient or unjust.

Unlike leftists, we go out of our way to demand accountability and performance from government, especially for programs we think are necessary.

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I’ve put together a collection of political cartoons that show government as a bloated, clumsy, and sometimes malicious person.

This isn’t because of any special animus, but rather because the unintended consequences of government intervention are almost always harmful.

Consider the issue of higher education. Politicians start with the warm and fuzzy notion that it would be good to help more people go to college. So they create loans and grants to help them pay for tuition.

Sounds nice and noble, right? And just think of the votes that can be harvested from grateful parents!

So is this a win-win situation for both politicians and students? Well, let’s look at the real-world results.

As explained in this video, there’s a lot of evidence that these loans and grants are the reason that higher education is now far more expensive (just as there is powerful data showing that subsidies lead to higher costs in other areas as well).

And additional research is confirming this concern. A new study by Professor Grey Gordon of Indiana University and Professor Aaron Hedlund of the University of Missouri finds that government subsidies for higher education wind up benefiting colleges and universities and hurting students.

Here are the key findings.

We develop a quantitative model of higher education to test explanations for the steep rise in college tuition between 1987 and 2010. …We measure how much changes in underlying costs, reforms to the Federal Student Loan Program (FSLP), and changes in the college earnings premium have caused tuition to increase. All these changes combined generate a 106% rise in net tuition between 1987 and 2010, which more than accounts for the 78% increase seen in the data. Changes in the FSLP alone generate a 102% tuition increase.

Robby Soave of Reason reports on the new research.

…skyrocketing college tuition costs are the result of all-too-generous student loan policies. The study, authored by Grey Gordon and Aaron Hedlund, used a computer model to measure the effects of various economic forces on college costs. According to the model, no factor had more to do with rising tuition prices than loan subsidies. “Looking at individual factors, we find that expansions in borrowing limits drive 40% of the tuition jump and represent the single most important factor,” wrote the study’s authors. In fact, the “Bennett hypothesis”—the idea, first proposed by President Ronald Reagan’s Education Secretary William Bennett, that increasing student aid encourages colleges to jack up prices—fully explains all the tuition increases between 1987 and 2010, according to the study. …A recent study by the New York Federal Reserve reached a similar, albeit less dramatic, conclusion regarding the link between loans and tuition.

Regarding the study from the N.Y. Fed, here’s Robby’s report on that research.

The bottom line is that politicians want us to believe that subsidies are needed because college is getting more expensive. But what’s really happening is that college is getting more costly because of the subsidies!

Now let’s move to a separate question. We know that colleges and universities are getting a big windfall as a result of students loans and other subsidies. So how are they spending the money?

Not very well, according to researchers.

And that’s probably because much of this money is mostly being wasted on more bureaucracy. Here’s a chart showing trends in recent years.

Even more depressing, the research also shows that all this spending doesn’t improve human capital, so there’s a negative impact on overall economic performance.

P.S. Politicians who complain about “cuts” in spending for higher education are either dishonest or ignorant.

P.P.S. Speaking of which, Hillary Clinton’s plan for higher education is a recipe to enable even higher costs for colleges and universities.

P.P.P.S. Some folks hope that there’s a soon-to-pop bubble in higher education, which means that tuition will soon become more affordable. But I’m worried that higher education is more like health care rather than housing, which means that prices will climb even higher over time.

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Over the past few years, Hillary Clinton has taken advantage of several opportunities to demonstrate that she doesn’t understand economics.

Though that’s not a problem. I have friends who routinely demonstrate their economic ignorance by saying things that don’t make sense.

The problem is that Hillary may actually wind up in a position of power. So there’s a danger that the entire nation could be victimized because of her disregard of the laws of supply and demand.

Let’s look at a fresh example. The New York Times has a story about Ms. Clinton’s latest effort to bribe people with their own money.

Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday will propose major new spending by the federal government that would help undergraduates pay tuition at public colleges without needing loans. …her proposals…would cost $350 billion over 10 years…about $175 billion in grants would go to states that guarantee that students would not have to take out loans to cover tuition at four-year public colleges and universities.

To make matters worse, some of this money would be used to bribe states into additional spending (sort of the higher-education version of Obamacare’s Medicaid scam).

In return for the money, states would have to end budget cuts to increase spending over time on higher education, while also working to slow the growth of tuition, though the plan does not require states to cap it.

And to make matters even worsier (yes, that’s a made-up word, but it seems appropriate), there’s a big tax increase to finance Ms. Clinton’s new scheme.

Mrs. Clinton would pay for the plan by capping the value of itemized deductions that wealthy families can take on their tax returns.

I don’t like distortionary tax preferences, but loopholes should be eliminated as part of a shift to a low-rate flat tax, not to finance the vote-buying schemes of the crowd in Washington.

But let’s set aside the concerns about fiscal policy and focus on what Clinton’s plan would mean for higher education.

And we’ll start with a thought experiment. Imagine you sold cars and the government decided to give people lots of money to buy your products. In the world of economics, this causes the “demand curve” to shift to the right.

Now answer a simple question: Would car prices under this policy (a) increase, or (b) decrease?

The obvious answer is (a). That’s certainly what has happened in the healthcare sector because of programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. That also happened in housing last decade thanks to bad monetary policy and corrupt Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac subsidies.

Moreover, there’s lots of evidence that the same thing already has happened with higher education. And now there’s new research that reaches the same conclusion.

As pointed out by the Wall Street Journal, recent scholarly data confirms that colleges and universities jack up prices to capture the additional subsidies.

Politicians…their solutions—cheap loans and taxpayer cash—end up increasing the cost of a degree. The latest evidence that schools jack up tuition to absorb federal money comes in a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. …The Fed researchers looked at how colleges responded when Congress bumped up per pupil aid limits between 2006 and 2008. Sure enough, students took out more loans, but universities gobbled up most of the money. Ohio University economist Richard Vedder connected these dots a decade ago, estimating in 2006 that every dollar of grant aid raised tuition 35 cents. He now looks prescient. The New York Fed study found that for every new dollar a college receives in Direct Subsidized Loans, a school raises its price by 65 cents. For every dollar in Pell Grants, a college raises tuition by 55 cents. This is one reason tuition has outpaced inflation every year for decades, while the average borrower now finishes college owing more than $28,000.

So what’s the bottom line? What will happen if Hillary Clinton expands subsidies to higher education?

Simple, more government subsidies will mean more wasteful inefficiency and higher costs.

Administrative bloat, reduced faculty loads and Shangri La dorms… College will continue to be expensive as long as government aid amounts to a wealth transfer to universities.

In other words, Ms. Clinton’s plan will double down on the policies (described in this video) that already have made college needlessly expensive.

All she’s doing is shifting more of the cost onto the backs of taxpayers.

Fortunately, there is a solution to this mess. Simply get the federal government out of the education business. This would reverse the bad policies that have caused colleges and universities to become more expensive and less efficient.

Sadly, this ideal approach probably won’t be adopted anytime soon.

But that doesn’t mean progress is impossible. Washington may actually move policy a bit in the right direction. And Elizabeth Warren (yes, that Elizabeth Warren) may even play a constructive role.

As reported by the Wonkblog section of the Washington Post, there’s growing interest in a plan to make colleges and universities partly responsible when students default on loans.

A coalition of liberal and conservative lawmakers is promoting a plan on Capitol Hill that would force colleges to pay up when their students default. If schools share the risk of borrowing or have some “skin in the game,” policymakers figure they would work harder to keep costs down….Senate Democrats, led by Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), introduced legislation in 2013 requiring schools with default rates above 15 percent to reimburse the government 5 percent of the total defaulted debt. The higher the default rate, the higher the penalty. …Congressional Republicans are renewing the call for schools to share the risk of borrowing, as are presidential hopefuls Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ben Carson. The policy is being considered as a part of the re-authorization of the Higher Education Act.

The story even has some very sensible economic analysis about how third-party payer should be blamed for rising prices.

As it stands, there is little incentive for colleges to keep costs under control. As long as there is a supply of students and federal financial aid, both for-profit and nonprofit schools can charge high prices and encourage people to take out loans to cover the cost. If schools had a financial stake in every student’s ability to repay loans, they might be less inclined to saddle students with debt in the first place—or they might lower costs altogether.

Gee, what a shocking thought. If people have to play with their own money rather than taxpayer money, they suddenly behave more responsibly!

P.S. We should also remember that there is such a thing as too much “investment” in higher education.

P.P.S. Third-party payer in higher education also shows how government money can corrupt private institutions. Though any effort to stamp out such corruption should apply equally to government schools as well.

P.P.P.S. Now for the most important news. The Beltway Bandits are now Eastern National Champions of 55+ AAA softball, winning five straight games in Raleigh, NC, this past weekend.

We’ll play in Las Vegas for a national title in late September.

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Our friends who believe in big government have this funny habit of self-exempting themselves from the bad policies that they impose on the rest of the population.

Statists are very opposed to so-called tax havens, for instance, because they don’t want there to be any constraints on the ability of governments to impose higher tax burdens. Yet it’s quite common to discover that these folks who want higher taxes for you and me have decided to protect their income and assets by utilizing low-tax jurisdictions.

Another example is that leftists are big advocates of one-size-fits-all, substandard government schools and they vociferously fight against school choice proposals that would help low-income families obtain better opportunities for their kids.

Yet these fans of monopoly government schools routinely make sure their children are in private schools. President Obama is the most high-profile example of this form of hypocrisy.

And so is his Secretary of Education.

The Wall Street Journal opines on this example of rank hypocrisy.

Arne Duncanthe Education Secretary continues to fight vouchers for private schools. So it’s worth noting that he has decided to send his own children to a private school in Chicago. …where tuition runs about $30,000 a year. That’s also where Barack and Michelle Obama sent their children before moving to Washington and sending Sasha and Malia to the tony Sidwell Friends. Mr. Duncan’s choice is all the more striking since he used to run the Chicago public schools.

I suppose you have to give Duncan credit for wanting good things for his kids, and he obviously had first-hand knowledge that the government schools in Chicago aren’t very good.

What’s nauseating, though, is how he doesn’t want poor families to have similar options.

He…stood aside in 2009 when Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin managed to kill the Opportunity Scholarship Program in Washington until Speaker John Boehner and the Republican Congress revived it. The Education Secretary was also a muted voice when the Obama Justice Department filed a lawsuit aimed at scuttling Louisiana’s innovative voucher program. And he was silent again when the Colorado Supreme Court recently invoked a leftover of 19th-century bigotry—its anti-Catholic Blaine amendment—to stop students from receiving vouchers for private schools.

By the way, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that another prominent Chicago leftist also has rejected government schools for his own children.

Here are some blurbs from a 2011 report in the Washington Post.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel…has decided to send his children to a private school… Emanuel…served in the White House as President Obama’s chief of staff… The decision where to send your children to school is certainly a personal one, even for public officials. But it is worth publicly noting what public officials…choose to do with their own children when given the chance.

What’s really worth publicly noting is that these politicians don’t want other families to have any escape options from failed government schools.

That’s what makes them hypocrites.

Even more important, that’s what makes them immoral. Sort of like modern-day equivalents of George Wallace, standing in the schoolhouse door to deny opportunity to the less fortunate.

And why do politicians behave so reprehensibly? For the simple reason that they want to curry favor with the unions that represent teachers.

Which makes this excerpt from a Chicago Tribune story especially remarkable. It seems that teachers from Chicago’s government schools also want better options for their own kids.

…a Thomas B. Fordham Institute study found that 39 percent of CPS teachers sent their own kids to private schools.

Sauce for the goose obviously isn’t sauce for the gander.

P.S. On the issue of government schools, I suppose we can paraphrase Winston Churchill and note that never have so many paid so much to achieve so little.

P.P.S. There’s also a strong argument that government schools are a form of child abuse because of bizarre political correctness.

P.P.P.S. Shifting from the immoral to the inane, I probably shouldn’t move to Pennsylvania. At least not if I want to keep my current license plate.

Why? Because bureaucrats in the Keystone State are on the lookout for plates with…gasp!…anti-government messages.

In addition to outright vulgarity and racism, some states prohibit messages on vanity license plates that can be viewed as “anti-government.” In Pennsylvania, for example, where five state employees in Harrisburg get to decide what’s allowed on vanity plates…“ENDFED,” a reference to libertarian-led efforts to shut down the Federal Reserve Bank, is…on the do-not-license list.

I’m not sure why expressing an opinion on monetary policy is considered vulgar or offensive.

But if that’s what Pennsylvania bureaucrats think, then I hope they don’t know about my video on the Federal Reserve. Between that and my seditious license plate, they’d probably arrest me just for simply driving through the state!

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What’s the most effective way of screwing up a sector of the economy? Since I’m a fiscal policy economist, I’m tempted to say that bad tax policy is the fastest way of causing damage. And France might be my top example.

But other forms of government intervention also can have a poisonous effect. Regulation, for instance, imposes an enormous burden on our economy.

Today, though, we’re going to look at how subsidies can result in costly distortions. More specifically, using examples from the health sector and higher-ed sectors, we’re going to see how “third-party payer” is a very expensive form of intervention.

We’ll start with the example from the healthcare sector. Writing for the Institute for Policy Innovation, Merrill Matthews has a must-read article about an unintended consequences of Obamacare.

He starts with a very sensible point about the effect of third-party payer.

Health care actuaries will tell you that when people have to spend more out of pocket for health care, they tend to spend less. And when a third party—employers, health insurers or the government—insulates consumers from the cost of care they tend to spend more. Just imagine how much more people would spend on cars if they could have any car they wanted for a $20 copay.

The car-buying example is great. I’ve previously tried to make the same point about third-party payer by using the examples of home insurance and car insurance, but I may have to steal Merrill’s argument since it’s so intuitively effective.

But that’s a digression. Merrill has a far more important point about what’s actually happening today in the health care sector.

…out-of-pocket spending on health care has declined for decades—until the Affordable Care Act kicked in. In 1961, Americans forked over 43 cents out of their own pocket for every dollar spent on health care. That out-of-pocket spending steadily declined over the years so that by 2010 consumers were only spending about 12 cents out of pocket.Enter Obamacare in 2010. By 2012 out-of-pocket spending had risen to 14.8 percent of total health care spending, and by 2013 it was up to 15.2 percent, according to the Health Care Cost Institute. With people spending more out of pocket, they will naturally curb their spending. And expect to be spending more out of pocket in the future. That’s in part because so many Americans have had to shift to very high deductible policies in order to afford Obamacare’s very expensive coverage. Thank you, President Obama! …The upshot of these higher deductibles is that people will spend less on health care, and that is helping to slow the growth in health care spending—giving Obama his boasting point. Rising deductibles aren’t the only factor, but they are an important one.

Yet Obama doesn’t really deserve to boast.

But here’s the irony: Obama never intended any of this. He thought Obamacare would reduce out-of-pocket spending. And he and most Democrats have railed against high-deductible policies for years, claiming that greedy health insurers were taking people’s money but didn’t have to pay any claims (because of the high deductibles). And yet under Obamacare deductibles have never been so high. The fact is that moving to higher deductibles, especially when accompanied by a tax-free health care spending account for smaller and routine expenditures, is good policy.

And let’s not forget that Obama’s “Cadillac tax” on employer-provided health insurance also is good policy (though it was implemented the wrong way).

So maybe, as that policy also takes effect, we’ll get even further reductions over time in third-party payer!

Which might cause me adjust my overall assessment of Obamacare. In the past, I’ve said it was awful policy because it expanded the Medicaid entitlement while also mucking up the private insurance market.

All that’s still true, but we’re getting some unintended consequences that are positive. Not only are some states refusing to expand Medicaid, but Merrill’s big point is that the private insurance market is evolving in ways that have some good effects.

So maybe instead of Obamacare shifting us from a 68-percent-government-controlled healthcare system to one where government has 79-percent control, as I speculated back in 2013, maybe we’ll wind up with a system that’s “only” 73-percent dictated by government.

Not a victory, to be sure, but at least we’re going in the wrong direction at a slower pace.

Now let’s shift to the higher-ed sector.

Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado, writes in The Atlantic about the surging level of subsidies for higher education.

…when considering government support for American higher education as a whole, subsidies for colleges and universities are—even on a per-student basis and despite the enrollment explosion—greater than ever before. In particular, per-capita government subsidies are far higher now than they were 35 years ago, when tuition was drastically lower. …The federal government is currently spending approximately $80 billion per year on subsidies for higher education—a figure that almost exactly matches the combined higher-ed spending of the 50 legislatures. …The Pell grant program has expanded rapidly, more than tripling in size since 2000.  …What’s far less known…is the remarkable extent to which the federal tax code has been amended in ways that benefit colleges and universities. According to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation’s most recent estimates of federal tax expenditures, the IRS is currently redistributing approximately $45.7 billion annually in tax revenue in ways that directly and indirectly support American higher education. (This represents a 675 percent increase in such spending since 1990.)

Even though I agree with his analysis, I get agitated when tax preferences are referred to as “spending.”

But that’s not particularly relevant today. What matters is that there’s been an unbroken increase in handouts and subsidies for the higher-ed sector over the past few decades.

Here’s a chart from his article.

Now let’s look at the policy implications. Mr. Campos outlines a series of problems in the higher-education sector.

…total per-student government support for higher education has increased. Yet this increase has failed to stop or even slow massive tuition increases at both public and private schools. …many higher-ed institutions have become increasingly bloated and inefficient—even as they’ve relied on a growing population of poorly paid contingent faculty members and on hundreds of billions of dollars of federal student loans, only a small percentage of which are currently being repaid in a timely manner. …roughly half of recent college graduates in the U.S. find themselves either unemployed or seriously underemployed. And many graduates struggle to pay educational debts that, unlike almost all other debts in American society, typically can’t be settled via bankruptcy.

But he doesn’t really connect the dots, other than to point out that it is absurdly dishonest when some people (like Senator Bernie Sanders) want others to believe that we need even more intervention and more handouts to compensate for non-existent budget cuts.

Claiming that skyrocketing tuition has been caused by “cuts” in government subsidies only helps delay American higher education’s inevitable day of fiscal reckoning.

If he did connect the dots, he would have explained that the higher-ed sector is needlessly expensive and pointlessly inefficient because of all the subsidies from government.

He may even agree with that assessment, though he isn’t explicit about the connection. Though Professor Richard Vedder doesn’t hesitate in pointing out that bad government policy deserves the blame.

And if you want to learn more, here’s a great video from Learn Liberty explaining why subsidies have translated into higher tuition.

Last but not least, here’s my two cents on the issue, including my dour prediction that the higher-ed bubble won’t pop until and unless we stop the handouts from government.

Yet another reason why we should dismantle the Department of Education.

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I’ve written many times about the shortcomings of government schools at the K-12 level. We spend more on our kids than any other nation, yet our test scores are comparatively dismal.

And one of my points, based on this very sobering chart from one of my Cato colleagues, is that America’s educational performance took a turn in the wrong direction when the federal government became more involved starting about 40-50 years ago.

Well, the same unhappy story exists in the higher-education sector. Simply stated, there’s been an explosion of spending, much of it from Washington, yet the rate of return appears to be negative.

Let’s take a closer look at this issue.

Writing for the New York Times, Professor Paul Campos of the University of Colorado begins his column by giving the conventional-wisdom explanation of why it costs so much to go to college.

Once upon a time in America, baby boomers paid for college with the money they made from their summer jobs. Then, over the course of the next few decades, public funding for higher education was slashed. These radical cuts forced universities to raise tuition year after year, which in turn forced the millennial generation to take on crushing educational debt loads, and everyone lived unhappily ever after. This is the story college administrators like to tell when they’re asked to explain why, over the past 35 years, college tuition at public universities has nearly quadrupled, to $9,139 in 2014 dollars.

That’s a compelling story, and it surely has convinced a lot of people, but it has one tiny little problem. It’s utter nonsense.

It is a fairy tale in the worst sense, in that it is not merely false, but rather almost the inverse of the truth. …In fact, public investment in higher education in America is vastly larger today, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than it was during the supposed golden age of public funding in the 1960s. Such spending has increased at a much faster rate than government spending in general. For example, the military’s budget is about 1.8 times higher today than it was in 1960, while legislative appropriations to higher education are more than 10 times higher. In other words, far from being caused by funding cuts, the astonishing rise in college tuition correlates closely with a huge increase in public subsidies for higher education. If over the past three decades car prices had gone up as fast as tuition, the average new car would cost more than $80,000.

Unfortunately, little of this money is being used for education.

…a major factor driving increasing costs is the constant expansion of university administration. According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions. Even more strikingly, an analysis by a professor at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, found that, while the total number of full-time faculty members in the C.S.U. system grew from 11,614 to 12,019 between 1975 and 2008, the total number of administrators grew from 3,800 to 12,183 — a 221 percent increase.

This is great news, but only if you’re a bureaucrat.

But if you think education dollars should be used to educate, it’s not very encouraging.

For example, check out this very depressing example of bureaucratic bloat at the University of California San Diego.

Now let’s zoom back out to the bigger issue. Professor Richard Vedder from Ohio University is even more critical of handouts for the higher-education sector. Here’s some of what he wrote for National Review.

America’s colleges and universities are terribly inefficient and excessively expensive, foster relatively little learning and ability to think critically, and turn out too many graduates who end up underemployed. These and related problems have grown sharply in the half century since the Higher Education Act of 1965 heralded a major expansion of the federal role in higher education.

Rich correctly points out that the federal government has made matters worse.

Washington is far more the problem than the solution to the current afflictions of American higher education. …Tuition has skyrocketed in the era since federal student-loan and grant programs started to become large in the late 1970s. Colleges have effectively confiscated federal loan and grant money designated for students and used it to help fund an academic arms race that has given us climbing walls, lazy rivers, and million-dollar university presidents — but declining literacy among college students and a massive mismatch between students’ labor-market expectations and the realities of the job market.

And you won’t be surprised to learn that federal handouts have backfired against low-income students.

…the primary goal of the federal student-aid programs was to improve access to college for lower-income persons. Here, the record is one of total failure: A smaller percentage of recent college graduates come from the bottom quartile of the income distribution today than was the case in 1970, when federal student-assistance programs were in their infancy.

To close on a semi-optimistic note, Prof. Vedder highlights some intriguing incremental reforms advanced by Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, including the notion that handouts should be linked to performance.

…he seems to embrace the idea that colleges should have “skin in the game”: They should face financial consequences for admitting, and then failing to graduate, students who default on loans and have marginal educational backgrounds indicating that they were clearly ill prepared for truly higher education. …Users and providers of university services need to feel the pain associated with academic non-performance. Growing federal involvement in higher education has brought rising prices, falling quality, and student underemployment. While it is perhaps politically impossible to radically change the federal student financial-aid programs now, the Alexander move is an important first step to rethinking how we finance higher education.

Ultimately, though, we won’t solve the problem unless the federal government’s role is abolished, which is yet another reason to shut down the Department of Education in Washington.

P.S. Here’s a great video from Learn Liberty explaining why subsidies have translated into higher tuition.

P.P.S. Some people have their fingers crossed that there’s a “tuition bubble” that’s about to pop. I hope that’s true, and it may be happening in a few sectors such as law, but I don’t think the overall higher-education bubble will pop until and unless we end government subsidies and handouts.

P.P.P.S. I’m even against subsidies and handouts for economists!

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No other nation in the world spends as much on education as the United States.

According to our leftist friends, who prefer to measure inputs rather than outputs, this is a cause for celebration. I guess it shows we have the best intentions. Or maybe we love our kids the most.

For those who prefer to focus on outputs, however, it’s very difficult to be happy about the results we’re getting compared to all the money that’s being spent. Heck, in some cases it’s almost as if we’re getting negative results when you compare inputs and outputs.

To paraphrase what Winston Churchill said about the Royal Air Force in World War II, never have so many paid so much to achieve so little.

Now we have more evidence that American taxpayers are paying a lot and getting a little (though I have to admit that non-teaching education bureaucrats have been big winners).

The Washington Post reports on some new research to see how America’s young adults rank compared to their peers in other nations.

The results aren’t encouraging.

This exam, given in 23 countries, assessed the thinking abilities and workplace skills of adults. It focused on literacy, math and technological problem-solving. The goal was to figure out how prepared people are to work in a complex, modern society. And U.S. millennials performed horribly. That might even be an understatement… No matter how you sliced the data – by class, by race, by education – young Americans were laggards compared to their international peers. In every subject, U.S. millennials ranked at the bottom or very close to it, according to a new study by testing company ETS.

There were three testing categories and Americans didn’t do well in any of them.

…in literacy, U.S. millennials scored higher than only three countries. In math, Americans ranked last. In technical problem-saving, they were second from the bottom. “Abysmal,” noted ETS researcher Madeline Goodman. “There was just no place where we performed well.”

Here’s the comparative data on literacy.

Here’s how Americans did on numeracy (which may explain why there’s considerable support for the minimum wage).

Last but not least, millennials didn’t exactly do well in problem solving, either (which may explain their bizarre answers to polling questions).

By the way, the researchers also sliced and diced the data to get apples-to-apples comparisons.

Yet even on this basis, there’s no good news for America.

U.S. millennials with master’s degrees and doctorates did better than their peers in only three countries, Ireland, Poland and Spain. …Top-scoring U.S. millennials – the 90th percentile on the PIAAC test – were at the bottom internationally, ranking higher only than their peers in Spain.  …ETS researchers tried looking for signs of promise – especially in math skills, which they considered a good sign of labor market success. They singled out native-born Americans. Nope.

At some point, we need to realize that decades of additional spending and decades of further centralization have not worked.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to shut down the Department of Education on the federal level and to encourage school choice on the state and local level.

After all, we already have good evidence that decentralization and competition produces better test scores. There’s also strong evidence for school choice from nations such as Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands.

P.S. We’re never going to solve this problem by tinkering with the status quo. That’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. This is why Bush’s no-bureaucrat-left-behind scheme didn’t work. And it explains why Obama’s Common Core is flopping as well.

P.P.S. Moreover, it will probably require big reform to deal with the brainless types of political correctness that exist in government schools.

P.P.P.S. If you want more evidence that the problem isn’t money, check out this research on educational outcomes in various cities. Or look at this data from New York City and Washington, DC, both of which spend record amounts of money on education.

P.P.P.P.S. I can’t resist sharing this correction of some very shoddy education reporting by the New York Times.

P.P.P.P.P.S. On the bright side, the inadequacies of government-run schools helped give birth to the home-schooling movement, which then led to this humorous video. And the political correctness that infects government schools results in a bizarre infatuation with gender performance, which helped lead to this funny video. And this bit of satire on the evolution of math training in government schools also is quite amusing.

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To save the nation from a future Greek-style fiscal meltdown, we should reform entitlements.

But as part of the effort to restore limited, constitutional government, we also should shut down various departments that deal with issues that shouldn’t be handled by the central government.

I’ve already identified some low-hanging fruit.

Get rid of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Shut down the Department of Agriculture.

Eliminate the Department of Transportation.

We need to add the Department of Education to the list. And maybe even make it one of the first targets.

Increasing federal involvement and intervention, after all, is associated with more spending and more bureaucracy, but NOT better educational outcomes.

Politicians in Washington periodically try to “reform” the status quo, but rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic never works. And that’s true whether you look at the results of GOP plans, like Bush’s no-bureaucrat-left-behind scheme, or Democratic plans, like Obama’s Common Core.

The good news, as explained by the Washington Examiner, is that Congress is finally considering legislation that would reduce the federal government’s footprint.

There are some good things about this bill, which will serve as the reauthorization of former President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law. Importantly, the bill removes the Education Department’s ability to bludgeon states into adopting the controversial Common Core standards. The legislative language specifically forbids both direct and indirect attempts “to influence, incentivize, or coerce” states’ decisions. …The Student Success Act is therefore a step in the right direction, because it returns educational decisions to their rightful place — the state (or local) level. It is also positive in that it eliminates nearly 70 Department of Education programs, replacing them with more flexible grants to the states.

But the bad news is that the legislation doesn’t go nearly far enough. Federal involvement is a gaping wound caused by a compound fracture, while the so-called Student Success Act is a band-aid.

…as a vehicle for moving the federal government away from micromanaging schools that should fall entirely under state and local control, the bill is disappointing. …the recent explosion of federal spending and federal control in education over the last few decades has failed to produce any significant improvement in outcomes. Reading and math proficiency have hardly budged. …the federal government’s still-modest financial contribution to primary and secondary education has come with strings that give Washington an inordinate say over state education policy. …The Student Success Act…leaves federal spending on primary and secondary education at the elevated levels of the Bush era. It also fails to provide states with an opt-out.

To be sure, there’s no realistic way of making significant progress with Obama in the White House.

But the long-run battle will never be won unless reform-minded lawmakers make the principled case. Here’s the bottom line.

Education is one area where the federal government has long resisted accepting the evidence or heeding its constitutional limitations. …Republicans should be looking forward to a post-Obama opportunity to do it for real — to end federal experimentation and meddling in primary and secondary education and letting states set their own policies.

Amen.

But now let’s acknowledge that ending federal involvement and intervention should be just the first step on a long journey.

State governments are capable of wasting money and getting poor results.

Local governments also have shown that they can be similarly profligate and ineffective.

Indeed, when you add together total federal/state/local spending and then look at the actual results (whether kids are getting educated), the United States does an embarrassingly bad job.

The ultimate answer is to end the government education monopoly and shift to a system based on choice and competition.

Fortunately, we already have strong evidence that such an approach yields superior outcomes.

To be sure, school choice doesn’t automatically mean every child will be an educational success, but evidence from SwedenChile, and the Netherlands shows good results after breaking up state-run education monopolies.

P.S. Let’s close with a bit of humor showing the evolution of math lessons in government schools.

P.P.S. If you want some unintentional humor, the New York Times thinks that government education spending has been reduced.

P.P.P.S. And you’ll also be amused (and outraged and disgusted) by the truly bizarre examples of political correctness in government schools.

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For both moral reasons and economic reasons, we should have small government.

But even a curmudgeonly libertarian like me also thinks it’s important to have effective and efficient government.

Fortunately, there’s no contradiction between these views. Indeed, academic researchers have found that nations with smaller government also have more efficient government. With Singapore being a very powerful example.

This is why I periodically share data looking at how much governments spend compared to how much they deliver.

Though this can be a depressing exercise because – to cite one example – no government in the world spends more on education than the United States, yet we get very sub-par results.

But what if we compare cities inside the United States on this basis? Are there big differences in how much some local governments spend and the results they get?

The answer is yes, emphatically so.

Here are some excerpts from an article in The Atlantic on which local governments do reasonably well – and very poorly – in terms of education outcomes on a per-dollar-spent basis.

…education spending isn’t inherently bad—what matters is the result. Some school districts get lots in return for the amount of money they spend. …the online financial resource WalletHub has crunched the numbers on school spending at 90 of the most-populated cities across the country, revealing which ones are getting the most—and least—bang for their buck. To arrive at the findings, WalletHub divided each city’s aggregate test scores in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math by its total per-capita education spending. The researchers then adjusted those figures for various socioeconomic factors, such as the poverty rate and percentage of households that don’t speak English as their first language.

Here are the 10 cities that purportedly do the best job on a per-dollar-spent basis.

And here are the cities that do the worst job.

I guess I’m not overly surprised that cities in California and New York generally rank at the bottom.

Though I wonder whether the results would look significantly different if education spending was measured on a per-pupil basis. That would seem a relevant distinction.

But here’s the key takeaway. Some cities spend two to three times as much per capita on education, yet they actually deliver worse outcomes!

Something all of us should remember next time some politician, whether Obama or some local hack, whines about the “need” for more money for schools.

Now let’s look at how wisely – or ineptly – local governments spend money on crime prevention.

Here’s some of WalletHub’s analysis.

With tax season approaching, WalletHub assessed how efficiently the 110 most populated U.S. cities spend taxpayer dollars on police protection. We did so by calculating each city’s ROI on police spending based on crime rates and per-capita expenditures on police forces after normalizing the data by poverty rate, unemployment rate and median household income. …note that “Adjusted ROI Rank” reflects the results of our analysis after controlling for the three economic factors, whereas “Unadjusted ROI Rank” reflects the results before normalizing the data by the same factors.

So which cities get decent bang for the buck?

And here are the 10 cities that get the least value compared to resources devoted to crime prevention.

Gee, what a surprise to see New York City (once again) at the bottom of the list. And I can only imagine how the city will rank after a few years of Bill de Blasio.

And what’s the story with Long Beach, CA?!? Why are they among the worst on both lists?

Anyhow, kudos to WalletHub for producing both these comparisons. This is good factual data that enables people to see whether their city is being competent or wasteful.

Specifically, why are taxpayers in places such as St. Louis and Orlando spending three or four times as much, on a per-capita basis, as taxpayers in cities such as Lincoln and Louisville?

P.S. Returning to the big picture, we’re more likely to have competent and effective government if it is limited in size and scope. Or, as Mark Steyn humorously observed, “our government is more expensive than any government in history – and we have nothing to show for it.”

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I like to think that I occasionally put together interesting and persuasive charts on fiscal policy.

For instance, I think it’s virtually impossible to make a credible argument for tax hikes after looking at my chart showing how easy it is to balance the budget with modest spending restraint.

But I’ll freely confess that no chart of mine can compare to this powerful image created by my Cato colleague, Andrew Coulson, which shows how spending and staffing for the government school monopoly have exploded while enrollment and performance have been stagnant.

As far as I’m concerned, no honest person can look at his chart and defend the current system.

But some folks may need some more evidence about the failure of government schools, so let’s look at stories from both ends of America.

We’ll start on the east coast. Writing for the Daily Caller, Eric Owens reports that bureaucrats in a New Jersey town are being handsomely rewarded for not educating students.

Only 19 students in the public school system in Paterson, N.J. who have taken the SAT scored high enough to be considered college ready, local Fox affiliate WWOR-TV reports. At the same time, 66 employees in the Paterson school district each soak taxpayers for salaries of at least $125,000 per year, the Paterson Press reports. …Paterson is no tiny town. It is, in fact, the third-largest city in New Jersey. The population is roughly 146,000 people. …The city boasts some 50 public schools altogether. There are over 24,000 total students in all grades.

But the folks in Paterson can be proud of their government schools. After all, they’re doing much better than Camden.

In December 2013, Camden’s then-new superintendent of public schools announced that only three — THREE! — students in the entire district who took the SAT during the 2011-12 academic year scored high enough to qualify as college-ready.

Last but not least, the story notes that the school district has concocted a clever strategy to avoid any more embarrassing stories.

You’re probably wondering whether this means school choice? Rigorous standards? Better discipline?

Nope, nope, and nope. Remember, we’re dealing with government bureaucracy.

Back in Paterson, school officials say they have cleverly dealt with their nearly complete failure to prepare students for college entrance exams by no longer using the SAT to assess student achievement.

I actually hope this is a joke, though there’s no indication in the story to suggest the reporter is being satirical.

So we have bureaucrats getting vastly overpaid in exchange for not educating kids.

Now let’s travel to the west coast, where Los Angeles schools also have overpaid officials who do a crummy job of educating students, but they have figured out very novel ways of squandering tax dollars.

As Robby Soave reports in Reason, the LA school district first tried a failed scheme to give every student an iPad, which led to predictable fraud and misuse with no accompanying educational benefit. Now they want to double down on failure with a new proposal that gives various schools the option of which bit of high-tech gadgetry to mis-utilize.

Who could be against choice? That’s the argument Los Angeles school district administrators are now employing to push their latest round of expensive technology upgrades. Schools will be given the choice to receive Chromebooks instead of iPads—and some schools will get laptops, the most expensive option of all.  …The idea is to eventually place such a device in the hands of every child in the district.

Needless to say, there’s no strategy for avoiding the mistakes that plagued the earlier scheme.

The problem administrators encountered when rolling out the iPad plan, however, was that kids kept losing or breaking the devices. What happens then? Do parents pay, or does the district? Do kids get a replacement? Teachers also struggled mightily to incorporate the technology into their lesson plans, and concerns about kids using iPads for unsanctioned purposes caused headaches. The initial iPad deal unravelled after allegations of an improper relationship between then District Superintendent John Deasy, Apple, and curriculum company Pearson.

The reporter is understandably skeptical about what will happen next.

I have little reason to believe that the individual schools will be more responsible stewards of the taxpayer’s money than the district was. Indeed, 21 schools decided to go with an even more expensive option: laptops. Steve Lopez of the LA Times argued persuasively in October that the iPad fiasco was a costly diversion from the district’s real problems. Schools can’t even find the money for math textbooks, but administrators want to force unneeded technology on them and impose computerized tests. The district should prioritize basic instruction before deciding to purchase thousands of fancy gadgets.

Gee, it’s almost enough to make you think that government schools don’t work very well and that we should instead allow parents to have real choice over how to best educate their children.

P.S. You won’t be surprised to learn that Obama’s silly common core proposal appears to be driving some of these bad results.

P.P.S. Though remember that Bush’s no-bureaucrat-left-behind scheme was also a flop.

P.P.P.S. School choice doesn’t automatically mean every child will be an educational success, but evidence from SwedenChile, and the Netherlands shows good results after breaking up state-run education monopolies.

And there’s growing evidence that it also works in the limited cases where it exists in the United States.

P.P.P.P.S. Or we can just stick with the status quo, which involves spending more money, per student, than any other nation while getting dismal results.

P.P.P.P.P.S. This is a depressing post, so let’s close with a bit of humor showing the evolution of math lessons in government schools.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S. If you want some unintentional humor, the New York Times thinks that education spending has been reduced.

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I don’t like coerced redistribution. When the government uses the threat of force to take from Person A to give to Person B, it simultaneously reduces Person A’s incentives to produce while also luring Person B into dependency.

But not all coerced redistribution and government intervention is created equal.

I don’t like welfare programs, for instance, in part because taxpayers are writing huge checks to support a plethora of programs, but also because there is very strong evidence that the modern welfare state has caused more poverty.

Nonetheless, I understand that there are well-meaning people who support these programs. Their motives are pure in that they simply want to alleviate perceived suffering. And since they’ve never learned about the adverse indirect effects of government intervention and presumably haven’t given any thought to the ethics of government coercion, I don’t think of these people as being bad or immoral. Just uninformed.

But there are some forms of redistribution and intervention that are so self-evidently odious and corrupt that you can’t give supporters the benefit of the doubt. Simply stated, there’s no justifiable argument for using government coercion to hurt poor people in order to benefit rich people.

Let’s look at two examples.

First, the Export-Import Bank is a quintessential example of corporate welfare. The program forces taxpayers to guarantee the contracts of big corporations and foreign buyers, and there’s now a fight over whether it should be extended.

Needless to say, ordinary voters don’t want their money being used enrich big companies.

So if you were one of the beltway insiders who benefited from this corrupt institution, how would you try to get the program extended? Would you be upfront and argue that big companies like Boeing deserve tax dollars? Would you argue that politicians are really smart and wise and that they should interfere with the free market?

That would be the honest way of supporting the Ex-Im Bank. But you won’t be surprised to learn that advocates instead have resorted to lies. Here are some excerpts from a Reuters story.

The U.S. Export-Import Bank has mischaracterized potentially hundreds of large companies and units of multinational conglomerates as small businesses, a flaw in its record keeping that could undermine the export lender’s survival strategy. …A comparison of some 6,000 businesses characterized by Ex-Im as “small” with information supplied by corporate data collector Dun & Bradstreet, which Ex-Im also uses to vet applicants, and other sources turns up some 200 companies that appear to be mislabeled and many more whose classification is uncertain.

Um… I would say they lied rather than characterize it as a “flaw in its record keeping.” But let’s set that aside and look at some of the “small businesses” that had their snouts in the Ex-Im trough.

…analysis showed companies owned by billionaires such as Warren Buffet and Mexico’s Carlos Slim, as well by Japanese and European conglomerates, were listed as small businesses and Ex-Im acknowledged errors in its data in response to those findings.  …A division of Austria’s Swarovski jewelers shows up, as does North Carolina’s Global Nuclear Fuels, which is owned by General Electric and Japan’s Toshiba and Hitachi. …The list of small businesses in Texas, for example, includes engineering and construction company Bechtel, which has 53,000 employees.

Gee, Warren Buffet and foreign conglomerates don’t exactly sound like my idea of small businesses.

Hopefully this will provide more ammunition of those fighting to wean big companies from the public teat.

Bank officials and supporters have used the Ex-Im’s support for American small business as a first line of defense against a campaign by conservatives to shut it down as an exponent of “crony capitalism.” …“Rarely does Ex-Im miss a (public relations) opportunity to claim that it primarily helps small business, but Ex-Im is again playing fast and loose with the facts,” said Representative Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Financial Services Committee. “The bulk of Ex-Im’s help indisputably goes to large corporations that can finance their own operations without putting it on the taxpayer balance sheet.”

For our second example, we have the absolutely horrifying spectacle of the Obama Administration trying to shut down Wisconsin’s school choice system.

Why? Well, because currying favor with union bosses is more important than improving educational opportunities for students from disadvantaged communities.

George Will explains what’s happening in his Washington Post column.

It is as remarkable as it is repulsive… Eager to sacrifice low-income children to please teachers unions, the Justice Department wants to destroy Wisconsin’s school choice program. Feigning concern about access for disabled children, the department aims to handicap all disadvantaged children by denying their parents access to school choices of the sort affluent government lawyers enjoy. …Wisconsin’s school choice program was pioneered by an American hero, Mississippi-born Annette Polly Williams, who died Nov. 9 at age 77. During her three decades in Wisconsin’s legislature, she overcame the opposition of fellow Democrats to offering education choices to low-income parents. At the end of her life, however, she saw an African American attorney general, serving an African American president, employing tortured legal reasoning in an attempt to bankrupt private schools that enlarge the education options of disadvantaged children. …Closing the voucher program is the obvious objective of the teachers unions and hence of the Obama administration. Herding children from the choice schools back into government schools would swell the ranks of unionized teachers, whose union dues fund the Democratic Party as it professes devotion to “diversity” and the downtrodden.

By the way, you probably won’t be surprised (given the White House’s cavalier approach to the rule of law) to learn that the Obama Administration is using is utterly nonsensical legal theory.

…federal lawyers argue that because public funds, in the form of tuition vouchers empowering parents to make choices, flow to private schools, the schools become “public entities.” …this is like arguing that when food stamps are used for purchases at Wal-Mart, America’s largest private employer ceases to be private — it becomes an extension of the government. Inconveniently for the Justice Department, the U.S. Supreme Court has said the fact that a “private entity performs a function which serves the public does not make its acts state action.”

The preposterous legal reasoning is a farce, but that doesn’t get me overly upset.

What does bother me is the way the White House is acting like the modern-day equivalent of George Wallace, standing in the schoolhouse door to prevent low-income (and largely minority) students from getting an opportunity for better education.

I guess that a black President (who sends his own kids to private school) consigning black children to the back of the proverbial bus shouldn’t surprise me too much. After all, some divisions of the NAACP also have decided that being politically allied with union bosses is more important that educational opportunity for minority kids.

But that doesn’t make it morally acceptable. Put yourself in the shoes of a low-income parent. Wisconsin’s school choice programs gives you some hope that your kids can break free of poverty. Imagine what it feels like, then, when some of the politicians who claim to be on your side then decide that your children are expendable pawns. How disgusting.

Since we’re talking about things that are disgusting, let’s shift back to the Ex-Im Bank. I’ve actually had some Republican types tell me that corporate welfare is okay because it “helps to offset” some of the redistribution from rich to poor.

I confess that I’m dumbstruck by such arguments. It’s sort of like hearing someone say it’s okay to murder, rape, and steal because other people are doing it.

This is why it’s not easy being a libertarian. Yes, we believe in small government for utilitarian reasons such as faster growth, higher living standards, and more jobs. But we’re also motivated by morality, by the belief that there’s right and wrong and that good people should strive to uphold the former and fight the latter.

That’s not a popular view in Washington, which is best characterized as an incestuous racket for the benefit of interest groups, politicians, cronyists, lobbyists, bureaucrats, contractors, and other insiders.

P.S. On a completely separate (and non-political) issue, I can’t resist seeking some sympathy after what happened to me this morning. I took two of my cats to the vet for their spay and neuter appointments. Some of you pet owners already know that most cats don’t like car rides, so you might have some inkling of what I’m about to report.

In happier times

About five minutes into the drive, one of the cats vomits in the little cat carrier. That obviously wasn’t a happy development, particularly since it left me with an unpleasant choice of enduring a very unpleasant smell or having the window open and enduring a very bitter chill. But then, a few minutes later, the other cat…um, how should I phrase this…loses control of her bowels.

Which means that the next 20 minutes was almost as unbearable as watching a state-of-the-union address. I was running late for the appointment, so I couldn’t stop someplace and try to deal with the mess. And the two cats kept moving around in their carrier, making things worse. Trying to breathe through my mouth, even with the window down, was at best a pitiful attempt to mitigate my suffering.

An utterly miserable situation. Almost 1/10th as bad as an IRS audit.

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It’s time for an updated version of the U.S. vs U.K. government stupidity contest.

This ongoing series has featured amazing feats of inane government, including the world’s most pointless road markings, photo-ID requirements for drain cleaner purchases, and a government so incompetent that it couldn’t give money away.

Today’s contest, though, is going to focus on examples of wimpiness from both sides of the Atlantic.

Here’s an excerpt from a story out of the United Kingdom. Apparently, one neurotic mother thinks her son is some sort of incompetent misfit.

OMG, he’s going to become a serial killer!!

A mother was left horrified after her 10-year-old son returned form Tesco’s supermarket with a pumpkin carving kit which included a sharp serrated blade. Natalie Greaves from Sheffield in South Yorkshire described her reaction to Shay returning home with the one pound kit: ‘I went berserk when he came home with it. ‘I couldn’t believe that he could pick that sort of thing up as a child – there should have been an age restriction on it.’

“Horrified”? “Beserk”? You must be kidding. If there’s someone in that family who shouldn’t be allowed around sharp objects, it’s the mother.

It’s almost enough to make me think the kid would be better off in foster care, notwithstanding my libertarian instincts that even bad homes are oftentimes better than state control.

But I also wonder what this says about the entire nation. Back in 2012, I shared some laughably pathetic examples of anti-gun political correctness from the United Kingdom and wondered how such inane behavior could exist in a country that “once ruled half the world.”

Needless to say, this story doesn’t reflect well on our cousins across the ocean.

But Americans are in no position to make fun of others since there are plenty of examples of brain-dead political correctness in the United States.

After all, you don’t want to throw stones if you live in a glass house. And when it comes to absurd anti-gun hysteria, government schools make Americans look like infantile idiots.

Here are parts of a story from a local news outlet in Alabama.

A Mobile mother is not happy about a controversial Mobile County School contract her daughter signed without her consent. The contract promises that her daughter will not kill or injure herself and others. …She said E R Dickson school officials crossed the line when they had her daughter sign a Mobile County Public Safety Contract without her being present.

This sounds serious. Are we talking about a 16-yr old gang member? A 17-yr old with psychiatric issues? A 15-yr old with a history of violence.

Ummm…not exactly.

The student, a 5-yr old girl named Elizabeth, was playing like a normal kid. Here are some of the details.

School officials told Rebecca they had to send Elizabeth home after an incident in class.  “They told me she drew something that resembled a gun,” said Rebecca. “According to them she pointed a crayon at another student and said, ‘pew pew,” said Rebecca. She said her child was given a questionnaire to evaluate her for suicidal thoughts. “[They] Asked her if she was depressed now,” said Rebecca. Without her permission, Rebecca said her child was given the Mobile County Public School Safety Contract to sign stating she wouldn’t kill herself or others. “While I was in the lobby waiting they had my 5-year-old sign a contract about suicide and homicide,” said Rebecca. …Rebecca is pushing to have the incident removed from her child’s record. She said school officials have requested Elizabeth see a psychiatrist.

As I’ve argued before, in cases like this it’s the school bureaucrats who need counseling.

So which nation wins the prize for the worst example of P.C. wimpiness?

I’m ashamed to say that the United States probably deserves that dubious honor. After all, the story from the U.K. involves one weird parent while the U.S. story involves a deliberate decision by an arm of government.

Though I will point out that it’s not just one screwy parent in the United Kingdom. Wimpiness appears to be pervasive.

The mum-of-three checked online and found similar carving kits with restrictions allowing only people over-18 to buy it. A Tesco spokesperson responded to this mother’s anger… ‘We were concerned by this incident and acted immediately to ensure all pumpkin carving knives will trigger an age restriction till prompt.’

So maybe the U.K. story belongs in the U.K. vs. U.S. private sector political correctness contest.

P.S. Let’s shift to a different topic. I recently wrote that the jihad against tobacco at the U.N.’s World Health Organization was a classic (and tragic) case of resources being diverted from something that genuinely matters, such as fighting deadly infectious disease.

A column in the Wall Street Journal makes the same point, only it identifies the silly crusade against sugar as the main example of mission creep.

The WHO’s record of handling epidemics over 30 years reveals a health system that is getting worse, not better. On at least four occasions the U.N. organization has failed to deal with major outbreaks of communicable disease. …The list of internal problems that cause the WHO to fumble when faced with an epidemic is no secret. …an array of disparate programs within the WHO—such as the current crusade against processed sugar and sugar beverages—have diverted time, attention and money from higher priorities, such as tracking and responding to epidemic diseases.

And the Washington Examiner has opined on the same issue.

Years of dramatically overstaffed city agencies, over-generous retirement promises to public employee unions, and white-elephant development projects had left the city unable to police its streets, keep street lamps on, maintain parks, or provide other basic government services, no matter how much the city government raised taxes. The lesson of Detroit is one that governments everywhere can learn: In a world with finite resources, governments that try to do too much end up neglecting even the essential. Detroit’s case is a microcosm of what Americans are now experiencing nationwide in several different areas — the evident inability of public health officials to manage the Ebola scare competently is just one of them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency that instructed a mildly symptomatic patient with known exposure to Ebola to board a commercial flight this week, spends millions annually on bonuses for top employees, bicycle paths, farmers markets, and other luxuries. …Even if they enjoy using the money the nation has for disease control and vaccine research to fund instead research on origami condoms and to appease politically active bicyclists, public health bureaucrats might do better in the future putting their massive budgets toward basic preparedness for precisely the kind of emergency the CDC was created to address.

The link between small government and effective government is something Calvin Coolidge understood. Needless to say, that’s not the attitude of the current occupant of the White House, which is why this bit of humor is worth sharing.

I think the unintentional video on Obama’s new Ebola Czar is even funnier, but whoever put this together gets high marks for cleverness.

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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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