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Archive for the ‘Union Bosses’ Category

Way back in early 2017, I warned in an interview that Trump would be a big spender (sadly, I was right). But I wasn’t being reflexively anti-Trump.

Here’s a clip from that same program where I speculated that Trump might have the political skill to win support from private-sector union workers.

In honor of Labor Day, let’s elaborate on this topic.

I’ll start with the political observation that Trump seems to do much better than other Republicans at getting support from working-class voters. Even workers who belong to unions (much to the dismay of their left-leaning leadership) appear to be disproportionately sympathetic.

Though it’s important to emphasize, as I said in the interview, the distinction between government bureaucrat unions and private-sector unions.

The unions that represent government employees have an incentive to lobby for bigger government since that means more lavishly paid members paying more dues. So those unions reflexively support higher taxes, more spending, and additional red tape.

Yet those are the policies that undermine private-sector job creation and reduce the competitiveness of companies operating in America. And that’s bad for all private workers – including those that belong to unions.

Which is why I speculated in the interview whether Trump would have the “political cunning” to convince those private-sector union members that their interests are not the same as those of bureaucrats.

I guess we’ll see on election day.

By the way, I have very mixed feelings on Trump’s strategy. Some of his policies are good (lower taxes and less red tap), but he also tries to appeal to union workers with policies that are bad (most notably, protectionism).

P.S. Feel free to enjoy some good cartoons mocking unionized bureaucrats by clicking hereherehere, and here.

P.P.S. I often tell my Republican friends that they’ll have more success appealing to private-sector union members if they come across as pro-market (which implies neutrality between employers and employees) rather than pro-business (which implies siding with employers).

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Way before we had a pandemic, I wasn’t a fan of the government school monopoly.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never have so many taxpayers paid so much money into a system that produced such mediocre results for so many people.

Now that we have a pandemic, the argument against government-run schools is even stronger. Simply stated the government monopoly is too politicized and too inflexible – and that means the the gap between government schools and private schools (and homeschooling) will be larger than ever.

Today, I want to show how the system is driven by bad ideology and bad incentives.

Let’s look at a recent announcement from the government schools where I live in Fairfax, VA. The bureaucrats don’t like when parents utilize private tutors because they would rather have all students fall behind than have some succeed.

Across the country, many parents are joining together to engage private tutors (who are often school teachers) to provide tutoring or home instruction for small groups of children. While there is no systematic way to track these private efforts, it’s clear that a number of “pandemic pods” or tutoring pods are being established in Fairfax County. …these instructional efforts are not supported by or in any way controlled by FCPS… While FCPS doesn’t and can’t control these private tutoring groups, we do have concerns that they may widen the gap in educational access and equity for all students.

Mike Gonzalez had the same reaction. He, too, was surprised that the bureaucrats would openly state their ideological desire for universal mediocrity.

There are similar problems in other communities surrounding Washington, DC.

In his column for the Washington Examiner, Tim Carney explains how government school bureaucracies – including where he lives in Montgomery County, Maryland – care more about preserving the flow of tax dollars than educational success for kids.

Because public schools will be offering a vastly inferior service this year (remote-only learning), the allies of public schools and their teachers’ unions worry about parents pulling their children into private schools — and so they are trying to take away some of the private schools’ advantage. …after Gov. Larry Hogan struck down a county order barring private schools, one public school teacher wrote a public Facebook post nearly admitting as much: “MCPS parents… Please keep your kids enrolled in MCPS! Loss of funding will be devastating, not only this school year, but in the years to come, when we need to try to increase funding again.” …The public school superintendent in Falls Church City, a small, wealthy municipality just outside of D.C., wrote a similar note warning against “Pandemic Flight.” …Peter Noonan..warned parents that “disenrolling from FCCPS [will] have consequences. FCCPS receives funding from the local Government, the State Government, and the Federal Government based on the numbers of students we have enrolled. If there is an exodus of students from FCCPS, the funding of our schools will decrease.” Notice what’s missing in this letter? Any suggestion that your children will learn just fine through the public schools’ online learning system. …public school administrators know that they are offering an inferior product… Sadly, rather than wanting what’s best for their students, they ask parents to do what will bring more taxpayer money for their schools.

For what it’s worth, I also think teacher unions and school bureaucrats also don’t want parents to experience even a year of private schooling or homeschooling, lest they learn that there are better long-run options for their kids.

P.S. My criticism of the government school monopoly does not in any way imply that teachers are bad people (like all professions and groups, some will be good and some will be bad). It simply means they are in a bad system. Indeed, one of the benefits of school choice is that good teachers will flourish thanks to competition and innovation.

P.P.S. Yes, we have strong evidence from some states and localities in America that school choice produces better educational outcomes. But I always remind people that there’s also global evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands showing good results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

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One month ago, I wrote that expanded school choice might be a silver lining to the dark cloud of corornavirus.

This issue is getting more heated, as this Reason video explains.

When I’ve written in the past about the issue of school choice, I’ve focused on the superior educational outcomes of private schools (and homeschooling as well) compared to the subpar performance of government schools.

Let’s revisit the topic, looking specifically at the debate over whether schools should reopen.

  • Some people argue that children will suffer long-term harm because of diminished educational outcomes if schools are closed.
  • Others argue that there may be additional infections if schools are opened, risking the lives of children or members of their families.

At the risk of sounding like a mealy-mouthed politician, both sides are right.

Simply stated, there are potential downsides regardless of which option is selected.

And it’s quite likely that the right approach for some families will be the wrong approach for other families.

This is a very powerful argument for the kind of decentralized decision-making that is only possible with school choice.

  • Some parents may want a traditional in-a-classroom experience for their children.
  • Some parents may want a blended in-person/online approach for their kids.
  • Some parents may want education for their kids to be entirely online.
  • Some parents may want to choose homeschooling for their children.
  • Some parents may want to experiment with new approaches such as pod teaching.

And the only way to satisfy these disparate desires is to break the government’s monopoly on education.

Let’s look at some recent analysis.

Writing for National Review, Cathy Ruse and Tony Perkins explain why we need alternatives to a one-size-fits-all government monopoly.

…the great American entrepreneurial spirit is awakening as parents are forced to rethink education for their children. And that is to the benefit of children and the nation. …There is no better time to make a change than right now, when public education is in chaos. Parent resource groups are forming to help families make an exit strategy and find the best education option for their children. Today, there are more options than ever. …Homeschooling continues to be a growing trend… “Hybrid homeschooling” is a new option, where children are homeschooled part of the week and learn in a more traditional school setting with other students for the rest. The most exciting new parent solution is the “pandemic pod,” a return to where families in one neighborhood or social circle hire a teacher to instruct their small group of children. …The last piece of the puzzle to set families truly free to make the best education decisions for their children is for states to set free public-education funds. …Imagine the possibilities if the primary educators of children — their parents — were given the freedom to spend that money to acquire the best education for their child. ..Let’s rethink, not rotely reopen. If there ever was a time when parent power could defeat the power and monopoly of the education elites, that time is now. Let freedom ring! 

J.D. Tuccille discussed the options, including homeschooling, in a column for Reason.

Chicago Public Schools became the latest large school district to opt for online-only lessons in the fall. …it leaves a lot of Chicago families unhappy and—like their counterparts around the country—heading for the exits, in search of options that better suit their needs now and in the future. …That leaves even many families favoring online classes as dissatisfied as those preferring in-person learning—and not just in Chicago. Across the country, there has been a surge in interest in traditional alternatives such as private schools as well as homeschooling, microschools (which essentially reimagine one-room schools for the modern world), and learning pods (in which families pool kids and resources). …the lines are blurry among the various categories of DIY education. But why shouldn’t they be blurry? Families aren’t interested in imposing rigid models on their kids; they’re trying to educate their children and adopting whatever tools and techniques get the job done. …Now, “23 percent of families who had children attending traditional public schools say they currently plan to send their children to another type of school when the lockdowns are over,” according to some admittedly unscientific polling… “Notably, 15 percent of respondents said they would choose to homeschool their children when schools reopen.”

As you might expect, the unions representing teachers from government schools have a much different perspective.

As the Wall Street Journal recently explained in an editorial, they’re using the crisis as an excuse to demand more money.

…teachers unions seem to think it’s…an opportunity…to squeeze more money from taxpayers and put their private and public charter school competition out of business. …an alliance of teachers unions and progressive groups sponsored what they called a “national day of resistance” around the country listing their demands before returning to the classroom. They include…canceling rents and mortgages, a moratorium on evictions/foreclosures, providing direct cash assistance… Moratorium on new charter or voucher programs and standardized testing…federal money to support the reopening funded by taxing billionaires and Wall Street” …If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Americans are getting a closer look at the true, self-interested character of today’s teachers unions. …The proper political response should be to give taxpayer dollars to parents to decide where and how to educate their children. If parents want to use the money for private schools that are open, or for new forms of home instruction, they should have that right.

By the way, it’s not just that teacher unions want more money.

They also deliver an inferior product.

And a politicized product as well. Read this thread to be horrified about what is being “taught” to children trapped in government schools.

Let’s close with a very appropriate cartoon.

P.S. School choice doesn’t automatically mean every child will be an educational success, but evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands shows good results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

P.P.S. Getting rid of the Department of Education would be a good idea, but the battle for school choice is largely won and lost on the state and local level.

 

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Today is Thomas Sowell’s 90th birthday. The man is a living legend.

I’ve cited his great work many times, and I definitely urge people to read what Walter Williams just wrote about his long-time friend.

And I also recommend this Mark Perry column, which contains 15 of Sowell’s most insightful quotes, as well as two videos of Sowell in action.

Sowell continues to amaze with prodigious productivity. His 56th book, Charter Schools and Their Enemies, goes on sale today.

And he summarizes some of his arguments on that issue in this recent column in the Wall Street Journal.

New York’s charter school students are predominantly black and Hispanic, and live in low-income neighborhoods. In 2019, most students in the city’s public schools failed to pass the statewide tests in mathematics and English. But most of the city’s charter school students passed in both subjects. Such charter school results undermine theories of genetic determinism, claims of cultural bias in the tests… In 2013, a higher percentage of the fifth-graders in a Harlem charter school passed the mathematics test than any other public school fifth-graders in the entire state of New York. …In a number of low-income minority communities in New York City, charter school classes and classes in traditional public schools are held in the same buildings, serving the same communities. Some of the contrasts are almost unbelievable. In 28 classes in these buildings, fewer than 10% of the students reached the “proficient” level on statewide tests. All 28 classes were in traditional public schools. All charter school classes at the same grade levels in the same buildings did better—including six grade levels where the charter school majorities reaching the “proficient” level ranged from 81% to 100%.

Sounds like great news.

But there’s a dark lining to this cloud.

Competition from charter schools is an existential threat to traditional public schools in low-income minority communities… Teachers unions and traditional public school administrators have every reason to fear charter schools. In 2019 there were more than 50,000 New York City students on waiting lists to transfer into charter schools. …Among the ways of blocking students from transferring into charter schools is preventing charter schools from getting enough classrooms to put them in. …In cities across the country, public school officials are blocking charter schools from using school buildings that have been vacant for years to prevent transfers into charter schools from taking place. …In some places, vacant school buildings have been demolished, making sure no charter schools can use them. …anti-charter-school tactics by public school officials, politicians and teachers unions call into question pious statements by them that what they are doing is “for the sake of the children.” …their actions show repeatedly that protecting their own turf from the competition of charter schools is their top priority.

This is disgusting.

Union bosses, education bureaucrats, and captive politicians are sacrificing the hopes and dreams of minority children in order to preserve their monopoly system.

Even the NAACP has chosen to put leftist ideology above the best interest of black kids.

As did Barack Obama, even though he sent his own kids to an elite private school (Elizabeth Warren also is a reprehensible hypocrite on this issue).

Here’s some data on school enrollment in New York City and the rest of the state. As you can see, most whites have escaped the NYC government system, with more than 50 percent in private schools.  For many black families, though, their only affordable option is charters, and 20 percent of black kids are benefiting from this possibility.

Sadly, expanding charters is very difficult because of teacher unions and their political allies. They benefit if they keep kids trapped in a crummy system.

Needless to say, this also explains why it is so difficult to get school choice, which is an even better option.

P.S. If you want to learn more about school choice, I recommend this video.

P.P.S. It’s uplifting to see very successful school choice systems operate in nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

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Since I’m a “right libertarian” according to the political compass test, it’s no surprise that I’m generally sympathetic to cops (notwithstanding my undesired encounters).

But with important caveats.

And it goes without saying that I want a range of reactions – from scorn to punishment – when individual police officers make dumb choices (examples here, here, here, here, here, and here).

But there’s one issue that I haven’t addressed, and it’s very relevant considering the civil unrest and rioting caused by George Floyd’s death in Minnesota – and that issues is the degree to which overly powerful police unions enable bad behavior.

Professor Alex Tabarrok explains how police officers who misbehave get special privileges not available to the rest of us.

…union contracts and Law Officer “Bill of Rights” give police legal privileges that regular people don’t get. In 50 cities and 13 states, for example, union contracts “restrict interrogations by limiting how long an officer can be interrogated, who can interrogate them, the types of questions that can be asked, and when an interrogation can take place.” In Virginia police officers have a right to at least a five-day delay before being interrogated. In Louisiana police officers have up to 30 days during which no questioning is allowed and they cannot be questioned for sustained periods of time or without breaks. In some cities, police officers can only be interrogated during work hours. Regular people do not get these privileges. …how do you think complainants feel knowing that the police officer they are complaining about “must be informed of the names of all complainants.” I respect and admire police officers but frankly I think this rule is dangerous. …In the United States if you are arrested–even for a misdemeanor or minor crime, even if the charges are dropped, even if you are found not guilty–you will likely be burdened with an arrest record that can increase the difficulty of getting a job, an occupational license, or housing. But even in the unlikely event that a police officer is officially reprimanded many states and cities require that such information is automatically erased after a year or two. The automatic erasure of complaints makes it difficult to identify problem officers or a pattern of abuse.

In an article for National Review, Theodore Kupfer has a searing indictment of police unions.

Public-sector employees who belong to unions are used to special treatment, and police officers, apparently, are no different. There are little or no private alternatives to the services schoolteachers, air-traffic controllers, police officers, and prison guards provide. Their unions negotiate directly with politicians, and can demand policies that benefit them — if not the taxpayers who foot the bill — because no elected official wants to risk a catastrophic strike. The result is a tacit, unsavory bargain in which politicians and civil servants join together to direct public funding and exclusive privileges to the most favored of all interest groups: politicians and civil servants. …This is a shame. Law-enforcement unions shape our criminal-justice policies for the worse and encourage irresponsible public spending to achieve their own ends. …police unions…insist that their members have special “bills of rights” that shield them from accountability for misconduct. With a voting base that traditionally respects first responders, such concessions can be a political winner for Republicans. But they also have pernicious effects which ought to worry conservatives not comfortable with increasing the power of the state at the expense of the citizenry. …Researchers at the University of Chicago have even found that allowing law-enforcement officials collective-bargaining rights increases the risk of misconduct.

Let’s look at an astounding example of how powerful police unions generate absurd results.

This tweet tells you everything you need to know.

If you want more information about that tragic debacle, Robby Soave is a must-read writer for Reason, and here’s some of what he wrote about the reactions of law enforcement.

It’s the story of catastrophic failure at every level of law enforcement, beginning with a corrupt and incompetent sheriff’s office warned on multiple occasions about the specific threat posed by Cruz. The Broward County sheriff’s office received at least 18 tips between 2008 and 2017 concerning Cruz. A November 2017 caller described him as a “school shooter in the making.” Despite knowing that Cruz was in possession of a cache of weapons, the sheriff’s office passed the buck… On the day of the shooting, …Officer Scot Peterson, an employee of the sheriff’s office, refused to enter the school and confront Cruz, as did three Broward County Sheriff’s deputies who had arrived on scene. These were stunning indictments of Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, a man who responded to accusations of corruption by comparing himself to Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King. …law enforcement’s spectacular failure before, during, and after the Parkland shooting should be a more pressing topic of discussion. …many of these agencies prove themselves to be wildly incompetent for reasons ranging from arrogant leadership and individual cowardice, to toxic workplace culture and shoddy internal systems.

In other words, the problem was government, not a lack of gun control.

But I’m digressing.

Let’s close with a final observation about the perverse effect of collective bargaining for cops.

I disapprove when police unions conspire with local politicians to get excessive pay and special protections (a very common outcome for other types of government employees).

And I definitely don’t like it when cops are turned into overly aggressive deputy tax collectors because of greedy local governments.

But it’s presumably far worse for society when police officers use excessive force against citizens like George Floyd and Eric Garner because unions shield them from adverse consequences.

P.S. My limited collection of police-related humor can be found here, here, and here.

P.P.S. Here’s my two cents on how to most effectively protest for better police behavior.

P.P.P.S. And here’s my quiz to gauge everyone’s reaction to a unique form of protest.

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Based on rhetoric, the Democratic Party is committed to a class-warfare agenda.

They want higher income tax rates, higher capital gains taxes, higher Social Security taxes, higher death taxes, a new wealth tax, and many other tax hikes that target upper-income taxpayers.

There are various reasons why they push for these class-warfare tax hikes.

I don’t pretend to know which factor dominates.

But that’s not important because I want to make a different point. Notwithstanding all their rhetoric, Democrats are sometimes willing to shower rich people with tax breaks.

The Wall Street Journal exposes the left’s hypocrisy in the fight over the deduction for state and local taxes.

Democrats have…grown more concentrated in the richest parts of the country. That explains the strange spectacle of a Democratic presidential field running on the most redistributionist agenda in memory even as Democrats in Congress try to expand a tax break for high-earners in the New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles metropolitan areas. …Coastal Democrats have failed with gimmicks at the state and federal level to eliminate the SALT cap. The latest effort is the Restoring Tax Fairness for States and Localities Act, which passed the House Ways and Means Committee last week. …The bill would raise the SALT deduction cap in 2019 and eliminate it in 2020 and 2021. …The Tax Foundation found the biggest benefit from the unlimited deduction went to households with incomes above $1 million.

A related issue is the federal government’s special tax exemption for interest paid to holders of state and local government bonds.

I explained in 2013 why it’s bad tax policy.

Josh Barro explained the previous year why this tax break is a boon for the rich.

In 2011, 35,000 taxpayers making more than $200,000 a year paid no federal income tax. …61 percent of those avoided tax for the same reason: their income consisted largely of interest on tax-exempt municipal bonds. As Washington looks…to eliminate tax preferences for the wealthy, why not eliminate this exemption? …Nearly all of those bondholders are either for-profit corporations or individuals with high incomes. The higher your tax bracket, the greater the value of the tax preference… muni bonds have an unfortunate feature…subsidies are linked to the interest rate. That means issuers who must pay higher interest rates get more valuable subsidies. Perversely, the worse a municipality’s credit, the greater incentive it is given to borrow more money.

Needless to say, it’s not a good idea to have a tax break that benefits the rich while subsidizing profligate states like New Jersey and Illinois.

In a column for Real Clear Policy, James Capretta analyzes how Democrats are working hard to preserve a big loophole.

The push to get rid of the Cadillac tax is short-sighted for both parties, but particularly for the Democrats. …In its estimate of H.R. 748, CBO projects that Cadillac tax repeal would reduce federal revenue by $200 billion over the period 2019 to 2029, with more than half of the lost revenue occurring in 2027 to 2029. …When examined over the long-term, repeal of the Cadillac tax is likely to be one of the largest tax cuts on record. …If the Cadillac tax is repealed, the government will have less revenue to pay for the spending programs many in the party want to expand. And Republicans will be able to say that it was the Democrats, not them, who paved the way for this particular trillion dollar tax cut.

Not only is it a big tax cut to repeal the Cadillac tax, it’s also a tax cut that benefits the rich far more than the poor.

Here are some distributional numbers from the left-leaning Tax Policy Center. I’ve highlighted in red the most-important column, which shows that the top-20 percent get more than 42 percent of the tax cut while the bottom-20 percent get just 1.2 percent of the benefit.

For what it’s worth, I don’t care whether tax provisions tilt the playing field to the rich or the poor.

I care about good policy.

That’s why I like the Cadillac tax, even though it was part of the terrible Obamacare legislation.

In other words, I think principles should guide policy.

My Democratic friends obviously disagree. They beat their chests about the supposed moral imperative to “soak the rich,” but they’re willing to shower the wealthy with big tax breaks so long as key interest groups applaud.

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The worst policy research I’ve ever seen, over nearly four decades in the field, is the OECD’s grotesquely dishonest data on poverty (it even motivated a special page to acknowledge “poverty hucksters”).

But this video from Andrew Biggs suggests that the Economic Policy Institute could give the OECD some real competition.

This video exposing the EPI’s laughable methodology is a perfect introduction to the issue of teacher compensation, which is Part IV of our series to acknowledge National Education Week.

For a closer look at the issue, here are some excerpts from a column published by City Journal that Biggs co-authored with Jason Richwine.

Most commentary on teacher pay begins and ends with the observation that public school teachers earn lower salaries than the average college graduate. This is true, but in what other context do we assume that every occupation requiring a college degree should get paid the same? Engineers make about 25 percent more than accountants, but “underpaid” accountants are not demonstrating in the streets. …About half of teachers major in education, among the least-rigorous fields at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Incoming education majors have lower SAT or GRE scores than candidates in other fields, but—thanks to grade inflation—they enjoy the highest GPAs. …At the lowest skill levels—a GS-6 on the federal scale—teachers earn salaries about 26 percent higher than similar white-collar workers. At GS-11, the highest skill level, teaching pays 17 percent less than other white-collar jobs. This explains how shortages can exist for specialized positions teaching STEM, languages, or students with disabilities, while elementary education postings may receive dozens of applications per job opening. …Teachers enjoy widespread public favor, and their desire for higher pay is understandable. But no nationwide crisis of teacher compensation exists. Most teachers receive market-level salaries and generous retirement benefits.

They also addressed the topic in a piece for the Wall Street Journal.

…the annual reports on public-school teacher pay produced by the Economic Policy Institute…claims the nation’s public-school teachers were underpaid by a record 21.4% in 2018… To measure the teacher pay gap, EPI researchers compare teacher salaries with the salaries of people who have the same number of years of education and the same demographic characteristics. This model assumes that education is interchangeable—that a bachelor’s degree in education has the same market value as a bachelor’s in engineering, and a master’s in education is worth the same as a master’s in business administration. …If you accept the Economic Policy Institute’s findings, ludicrous conclusions follow. …We could complain that aerospace engineers are overpaid by 38%, and we could demand justice for telemarketers who are shortchanged by 26%. …If public-school teachers were truly underpaid, we might expect teachers to reap much higher salaries when they switch to nonteaching jobs. They don’t. We also might expect to see public-school teachers paid less than those in private schools. In fact, public-school teacher salaries are roughly 16% higher than in nonreligious private schools.

Let’s take a look at what’s happening in some major cities.

The L.A. Times reports on how record levels of spending are enriching teacher compensation rather than boosting student outcomes.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest budget plan projects $101.8 billion in total spending — which includes both local and statewide operations — for K-12 schools. That’s a $4.6-billion boost from last summer’s enacted budget and an astounding $35-billion increase from what lawmakers approved in 2014. …But at the same time, a few important things have complicated the flow of dollars to the classroom. …School districts are being squeezed…by the rising costs of employee healthcare and pensions. …“When you look at the dollars that reach the actual schools, the increase in overall funding is being outstripped by the increase in mandated costs,” Gordon said. …And while measurements differ, there’s a consensus that California trails almost every other state in per-pupil funding.

Likewise, a column in the N.Y. Post reveals that record levels of spending in New York are driven by teacher compensation, yet kids are under-performing.

The city shelled out a whopping $25,199 per pupil during fiscal 2017, compared to just $12,201 nationwide, according to data from the US Census Bureau. The record amount tops a list of per-pupil spending by the country’s 100 biggest school systems, and exceeds second-place Boston’s $22,292 by 13 percent. But recent state test results indicate that Big Apple taxpayers aren’t getting much of a bang for their bucks, with less than half of the kids in public schools exhibiting a fundamental grasp of English and math skills. …An Empire Center analysis of the latest Census numbers also showed that New York’s educational expenditures are primarily driven by teacher salaries and benefits that are 117 percent above the national average on a per-student basis. “Indeed, New York’s spending in this category alone exceeded the total per-pupil spending of all but six other states,” Empire Center founder E.J. McMahon wrote in a blog post.

The obvious conclusion is that taxpayers are over-compensating teachers, especially when looking at student performance.

But what’s far more important is to look at the deeply flawed system for determining teacher compensation.

Yes, there’s excessive pay and benefits in the contracts concocted by union bosses and politicians, but the bigger problem is that there’s no mechanism to reward good teachers and penalize bad teachers.

Indeed, many of the contracts are specifically designed to ensure that bad teachers can’t be dismissed.

Let’s look at some passages from a Wall Street Journal column by Cami Anderson, a former school administrator in both Newark and New York.

…disheartening lessons I learned regarding teacher’s contracts and labor laws during the five years I served as superintendent of New York City’s Alternative High Schools and Programs…my team and I were charged with improving the lives and academic outcomes of some of our city’s most at-risk young people. About 30,000 students ages 16 to 21, most from low-income families of color… Not long into my term, however, the ugly reality of the dysfunctional systems working against our students hit me. …many teachers and staff reinforced our students’ deepest self-doubts. …Annual performance evaluations are supposed to ensure ongoing quality among tenured teachers, but all too often the system fails. In New York 99% of teachers receive “effective” ratings while fewer than 40% of high-schoolers graduate college-ready. …Even worse, teachers engaging in egregious conduct, like showing up late 40 times in a single year, physically assaulting a child, or falsifying records (actual examples), incurred no consequences… As a huge believer in unions, due process and collective bargaining, I agonized seeing union staff zealously defend a tenure system that essentially traded students’ futures for jobs at all costs. …Meanwhile, our district employed nearly a dozen “principals” and “vice principals”… Lawyers had negotiated settlements to place them “off the radar” rather than attempt to navigate the byzantine tenure-revocation process. …People were quick to tell me there was nothing I could do about it because of labor laws and practices—and that asking questions made you a target.

And here’s some very sobering information from a column in City Journal.

…mayors, governors, and presidents should retain broad powers to remove incompetent, unsavory, or negligent government workers. In this context, the very notion of public-employee unions is contradictory, as Franklin Roosevelt recognized… Consider teachers’ unions. Citing a study by Stanford University researcher Eric Hanushek, Howard notes that bad teachers have a much greater negative effect on student performance than good teachers have a positive effect. Based on student-performance data, Hanushek’s study concluded that dismissing the worst 8 percent of American public school teachers would put American students on par with those of Finland, which has the highest-scoring students in the world. Yet it’s nearly impossible to fire tenured teachers.

American kids do not get good scores compared to kids in other nations, so the notion that we could close the gap by getting rid of the worst teachers is very encouraging.

But that’s effectively impossible because unions are more concerned with protecting the worst teachers than they are with producing the best outcomes.

Since we started with a video from Andrew Biggs, let’s close with his infographic.

The bottom line is that the government’s school monopoly is doing a bad job in large part because it’s being run for the benefit of teachers unions.

With school choice, by contrast, it would be possible to reward the best teachers. Indeed, there would be competitive pressure for that outcome under a decentralized, competition-based system.

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According to the union bosses at the National Education Association, November 18-22 is National Education Week and a “wonderful opportunity to celebrate public education.”

I care about facts and I care about kids, and all the evidence shows that government schools do a terrible job. So, instead of celebrating, I’m going to focus this week on government’s destructive impact.

Let’s start with this stunning visual from Mark Perry at the American Enterprise Institute. As you can see, the main takeaways are that costs have soared and bureaucracy has expanded.

And if you look at this chart, you’ll see that test scores have been flat.

Indeed, the unambiguous conclusion is that taxpayers are being asked to cough up ever-growing amounts of cash. Yet we never see any improvements in the quality of government schooling.

Indeed, an article in National Review explains that all this money and this bureaucracy has produced a negative rate of return

A Nation at Risk…revealed, in the words of Ronald Reagan, an education system plagued by “low standards, lack of purpose, ineffective use of resources, and a failure to challenge students to push performance to the boundaries of individual ability.” …Since then the nation has devoted a great deal of attention to getting education right. To little avail. …The results of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)…, released this month, are dismal. Fewer than half of students are rated “proficient” in each of these subjects.

But it’s not just folks on the right who think the current system is a failure.

An article in left-of-center Vox is even more dour about the effectiveness of government schools.

…cast a cold look at the performance of schools… Consider the trends: Since 2005, SAT reading scores have dropped by 14 points. A writing component was added to the SAT in 2006, and scores have dropped every year since then except for two years when they were flat. Math scores for 2015 were the lowest in 20 years. …On the ACT’s measure of “college readiness” in math, English, reading, and science, slightly more than one-third of test takers met the benchmarks in three subjects, while another one-third did not meet any(!) of the benchmarks. …According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams (the “Nation’s Report Card,” administered by the Education Department’s National Center for Educational Statistics), only one-quarter of 12th-graders are proficient in civics, one-fifth in geography, just over one-third (37 percent) in reading, one-fifth (22 percent) in science, and one-eighth (12 percent) in US history. Only one-quarter of them reach proficiency in math. …At the same time, we have another discrepancy, outcomes versus public school funding. …Adjusted for inflation, the national average for per-pupil spending rose steadily…the cost-benefit numbers continue to look bleak.

The fundamental problem is that teacher unions are in bed with politicians.

This doesn’t just mean that government schools are needlessly expensive (and they are). It also means that the government monopoly primarily exists as a tool to serve bureaucracy rather than students.

Consider these scholarly findings.

Does collective bargaining by teachers help or hurt students?Two Cornell academics— Michael Lovenheim, an associate professor of policy analysis and management, and Alexander Willén, a doctoral student—have recently completed a study that tries to answer it. In “A Bad Bargain: How teacher collective bargaining affects students’ employment and earnings later in life,” the professors conclude: “We find strong evidence that teacher collective bargaining has a negative effect on students’ earnings as adults.” …Students who spent all 12 years of their elementary and secondary education in schools with mandatory collective bargain earned $795 less per year as adults than their peers who weren’t in such schools. They also worked on average a half hour less per week, were 0.9% less likely to be employed, and were in occupations requiring lower skills. The authors found that these add up to a large overall loss of $196 billion per year…collective bargaining may be profitable for the teachers and staff of public schools, but the price is being paid by the students.

Washington-driven policies certainly haven’t helped. Bush’s so-called No Child Left Behind scheme failed, and the same is true for Obama’s Common Core.

Indeed, this article from the Federalist documents the failure of Obama’s approach.

…the Obama administration lured states into adopting Common Core sight unseen, with promises it would improve student achievement. Like President Obama’s other big promises — “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” — this one’s been proven a scam. …Race to the Top was a $4 billion money pot inside the 2009 stimulus that helped bribe states into Common Core. …Are American children increasingly prepared…? We’re actually seeing the opposite. They’re increasingly less prepared. And there’s mounting evidence that Common Core deserves some of the blame. …ACT scores released earlier this month show that students’ math achievement is at a 20-year low. The latest English ACT scores are slightly down since 2007, and students’ readiness for college-level English was at its lowest level since ACT’s creators began measuring that item…the latest round of international tests…showed U.S. fourth graders declining on reading achievement. …Common Core sucked all the energy, money, and motivation right out of desperately needed potential reforms to U.S. public schools for a decade, and for nothing. It’s more money right down our nation’s gigantic debt hole, another generation lost to sickening ignorance, another set of corrupt bureaucrats‘ careers and bank accounts built out of the wreckage of American minds.

We can also see the dismal impact of bigger budgets by looking at experiences in various cities.

Throwing more money at the government monopoly didn’t work in New York City.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is canceling one of his signature education initiatives, acknowledging that despite spending $773 million he was unable to turn around many long-struggling public schools in three years after decades of previous interventions had also failed. …the program has been plagued by bureaucratic confusion and uneven academic results… The question of how to fix broken schools is a great unknown in education…no large school system has cracked the code, despite decades of often costly attempts. …the program was based on the union-friendly theory that struggling schools need more resources.

(For some very grim first-hand accounts of New York City’s government schools, click here, here, and here.)

It didn’t work in Newark.

Booker pitched Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that, with $100 million, they “could flip a whole city!” In September 2010, the troika appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s television show to present and accept the gift. For education reformers convinced that poverty could be solved given the will and the money, it was a dream come true. …the reformers’ dreams turned into a political nightmare. …Hopes for a game-changing teacher contract were quickly dashed, as reformers learned that teacher tenure protections were enshrined in state law. …Newark public schools spend $19,650 per pupil, but only $9,604 reaches the classroom.

And it didn’t work in Denver.

Denver’s once-celebrated ProComp pay system…was jointly developed by the DCTA and Denver Public Schools in 2005. …Back then, ProComp was heralded as a pioneering step forward on pay-for-performance/merit pay… The only problem? This narrative is bunk. For all the talk about “merit” and “performance,” ProComp is almost wholly devoid of any links between pay and teacher performance. …ProComp is mostly designed to reward the usual credentialism… Denver’s situation is so noteworthy because Denver is no laggard. Indeed, for many years, it has been celebrated as a “model” district by reformers. So it’s disheartening how little progress the city has actually made.

And you won’t be surprised to learn it didn’t work in D.C.

The much-celebrated success of education reform in the nation’s capital turns out to have been a lie. …Education reformers used to celebrate D.C.’s dramatic decline in school suspensions. Then a Washington Post investigation revealed that it was fake; administrators had merely taken suspensions off the books. The same reformers used to celebrate D.C.’s sharp increase in high-school graduations. Then an NPR investigation revealed that it, too, was fake; almost half of students who missed more than half the year graduated. …consider Abdullah Zaki, who back in 2013 was named DCPS principal of the year. He was just placed on administrative leave (not fired, mind you) after an audit revealed that 4,000 changes were made to 118 students’ attendance records at his high school. …consider Yetunde Reeves…who took Ballou High School from 57 percent graduation to 100 percent college acceptance in just one year. She was placed on administrative leave (again, not fired) after NPR reported teacher allegations that she leveraged the teacher-evaluation system to coerce teachers to go along with her scheme.

I realize I’m being repetitive, but more money for the government monopoly also didn’t work in Providence.

Rhode Island’s politicians this summer made a show of decrying the shameful condition of Providence public schools…peeling lead paint, vermin, brown water, leaking sewage—from a Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy 93-page report on Providence schools… Student test scores are the worst in Rhode Island and lower than districts in other states with similar demographics. …“the district’s performance is continuing to decline despite increased interventions and funding.” Providence’s school budget has increased by nearly a quarter since 2011.

You can also click here to read about failure in Patterson, N.J., and Los Angeles, CA. The bottom line is that more spending does not lead to better student performance.

It’s also nauseating that government schools try to brainwash kids with leftist pabulum.

Consider what’s happening in California.

California’s Education Department has issued an “Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum”…written by an advisory board of teachers, academics and bureaucrats. It’s as bad as you imagine. …The document is filled with fashionable academic jargon like “positionalities,” “hybridities,” “nepantlas” and “misogynoir.” It includes faddish social-science lingo like “cis-heteropatriarchy”… It is difficult to comprehend the depth and breadth of the ideological bias and misrepresentations without reading the whole curriculum—something few will want to do. Begin with economics. Capitalism is described as a “form of power and oppression,” alongside “patriarchy,” “racism,” “white supremacy” and “ableism.” …Housing policy gets the treatment. The curriculum describes subprime loans as an attack on home buyers with low incomes rather than a misguided attempt by the government to help such home buyers. …This curriculum explicitly aims at encouraging students to become “agents of change, social justice organizers and advocates.”

Seattle is also looking to get in the business of dishing out propaganda.

Seattle’s public-school district has proposed a new math curriculum that would teach its students all about how math has been “appropriated” — and how it “continues to be used to oppress and marginalize people and communities.” …the social-justice approach to teaching math has officially entered the mainstream (and taxpayer-funded!) arena. …this approach to teaching math will only end up harming the very groups it claims it champions. …The minority students, the members of the very groups that this curriculum presumably aims to aid, are actually going to be learning less math than they would have without it — because they will be spending some of that class time learning about how math’s racism has hurt them.

Wow. No wonder young people are sympathetic to socialism. They’re being spoon-fed crazy ideas.

To round out our discussion, here’s a video from Reason.

So what’s the solution?

Writing for Real Clear Politics, Heather Wilhelm says we need to give up on the government monopoly.

…there might not be much left to do but vote with your feet. The term “Go Galt,” which comes from Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” refers to citizens retreating from a political system that basically takes their money and otherwise does them no good. …odds are the public school system isn’t doing you any favors. If you’re a poor kid in the inner city, the damage and injustice is obvious… “If you send your kid to a private school,” Slate’s Allison Benedikt wrote in a 2013 essay-gone-viral, you are “a bad person … ruining one of our nation’s most essential institutions.” News flash: The public school system is already a mess, it’s getting messier, and it can only improve the old-fashioned way — through competition.

If you prefer, this quote from Thomas Sowell is spot on.

The bottom line is that government has created a bad system. It doesn’t matter that most teachers have noble intentions. It doesn’t matter that most kids are capable of higher achievement. Monopolies simply don’t perform, especially when mixed with special-interest politics.

It goes without saying that shutting down the Department of Education would be a positive step. But that’s only a partial solution. We’ll explore the real answer tomorrow.

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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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My biggest complaint about government employees is that they work for bureaucracies that shouldn’t exist. As far as I’m concerned, they may be the most wonderful, conscientious, and hard-working people in the world, but we shouldn’t have a Department of Housing and Urban Development or a Department of Agriculture, so these folks – by definition – are getting dramatically overpaid (i.e., anything about $0).

My second main complaint is that bureaucrats are overpaid relative to their counterparts in the private sector. About twice as much when you include the value of both wages and benefits.

The unions representing bureaucrats sometimes try to argue that this isn’t true, but I always point out the data on voluntary quit rates, which are much higher in the private sector compared to government. Needless to say, this is because folks who get cushy government jobs know they’ve won the employment lottery and have very little desire to switch to the private sector (where, as Dan Aykroyd explained in Ghostbusters, “they expect results”).

A third complaint is that politicians can’t resist catering to the unions that represent government employees, which means not only excessive compensation but also absurdly inefficient rules designed to protect loafers, scroungers, and con artists in the bureaucracy.

Let’s review the example of Queon Jackson. As reported by the Boston Globe, he’s pocketed a lot of money while doing absolutely nothing.

A former acting headmaster in Boston, placed on paid leave more than three years ago amid an investigation into credit card fraud, collected $375,000 in pay during his absence.

In the private sector, employment often is a tenuous situation. You can be fired “at will,” which means for just about any reason.

But unions strike deals with compliant politicians (from the perspective of elected officials, bureaucrats are a special interest group with lots of voters and lots of campaign cash) to provide so-called employment-protection rules for government employees.

And these rules make it very difficult and very expensive to deal with bad bureaucrats.

And it seems that Mr. Jackson meets that definition.

Jackson’s case reflects the thorny issues school systems face when union-protected employees are under federal investigations that drag on for months or years without charges being filed. Jackson, who was classified as an assistant director at the time of his paid leave, is a member of the school system’s union for midlevel school administrators, and the school system would have had to establish just cause to fire him. Thomas Scott, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said…The choice…comes down to this: Either put the person in a low-profile desk job and face a potential public backlash, or fire the employee and run the risk of a lawsuit.

Here’s why Jackson got in trouble.

The school system originally placed Jackson on leave in February 2013, after learning the Secret Service was investigating him for an alleged role in fraudulently obtaining credit and then not paying the bills. But Jackson had contended that he was victimized by someone who stole his identity in an attempt to buy a car.

Though he already had a shady background when he first entered the bureaucracy.

In 2000, a few months before the district hired Jackson as a teacher, he admitted to sufficient facts for a finding of guilty in a drug case and a domestic abuse case that required him to take an anger-management course. That type of plea is commonly used by defendants to avoid a criminal record. …Jackson, who was a state social worker at the time, was charged with possession with intent to distribute counterfeit drugs.

Returning to the current situation, it’s not clear from the story, but I gather investigators from the Secret Service didn’t have enough evidence to nail Jackson, so the school system had no choice but to not only keep him on the payroll, but also to give him a new position.

Now Queon Jackson…is back. …The school system quietly cleared Jackson to return to work on May 9 and gave him a desk job at the agency’s headquarters and the title “special assistant.” The move ended a paid leave of three years and three months, during which he did no work for the school system. …He is receiving an annual salary of about $120,000, equivalent to what he made as a school administrator.

Though he apparently hasn’t been a model employee since his return.

Jackson has been accumulating many absences over the last two months, missing at least 16 days, including seven without pay, according to a Globe review of payroll records. The tally doesn’t include time he took off in mid-July.

Oh, by the way, Jackson is just one of many bureaucrats who get this strange form of paid vacation.

Boston’s school system currently has 34 employees on paid leave.

I shudder to think what the nationwide number looks like, but apparently there are tens of thousand federal bureaucrats getting paid leave. You can see a couple of strange examples by clicking here and here.

The bottom line is that Mr. Jackson isn’t special. Lots of bureaucrats get to scam the system because union contracts protect dodgy employees. So he doesn’t merit membership in the Bureaucrat Hall of Fame, but it’s still outrageous that taxpayers in the productive sector pay extra tax to subsidize this nonsense.

If you like humor about overpaid government employees (and you’re paying for it, so you may as well get some enjoyment), here’s a great top-10 list from Letterman and here’s a cartoon about the relationship of bureaucrats and taxpayers. Looking through my archives, I also found a joke about an Indian training for a government job, a slide show on how bureaucracies operate, a cartoon strip on bureaucratic incentives, a story on what would happen if Noah tried to build an Ark today, and these two posters. There’s also a good one-liner from Craig Ferguson, along with this political cartoons from  Henry Payne.

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Last week, I shared a TV interview about Obama’s budget, but much of the discussion was routine and didn’t warrant special attention.

But there was one small part of the interview, dealing with the silly claim that America became a rich nation because of socialism, that got me all agitated.

Well, to quote the great Yogi Berra, it’s deja vu all over again. Here’s an interview I did with CNBC about labor unrest. As you might expect, I made the standard libertarian argument that it’s not the job of government to pick sides when labor and management have squabbles.

That’s a point I’ve made before (here, here, here, here, here, and here), so there’s no need to elaborate on that issue.

But if you pay attention at the 3:00 mark of the video, you’ll notice that the discussion shifts to income inequality. And this is what got me agitated. I’m completely baffled that some people think that redistribution is more important than growth.

As I point out in the interview, nobody wins in the long run if you have a stagnant economy and politicians are fixated on re-slicing a shrinking pie.

The goal of everyone – including unions and leftist politicians – should be growth. If we get robust growth, that will mean tight labor markets, and that’s a big cause of rising wages.

But here’s my hypothesis to explain why statists don’t support good policies. Simply stated, I think they hate the rich more than they like the poor.

That sounds like a rather bold claim, but is there any other explanation for why they reject the types of tax policies (such as lower corporate rates, reduced double taxation, and expensing) that will increase investment, thus boosting productivity and wages?

Heck, look at this chart showing the relationship between capital formation and labor compensation.

Any decent person, after looking at the link between capital and wages, should be clamoring for the flat tax.

Yet Obama wants to move the tax code in the opposite direction!

I confess that I have no idea if this is because of malice or ignorance, but I do know that no nation has ever generated faster growth with class warfare.

I realize I’m ranting, but the more I think about this topic, the more upset I get. Politicians and their allies are making life harder for workers, and I hope I never stop being outraged when that happens.

P.S. On a totally separate subject, here’s a good joke forwarded to me by a friend this morning. It definitely belongs in my collection of gun control humor.

A state trooper in Kansas made a traffic stop of an elderly lady for speeding on U.S. 166 just East of Sedan, KS. He asked for her driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. The lady took out the required information and handed it to him.

In with the cards, he was somewhat surprised (due to her advanced age) to see she had a concealed carry permit. He looked at her and asked if she had a weapon in her possession at this time. She responded that she indeed had a .45 automatic in her glove box.

Something, body language, or the way she said it, made him want to ask if she had any other firearms. She did admit to also having a 9mm Glock in her center console. Now he had to ask one more time if that was all. She responded once again that she did have just one more, a .38 special in her purse.

He then asked her “Ma’am, you sure carry a lot of guns. What are you so afraid of?”

She looked him right in the eye and said, “Not a damn thing!”

You can enjoy other examples of gun control humor by clicking here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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As a taxpayer, I don’t like the fact that government employees get paid more than folks in the private sector.

But the big difference between bureaucrats and regular workers isn’t so much the pay, it’s the fringe benefits.

And perhaps the  biggest difference of all is that government bureaucrats get far more  lavish retiree benefits.

Sounds like a sweet deal, at least if you get a coveted job (or even six jobs!) with a state or local government.

It’s not a good deal for taxpayers, though, and the entire system is rather unstable because politicians and union bosses have conspired to create huge unfunded liabilities that threaten to create a death spiral for state and local governments.

Simply stated, why should productive taxpayers continue to live, work, and pay taxes in places where a huge chunk of money is diverted to pay off past promises rather than to deliver goods and services (education, parks, trash pickup, police, etc) that have some value?

Indeed, this is a big reason why places such as Detroit already have collapsed. And I fear it is just a matter of time before other local government (as well as some states such as California and Illinois) reach the tipping point.

But perhaps you think I’m being too dour? Yes, I’m prone to pessimism because of my low level of faith in the political elite. In this case, however, any sensible person should be very worried.

Let’s look at what some experts have to say about these issues.

Here are some passages from Steve Malanga’s Wall Street Journal column from earlier this month.

He starts by explaining that Jerry Brown’s big tax hike for education actually has very little to do with helping kids to learn (not that more money is the recipe for better education, as shown by this jaw-dropping chart, but that’s a separate issue).

Instead, the money is being diverted to finance the lavish pension system.

California Gov. Jerry Brown sold a $6 billion tax increase to voters in 2012 by promising that nearly half of the money would go to bolster public schools. …Last June Mr. Brown signed legislation that will require school districts to increase funding for teachers’ pensions from less than $1 billion this year in school year 2014-15, which started in September, to $3.7 billion by 2021, gobbling up much of the new tax money. With the state’s general government pension fund, Calpers, also demanding more money, California taxpayer advocate Joel Fox recently observed that no matter what local politicians tell voters, when you see tax increases, “think pensions.” …When California passed its 2012 tax increases, Gov. Brown and legislators promised voters the new rates would expire in 2018. But school pension costs will keep increasing… Public union leaders and sympathetic legislators are already trying to figure out how to convince voters to extend the 2012 tax increases and approve “who knows what else” in new levies

Sounds grim, but Mr. Malanga warns that “Californians are not alone.”

Decades of rising retirement benefits for workers—some of which politicians awarded to employees without setting aside adequate funding—and the 2008 financial meltdown have left American cities and states with somewhere between $1.5 trillion and $4 trillion in retirement debt. …the tab keeps growing, and now it is forcing taxes higher in many places.

Such as Pennsylvania.

A report last June by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators found that nearly every school district in that state anticipated higher pension costs for the new fiscal year, with three-quarters calculating their pension bills would rise by 25% or more. Subsequently, 164 school districts received state permission to raise property taxes above the 2.1% state tax cap. Every one of the districts cited rising pension costs.

And West Virginia.

In West Virginia, where local governments also face big pension debts, the legislature recently expanded the state’s home rule law—which governs how municipalities can raise revenues—to allow cities to impose their own sales taxes. The state’s biggest city, Charleston, with $287 million in unfunded pension liabilities, has already instituted a $6 million-a-year local sales tax devoted solely to pensions, on top of the $10 million the city already contributes annually to its retirement system. At least five more cities applying to raise local sales taxes, including Wheeling, also cited pension costs.

The column also has lots of material on the mess in Illinois.

Here’s just a sampling.

The city of Peoria’s budget illustrates the squeeze. In the early 1990s it spent 18% of the property-tax money it collected on pensions. This year it will devote 57% of its property tax to pension costs. Reluctant to raise the property levy any more, last year the city increased fees and charges to residents by 8%, or $1.2 million, for such items as garbage collection and sewer services. Taxpayers in Chicago saw the first of what promises to be a blizzard of new taxes. The city’s public-safety retirement plans are only about 35% funded, though pension costs already consume nearly half of Chicago’s property-tax collections.

All this sounds depressing, but it’s actually worse than you think.

We also have to look at the promises that have been made to provide health benefits for retired government employees.

Robert Pozen of Brookings has some very sobering data.

Public-pension funds have garnered attention in recent years for being underfunded, but a more precarious situation has received much less notice: health-care obligations for public retirees. …only 11 states have funded more than 10% of retiree health-care liabilities, according to a November 2013 report from the credit-rating agency Standard & Poor’s. For example, New Jersey has almost no assets backing one of the largest retiree health-care liabilities of any state—$63.8 billion. Only eight out of the 30 largest U.S. cities have funded more than 5% of their retiree health-care obligations, according to a study released last March by the Pew Charitable Trust. New York City tops the list with $22,857 of unfunded liabilities per household. …Total U.S. unfunded health-care liabilities exceeded $530 billion in 2009, the Government Accountability Office estimated, but the current number may be closer to $1 trillion, according to a 2014 comprehensive study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

By the way, these retired government workers are covered by Medicare, but Pozen explains that the unfunded liabilities exist because so many of them retire before age 65.

And their health plans sometimes cover Medicare premiums once they turn 65.

State and local governments typically pay most of the insurance premiums for employees who retire before they are eligible for Medicare at age 65. That can be a long commitment, as many workers retire as early as 50. Many governments also pay a percentage of Medicare premiums once retired workers turn 65.

But there is some good news.

States are trying to deal with this healthcare-driven fiscal Sword of Damocles.

Since 2010 more than 15 states have passed laws to reduce health-care cost-of-living adjustments—automatic benefit increases linked to the consumer-price index. Courts in eight states upheld these reductions on grounds that cost-of-living adjustments should not be considered a contractual right. Only Washington’s law was struck down in 2011, and the case is now on appeal. Some state and local governments—Nevada and West Virginia, for example—have increased deductibles and scaled back premium subsidies. Others like Ohio and Maine have reduced the health-care benefits provided to retirees. Several years ago Pennsylvania changed early retirement eligibility to 20 years of service from 15.

In many cases, though, I fear these reforms are a case of too little, too late.

So long as the fiscal burden of providing pensions and healthcare expands at a faster rate than the private economy, states and localities will push for more and more taxes to prop up the system.

But people won’t want to live in places where a big chunk of their tax payments are diverted to fringe benefits. So they’ll move out of cities like Detroit and Chicago, and they’ll move out of states like New Jersey and Illinois.

So the bottom line is that politicians and government employee unions engineered a great scam, but one that ultimately in many cases will self destruct.

And the lesson for the rest of us is that government bureaucrats should not get special goodies, particularly when they are financed by nothing other than promises to screw future taxpayers.

Pensions for government workers should be based on the defined-contribution model, and healthcare promises should be more limited and in the form of health savings accounts.

But how do you get these much-needed reforms when the government unions finance the politicians who are on the opposite side of the negotiating table?!?

P.S. Here’s a good joke about government bureaucracy. Here’s a similar joke in picture form. And we find the same humor in this joke, but with a bit more build up. And now that I’ve given it some thought, there’s more bureaucrat humor here, here (image near bottom), and here.

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Perhaps because he wants to divert attention from the slow-motion train wreck of Obamacare, the President is signalling that he will renew his efforts to throw more people into the unemployment line.

Needless to say, that’s not how the White House would describe the President’s proposal to increase the minimum wage, but that’s one of the main results when the government criminalizes certain employment contracts between consenting adults.

To be blunt, if a worker happens to have poor work skills, a less-than-impressive employment record, or some other indicator of low productivity that makes them worth, say, $7.50 per hour, then a $9-per-hour minimum wage is a ticket to the unemployment line.

Which is the point I made in a rather unfriendly interview with Yahoo Finance.

But a higher minimum wage is popular with voters who don’t understand economics, and unions strongly support a higher minimum wage since it means potential competitors are then priced out of the market.

So it’s not exactly a surprise that the White House is siding with unions over lower-skill workers. Here’s some of what is being reported by The Hill.

President Obama might soon renew his push for a $9 minimum wage, a top economic adviser said on Monday. “You’ll certainly be hearing more about it,” Jason Furman, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, told reporters Monday at a Wall Street Journal event. …Obama urged lawmakers during January’s State of the Union address to boost the wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour and index it so that it rises with inflation.

The “indexing” provision would be especially pernicious. In the past, rising overall wage levels have diminished the harmful impact of the minimum wage. But if the minimum wage automatically increases,Minimum Wage Cartoon 2 then the ladder of opportunity may be permanently out of reach for some low-skilled workers.

Walter Williams also has weighed in on this issue, noting specifically the negative impact of higher minimum wages on minorities. Indeed, he cited research showing that, “each 10 percent increase reduces hours worked by 3 percent among white males, 1.7 percent for Hispanic males, and 6.6 percent for black males.”

The bottom line is that businesses aren’t charities. They hire workers when they think more employees will improve the bottom line. So if you artificially increase the price of labor, it’s easy to understand why marginal workers won’t get hired.

For more information on this issue, here’s a video produced by the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

P.S. I wrote yesterday that the tax-hike referendum in Colorado was the most important battle in the 2013 elections.

Well, I’m delighted to report that Colorado voters are even wiser than Swiss voters. A take-hike referendum in 2010 was defeated in Switzerland by a 58.5-41.5 margin. Colorado voters easily exceeded that margin, rejecting the tax hike in a staggering 66-34 landslide.

Here’s what the Denver newspaper – which liked the tax increase – wrote about the referendum.

The pro-66 side raised more than $10 million that it lavished on advertising, messaging and get-out-the-vote efforts, thanks in part to huge donations from teachers unions, Michael Bloomberg, and Bill and Melinda Gates. Opponents meanwhile had barely the equivalent of a street-corner megaphone at their disposal. And yet Colorado voters, in another display of independence, ignored the prodding in one direction and chose to go their own way. They didn’t merely defeat Amendment 66. They demolished the idea.

In other words, taxpayers were heavily outspent by union bosses and out-of-state billionaires, yet they easily prevailed and Colorado’s flat tax is safe.  At least for now.

P.P.S. I conducted a test this morning on media bias. I’m still in Iceland, so I went to sleep last night long before American election results were announced. When I woke up this morning, I looked first at both the CNN and Washington Post websites. When I didn’t see any results for the Colorado tax referendum, I was 99 percent confident that the statists had lost. Needless to say, it would have been front page news if the referendum was approved.

P.P.P.S. Since I’m adding some comments on Colorado elections, we also should be happy that the pro-school choice members of the Douglas County School Board were all reelected, notwithstanding a big effort by the unions.

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School choice should be a slam-dunk issue. There’s very powerful evidence that we can provide superior education for lower cost if we shift away from monopoly government schools to a system based on parental choice.

Yet some leftists oppose this reform, even though poor and minority kids would be the biggest beneficiaries. Here’s some of what I wrote last year about how the left deals with this issue.

…the school choice issue exposes the dividing line between honest liberals and power-hungry liberals. Regardless of ideology, any decent person will favor reforms that enable poor kids to escape horrible government schools. Lots of liberals are decent people. The ones who oppose school choice, by contrast, are…well, you can fill in the blank.

The Washington Post, to its credit, belongs in the “decent” category. Here’s some of the paper’s editorial on school choice in Louisiana.

Nine of 10 Louisiana children who receive vouchers to attend private schools are black. All are poor and, if not for the state assistance, would be consigned to low-performing or failing schools with little chance of learning the skills they will need to succeed as adults. So it’s bewildering, if not downright perverse, for the Obama administration to use the banner of civil rights to bring a misguided suit that would block these disadvantaged students from getting the better educational opportunities they are due.

The editorial eviscerates the nonsensical data that the Obama Administration is using as it puts the interests of powerful teacher unions above the needs of disadvantaged children.

The government argues that allowing students to leave their public schools for vouchered private schools threatens to disrupt the desegregation of school systems. …Since most of the students using vouchers are black, it is, as State Education Superintendent John White pointed out to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “a little ridiculous” to argue that the departure of mostly black students to voucher schools would make their home school systems less white. …The government’s argument that “the loss of students through the voucher program reversed much of the progress made toward integration” becomes even more absurd upon examination of the cases it cited in its petition. …a school that lost five white students through vouchers and saw a shift in racial composition from 29.6 percent white to 28.9 percent white. Another school that lost six black students and saw a change in racial composition from 30.1 percent black to 29.2 percent black. “Though the students . . . almost certainly would not have noticed a difference, the racial bean counters at the DOJ see worsening segregation,”… The number that should matter to federal officials is this: Roughly 86 percent of students in the voucher program came from schools that were rated D or F. Mr. White called ironic using rules to fight racism to keep students in failing schools; we think it appalling.

Not only appalling, but also hypocritical. The President is sending his children to an ultra-expensive private school, but doesn’t want poor families to have any choice to get a good education.

Unfortunately, though, it is not a surprise from an administration that…has proven to be hostile — as witnessed by its petty machinations against D.C.’s voucher program — to the school choice afforded by private-school vouchers. …Louisiana parents are clamoring for the choice afforded by this program; the state is insisting on accountability; poor students are benefiting. The federal government should get out of the way.

Kudos to the Washington Post for urging a withdrawal of federal intervention. Now if we can get the Post to apply the same federalism lesson to Medicaid, transportation, and other issues, we’ll be making real progress.

For more information on the overall issue of school choice, I strongly recommend this video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity Foundation.

By the way, don’t believe propaganda from politicians and union bosses about “underfunded” schools. The United States spends more per capita than any other country.

This isn’t an issue of money. The problem is that monopolies don’t deliver good results. Particularly monopolies controlled by self-serving union bosses that use political muscle to protect undeserved privileges.

P.S. Not surprisingly, Thomas Sowell nails this issue, as does Walter Williams, with both criticizing the President for sacrificing the interests of minority children to protect the monopoly privileges of teacher unions.

P.P.S. Chile has reformed its education system with vouchers, as have Sweden and the Netherlands, and all those nations are getting good results.

P.P.P.S. There are some other honest and sincere liberals on this issue.

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I was very critical of the General Motors bailout since it largely was designed to give undeserved special benefits to the UAW union. I’m also very down of teacher unions because they sabotage reforms that would help poor children trapped in failed government schools.

And I’m definitely opposed to the excessive pay and benefits that politicians grant to bureaucrats in exchange for votes and money from government employee unions (as cleverly depicted in this great Michael Ramirez cartoon).

So why, then, do I have mixed feelings about the recently enacted right-to-work law in Michigan?

Here’s some of what I wrote almost 25 years ago for the Villanova Law Review, beginning with my general philosophy on the role of government in labor markets.

…government should not interfere with certain personal decisions, including the freedom of employers and employees to contract freely, unfettered by labor regulations. …My position is one of strict neutrality. The government should not take side in employer-employee issues. …this is a question of property rights. If another person owns a business, I do not have a right to interfere with his choices as to what he does with his property – so long as he does not interfere with my rights of life, liberty, and property.

That’s all fine and well. Standard libertarian boilerplate, one might even say, and I’ve certainly expressed these views on television (see here, here, and here).

But then I explore some implications. If you believe in a system based on property rights and private contracts, then right-to-work laws are an unjust form of intervention.

…a property rights perspective also would reject so-called right-to-work laws which infringe upon the employers’ freedom of contract to hire only union members which is something employers may wish to do since it can lower transactions costs. …Some would argue that nobody should be forced to join a union as a condition of employment. The relevant issue in this instance, however, is not whether one can be forced to join a union, because a person cannot; if he does not like the union, he can refuse the job. The real issue is whether a business and its employees should have the freedom to choose to sign contracts which have union membership as a condition of employment.

All that being said, I’m glad Michigan just enacted a right-to-work law. I know it’s not ideal policy, but my rationale is that most government labor laws (such as the National Labor Relations Act and the Norris–La Guardia Act) tilt the playing field in favor of unions.

So until that glorious day when we get government out of labor markets, I view right-to-work laws as a second-best alternative. They’re a form of intervention that partially compensates for other forms of intervention.

A good analogy is that I don’t like tax loopholes, but I like the fact that they enable people to keep more of the money they earn. The ideal system, of course, would be a simple and fair flat tax. But in the absence of real reform, I don’t want politicians to get rid of preferences if it means they get more of our money to waste. Deductions should only be eliminated if they use every penny of additional revenue to lower tax rates.

Returning to what happened in Michigan, let’s close with an amusing cartoon that mocks Obama’s dismal record on jobs.

Cartoon Right to Work

P.S. Since I’ve written something that might appeal to union bosses, I feel the need to compensate. So feel free to enjoy some good cartoons mocking unionized bureaucrats by clicking here, here, here, and here.

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As a general rule, I’m completely neutral about private-sector unions. As I argued in this interview, the federal government should not take sides or tilt the playing field when unions and management squabble.

I have a more skeptical view of unionized bureaucrats, though, because politicians (acting as “management”) have no incentive to be frugal since they’re spending our money and there’s no competitive pressure to be efficient.

Which is why this cartoon is the best summary of “negotiations” between politicians and union bosses, and this video is damning proof that bureaucrats are wildly over-compensated.

So it’s no surprise that I’m unsympathetic to the striking teachers in Chicago. They earn more money than the taxpayers of the city, yet they do a terrible job of educating students.

Here are some good cartoons, beginning with a gem from Michael Ramirez.

You can see some of my favorite Ramirez cartoons here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, herehereherehereherehere, and here.

Here’s another cartoon. Instead of mocking teachers for doing a crummy job, it zings them for insatiable greed (similar to this cartoon).

Lisa Benson did this cartoon, and you can review some of her best work herehereherehereherehere,here, herehere, and here.

Last but not least, I’m not even sure what we’re supposed to learn from this cartoon. But it implies thuggish tactics in Chicago, so let’s add it to the list.

Sort of reminds me of this cartoon about Wisconsin.

The best outcome of the strike, by the way, is to junk the government education monopoly and implement a sweeping school choice program.  Chile has reformed its education system with vouchers, as have Sweden and the Netherlands. So why shouldn’t kids in Chicago get the same opportunity?

The answer, of course, is that there’s a corrupt and symbiotic relationship between unions and local politicians. The kids are nothing more than collateral damage.

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While I often complain about government waste and stupidity, I’m not even sure what to say about this grim bit of news from Reuters.

General Motors Co sold a record number of Chevrolet Volt sedans in August — but that probably isn’t a good thing for the automaker’s bottom line. Nearly two years after the introduction of the path-breaking plug-in hybrid, GM is still losing as much as $49,000 on each Volt it builds, according to estimates provided to Reuters by industry analysts and manufacturing experts. Cheap Volt lease offers meant to drive more customers to Chevy showrooms this summer may have pushed that loss even higher. There are some Americans paying just $5,050 to drive around for two years in a vehicle that cost as much as $89,000 to produce. …The weak sales are forcing GM to idle the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant that makes the Chevrolet Volt for four weeks from September 17, according to plant suppliers and union sources. It is the second time GM has had to call a Volt production halt this year. GM acknowledges the Volt continues to lose money, and suggests it might not reach break even until the next-generation model is launched in about three years.

Gee, it’s almost as if everything that critics have said all along is right.

But not to worry, taxpayers are underwriting the costs. So if bigger subsidies are the price of buying support from the UAW and allowing fat-cat incompetent managers to stay on the job, that just means a bigger tab to pay for the rest of us.

How comforting.

P.S. If you’re a taxpayer and need to be cheered up, these cartoons may help.

P.P.S. This spoof video on the Volt may be even funnier.

P.P.P.S. Last but not least, Government Motors plans to build on the success of the Volt with the Obummer. It was due in 2011, but standard government incompetence has pushed back the release date.

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I’ve criticized union bosses for fighting school reform, and I’ve condemned the so-called civil rights establishment for opposing school choice.

And here’s a powerful video from Reason TV that combines those themes, noting the unholy alliance of teacher unions and the NAACP.

The spiritual leader of the teacher unions?

Fortunately, the statists seem to be losing this issue. Louisiana recently adopted school choice legislation that will give poor children an opportunity to escape failing government schools.

But the left isn’t losing gracefully. In a move that would make George Wallace proud, they are threatening schools that will participate in the new program.

Here’s some powerful criticism of their sleazy tactics from today’s Wall Street Journal.

In some parts of the antebellum South, it was illegal to teach blacks how to read. Are teachers unions in Louisiana trying to turn back the clock? Last week, lawyers for the Louisiana Association of Educators, one of the state’s two major teachers unions, threatened private and parochial schools with lawsuits if the schools accept students participating in a new school choice initiative that starts this year. Education reforms signed into law in April by Governor Bobby Jindal include a publicly funded voucher program that allows low-income families to send their children to private or parochial schools. …lawyers representing the unions faxed letters to about 100 of the 119 schools that are participating in the voucher program. “Our clients have directed us to take whatever means necessary,” the letter reads. Unless the school agrees to turn away voucher students, “we will have no alternative other than to institute litigation.” The letter demanded an answer in writing by the next day. Louisiana’s voucher program is adjusted for family income and is intended above all to give a shot at a decent education to underprivileged minorities, who are more likely to be relegated to the worst public schools. …Demand for vouchers has been overwhelming: There were 10,300 applications for 5,600 slots. Despite claims to the contrary by school-choice opponents, low-income parents can and do act rationally when it comes to the education of their children. State officials have rightly slammed the union’s tactics. A spokesman for the Governor said in a statement that union leaders are “stooping to new lows and trying to strong-arm schools to keep our kids from getting a quality education.” State Superintendent John White said it was “shameful” that the unions were “trying to prevent people from doing what’s right for their children.” The unions claim that vouchers don’t benefit students, but we know from school-choice programs in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere that voucher recipients attend safer schools and enjoy higher graduation rates than their peers in public schools.

As I note in this post (featuring a great column by Jeff Jacoby), I’ve always believed that the school choice issue exposes the dividing line between honest liberals and power-hungry liberals.

Regardless of ideology, any decent person will favor reforms that enable poor kids to escape horrible government schools. Lots of liberals are decent people. The ones who oppose school choice, by contrast, are…well, you can fill in the blank.

P.S. Here’s some wisdom on the issue of school choice from a former University of Georgia quarterback.

P.P.S. Not surprisingly, Thomas Sowell nails the issue, as does Walter Williams, with both criticizing the President for sacrificing the interests of minority children to protect the monopoly privileges of teacher unions.

P.P.P.S. Chile has reformed its education system with vouchers, as have Sweden and the Netherlands, and all those nations are getting good results.

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If there was a contest for the best political cartoon about what’s been happening in Wisconsin, I would pick either this “fake negotiation” cartoon by Ramirez or this “coach class” cartoon by Payne.

But here’s a new entry from Bok that also deserves some consideration.

If you like humor about the Wisconsin fight, check out this Hitler parody about the recall.

And if you enjoy humor about overpaid government employees, regardless of where they’re located, here’s a great top-10 list from Letterman and here’s a cartoon about the relationship of bureaucrats and taxpayers.

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Since I’m a policy wonk and not a political prognosticator, I’m not sure why people keep asking me what will happen in the November elections. But since I got lucky with my 2010 predictions, I may as well throw in my two cents.

The election is now exactly five months away, so here’s my first cut at what will happen.

At this point, I am predicting an Obama victory, albeit by a much narrower margin than in 2008.

Given the weak economy and unpopularity of Obamacare, one might think Romney should be the favorite. However, the establishment media is completely in the tank for Obama and Romney is not exactly the strongest candidate, and I think those factors will tip the scales in November.

That being said, Obama has dropped from being a 60 percent-plus favorite on Intrade to just a 52.3 percent favorite in recent weeks, so GOP partisans have reasons to be hopeful.

Since all I care about is policy, I confess I’m not sure whether to be happy about my prediction. It all boils down to whether the “Richard Nixon Disinfectant Rule” applies to Romney. As of right now, we don’t know the answer. Here’s what I told ABC News earlier this week.

“The negative spin is that he’s said all these things to basically get past a conservative-leaning Republican Party electorate and that he’s really the Massachusetts moderate that some of his opponents tried to make him out to be,” said Dan Mitchell, a Cato economist… The flip side, Mitchell said, is that if Romney does stick to his promises to conservatives, they’ll be pleased when he gives support to Paul Ryan’s budget, takes steps to lower the spending-to-GDP ratio significantly, and offers states flexibility on spending Medicaid money.

We’ll have plenty of time between today and November 6 to analyze the presidential election, so let’s leave the national stage and take a look at what happened yesterday in Wisconsin and California.

We’ll start with California, because there were two very important – but largely overlooked – votes in San Diego and San Jose about curtailing lavish pensions for bureaucrats. The results were shocking, particularly since California is a left-wing state. Here’s part of the AP report.

Voters in two major California cities overwhelmingly approved cuts to retirement benefits for city workers in what supporters said was a mandate that may lead to similar ballot initiatives in other states and cities that are struggling with mounting pension obligations. Supporters had a simple message to voters in San Diego and San Jose: Pensions for city workers are unaffordable and more generous than many private companies offer… In San Diego, 66 percent voted in favor of Proposition B, while 34 percent were opposed. Nearly 97 percent of precincts were tallied by early Wednesday. The landslide was even bigger in San Jose, the nation’s 10th-largest city. With all precincts counted, 70 percent were in favor of Measure B and 30 percent were opposed.

Since I’ve written repeatedly about excessive compensation for government employees, these results are encouraging. Perhaps the gravy train has finally been derailed

Yesterday’s big election, though, was in Wisconsin. Republicans took control of the state in 2010 and enacted laws to restrain the power of union bureaucracies, which led to a counterattack by the left. First, there was a recall effort against Republicans in the State Senate and that failed. Then there was a recall against one of the GOP judges on the state’s Supreme Court, and that failed.

The climactic battle yesterday was to recall Governor Scott Walker. So how did that turn out? Let’s enjoy these excerpts from the Washington Post.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker won a vote to keep his job on Tuesday, surviving a recall effort that turned the Republican into a conservative icon…That made Walker the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election; two others had failed. …the night provided a huge boost for Walker — as well as Republicans in Washington and state capitals who have embraced the same energetic, austere brand of fiscal conservatism as a solution for recession and debt. In a state known for a strong progressive tradition, Walker defended his policies against the full force of the labor movement and the modern left. And he won, again.

By the way, the final result in the Badger State was 53 percent-46 percent and I predicted 54 percent-46 percent, so I somewhat atoned for my awful guess on the Iowa caucuses.

P.S. This cartoon accurately shows what was at stake in Wisconsin.

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Government bureaucrats are significantly overpaid compared to folks in the productive sector of the economy.

So you would think I’d support cuts, especially the kind that get rid of excess blubber in the government workforce.

But not when it means higher costs for taxpayers, and that’s exactly what’s happening in New York, where Buffalo taxpayers cough up more money every time some bureaucrat goes under the knife for cosmetic procedures such as liposuction.

Here are some excerpts from a report in the UK-based Daily Mail.

Teachers in Buffalo are getting plastic surgery on the tax payer’s buck, it has been revealed. Tummy tucks, liposuction and Botox are all part of the controversial one of a kind health plan. …it is a perk that comes with a price tag. Last year Buffalo schools paid $5.9 million for its teachers to have plastic surgery. In 2010 the figure was up at $9 million. …60 teachers spent $30,000 each on procedures in 2011, an investigation by the school board revealed, and because the schools are self-insured, tax payers foot the bill. …The policy to pay for teachers to have surgery started out innocently enough – it was intended for accident and burns victims in need of reconstructive surgery. But in the age of cosmetic surgery the rider extends to arm lifts, face lifts and breast enhancements, with surgeons advertising their services in the teacher’s union newsletter.

Wow. It’s bad enough that government workers get excessive salaries and gold-plated benefits. But this takes it to a new level.

At least we see an example of economics in action. How likely is it that plastic surgeons would be advertising in the union’s newsletter in the absence of taxpayer financing?

P.S. Here’s David Letterman’s top-10 list of how to tell you’re a unionized government bureaucrat. Liposuction isn’t on the list, but wait ’til next year.

P.P.S. Just in case you think I’m exaggerating about overpaid government employees, take a look at this map showing 10 of the 15 richest counties in America.

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Utterly despicable.

But this is an understatement, an entirely inadequate phrase to capture my feelings about how the NAACP and the teachers’ union have joined forces to undermine educational opportunities for minority children.

There are honest left-wingers, who are misguided but genuinely wish to make America a better place. But that’s definitely not the right way to describe people who put the narrow interests of teacher unions ahead of helping disadvantaged kids.

This new video from Reason TV has the sordid details.

Both Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams have very appropriate comments on this issue.

And this video looks at the broader issue of school choice.

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To be blunt, I’m not a big fan of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. But my animosity isn’t because OECD bureaucrats threatened to have me arrested and thrown in a Mexican jail.

Instead, I don’t like the Paris-based bureaucracy because it pushes a statist agenda of bigger government. This Center for Freedom and Prosperity study has all the gory details, revealing that OECD bureaucrats endorsed Obamacare, supported the failed stimulus, and are big advocates of a value-added tax for America.

And I am very upset that the OECD gets a giant $100 million-plus subsidy every year from American taxpayers. For all intents and purposes, we’re paying for a bunch of left-wing bureaucrats so they can recommend that the United States adopt that policies that have caused so much misery in Europe. And to add insult to injury, these socialist pencil pushers receive tax-free salaries.

And now, just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, the OECD has opened a new front in its battle against America. The bureaucrats from Paris have climbed into bed with the hard left at the AFL-CIO and are pushing a class-warfare agenda. Next Wednesday, the two organizations will be at the union’s headquarters for a panel on “Divided We Stand – Tackling Growing Inequality Now.”

Co-sponsoring a panel at the AFL-CIO’s offices, it should be noted, doesn’t necessarily make an organization guilty of left-wing activism and mis-use of American tax dollars. But when you look at other information on the OECD’s website, it quickly becomes apparent that the Paris-based bureaucracy has launched a new project to promote class-warfare.

For instance, the OECD’s corruption-tainted Secretary-General spoke at the release of a new report on inequality and was favorable not only to higher income tax rates, but also expressed support for punitive and destructive wealth taxes.

Over the last two decades, there was a move away from highly progressive income tax rates and net wealth taxes in many countries. As top earners now have a greater capacity to pay taxes than before, some governments are re-examining their tax systems to ensure that wealthier individuals contribute their fair share of the tax burden. This aim can be achieved in several different ways. They include not only the possibility of raising marginal tax rates on the rich but also…reassessing the role of taxes on all forms of property and wealth.

And here’s some of what the OECD stated in its press release on income differences.

The OECD underlines the need for governments to review their tax systems to ensure that wealthier individuals contribute their fair share of the tax burden. This can be achieved by raising marginal tax rates on the rich.

Like Obama, the folks at the OECD like to talk about “fair share.” These passages sounds like they could have been taken from one of Obama’s hate-and-envy speeches on class warfare.

But the fact that a bunch of Europeans support Obama’s efforts to Europeanize America is not a surprise. The point of this post is that the OECD shouldn’t be using American tax dollars to promote Obama’s class-warfare agenda.

Here’s a video showing some of the other assaults against free markets by the OECD. This is why I’ve written that the $100 million-plus that American taxpayers send to Paris may be – on a per dollar basis – the most destructively wasteful part of the entire federal budget.

One last point is that the video was produced more than one year ago, which was not only before this new class-warfare campaign, but also before the OECD began promoting a global tax organization designed to undermine national sovereignty and promote higher taxes and bigger government.

In other words, the OECD is far more destructive and pernicious than you think.

And remember, all this is happening thanks to your tax dollars being sent to Paris to subsidize these anti-capitalism statists.

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I’ll start with an important caveat and state that Ford is far from a perfect company. It has its snout in the trough for boondoggles such as green energy programs. And it happily benefits from protectionist restrictions on foreign pickup trucks and SUVs.

That having been said, there is an enormous difference between Ford, which did not get bailout cash, and the moochers and looters at GM and Chrysler. Which is why I said on TV last year that all ethical people should boycott the latter two companies.

And I’m very proud that other Americans feel the same way. Here are some excerpts from a story in the UK-based Daily Mail.

The Rasmussen Poll asked likely voters: “Have You or Anyone in Family Bought Car from Ford Because Didn’t Take Government Bailout?” 19% said yes, including 33% of the people 18-29 — and 28% of black voters — and 32% of government workers. …25% said yes when asked “Has Bailout and Government Takeover of GM Caused You or Anyone You Know to Avoid Buying GM Car?” …Rasmussen also asked: “Does Fact that GM Took Bailout Money Make You More/Less Likely to Buy GM Car?” 50% said less likely — just 4% said more likely. To the question “Ford Didn’t Take Bailout Funding. Make You More/Less Likely to Buy from Ford?” — 51% said more likely and 12% said less likely.

Here is an ad that Ford apparently is not using anymore because of pressure from the Obama Administration. But please share this link so more people can see it. Kudos to Chris, a patriot in the finest sense.

By the way, some statists are arguing that the bailouts are a success because GM and Chrysler are still alive. But as I’ve explained before, any money-losing entity can be kept alive in perpetuity (or at least ’til the point of Greek-style collapse) by raping and pillaging taxpayers.

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School choice doesn’t automatically mean every child will be an educational success, but evidence from other nations certainly suggests it means better overall performance. Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands are just some of the countries that have seen good results after breaking up state-run education monopolies.

The same is true in the United States. When parents have some ability to select schools, this generates competitive pressure for better results. This is true even in sub-optimal instances where the choice is merely among different government-run schools. as illustrated by the abstract of a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

We study the impact of a public school choice lottery in Charlotte-Mecklenburg (CMS) on postsecondary attainment. We match CMS administrative records to the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), a nationwide database of college enrollment. Among applicants with low-quality neighborhood schools, lottery winners are more likely than lottery losers to graduate from high school, attend a four-year college, and earn a bachelor’s degree. They are twice as likely to earn a degree from an elite university. The results suggest that school choice can improve students’ longer-term life chances when they gain access to schools that are better on observed dimensions of quality.

But real competition should involve private schools. Here’s the video from last year about why comprehensive school choice is good news for education.

School choice is one of the few issues where I’m optimistic. If we’re beginning to make progress even in places such as California and New Orleans, we’re obviously winning. No wonder the teacher unions are sounding so shrill.

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Labor Day is a good opportunity to consider whether unions help or hurt ordinary workers in America.

The answer is yes and no, depending on circumstances, but that’s actually the wrong question. The real issue, at least from a public policy perspective, is whether government should be a neutral referee in labor matters.

The union bosses reject that approach. They want the government to tilt the playing field, which is why the Obama Administration is using the National Labor Relations Board to promote the interests of Big Labor.

In this short interview on Larry Kudlow’s CNBC show, I argue that government should not have a thumb on the scale.

To elaborate, here’s what I wrote last year about labor unions and the role of government.

In a free society, people obviously should be free to join unions and companies should be free to negotiate with unions. But that also means that companies should be free to resist union demands and hire non-union workers. There is no right or wrong in these battles, just as there is no right or wrong when McDonald’s decides to sell french fries for a particular price. The market will reward good decisions and penalize bad choices. The only appropriate role for policy in this area is to enforce contracts and protect public safety.

I then make what should be an obvious point about what happens if unions use the coercive power of government to push wages – when adjusted for productivity – above a competitive level.

…above-market wages (at least in the private sector) are not sustainable in the long run. Workers ultimately get paid on the basis of what they produce and if it costs $25 per hour to employ a worker and that worker produces $23 per hour of output, that ultimately is a recipe for unemployment. A good example is the American auto industry, which has declined in part because of a compensation system that is not matched by productivity. This does not necessarily mean that wages are too high. It could mean that productivity is too low. Some of that, to be sure, is the fault of government policies such as a corporate tax system that penalizes investment (thus making it more difficult for workers to boost productivity). But unions also have used their government-granted power to insist on absurd workforce practices.

The important point in that passage is that unions may be hurting workers, not with demands for unsustainable wages, but instead by imposing work rules that undermine productivity.

That’s an empirical issue, to be sure. But here’s the bottom line. Government favoritism may help workers in the short run by temporarily pushing wages higher, but may hurt them in the long run by making companies – or, as I mentioned in the Kudlow interview, entire industries – uncompetitive.

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My Cato colleague, Mark Calabria, recently explained how the minimum wage destroys jobs, and I’ve written on several occasions why government-mandated wages can create unemployment by making it unprofitable to hire people with low work skills and/or poor work histories. And I’ve attacked Republicans for going along with these job-killing policies, and also pointed out the racist impact of such intervention.

But this cartoon may be a more effective argument for getting government out of the business of interfering with market forces. It’s simple, direct, and gets the point across. I’m not sure that always happens with my writing.

My former intern, Orphe Divougny, also did a very good job in explaining why politicians shouldn’t interfere with the right of workers and employers to enter into labor contracts.

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The libertarian position is that government should be totally neutral whenever there is a conflict between labor and management.

Unfortunately, politicians usually tilt the playing field in favor of unions, largely in response to big campaign contributions.

This issue has been in the news because of the Obama Administration’s thuggish move to block Boeing from building a factory in South Carolina, so this is a good time to post this debate I had with one of the guys at the Brookings Institution.

The fight in Wisconsin was the starting point for the discussion, and if you’ve been following that debate, you’ll very much enjoy this cartoon.

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I’ve written before about how I get especially upset when rich people use the coercive power of government to screw poor people. There’s an equally offensive corollary to this principle, and that’s when powerful people use big government to impose hardship on helpless people.

And that’s exactly what’s happening in New York City, where the NAACP is siding with the teachers union to deny black children a chance to escape failing government schools. I genuinely wonder how people like that live with themselves. Do they ever feel shame or guilt? Do they have trouble sleeping at night? When they use their comfortable incomes to buy luxuries, do they feel a twinge of unease that they support policies that will make it much harder for others to enjoy a better life?

Here are the key passages from the Wall Street Journal’s editorial on the issue.

Thousands of American blacks held a rally in Harlem last week to protest . . . the NAACP. The New York state chapter of the civil rights organization and the United Federation of Teachers, the local teachers union, have filed a lawsuit to stop the city from closing 22 of Gotham’s worst schools. The lawsuit also aims to block the city from giving charter schools space to operate in buildings occupied by traditional public schools. Protesters at the rally, which included parents and charter school operators like Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone, urged the NAACP to withdraw from the suit. …The teachers union wants to keep these abysmal schools open to preserve jobs for their members. This is bad enough. But the union and NAACP also want to limit better educational options for low-income families who can’t afford private schools and can’t afford to move to an affluent neighborhood with decent public schools. The union knows that in a place like New York City, where space is at a premium, blocking charters from operating in public buildings will hamper charter growth. If the lawsuit succeeds, the awful schools will remain open to damage another generation of children. If you want to know why the NAACP has become irrelevant to the lives of African-Americans, this typical display of moral indifference to the plight of minority children is Exhibit A.

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I’ve written several times about the major fight in Wisconsin to control excessive compensation for government bureaucrats. Governor Walker basically won the first battle in that important and necessary campaign, but Yogi Berra sagely explained that “the opera ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings.”

In this case, the proverbial fat lady is yesterday’s election for Wisconsin’s Supreme Court. Leftists control three of the seven seats on the Court and were hoping to use the fight over bureaucrat compensation as a trigger to pick up a critical fourth vote. Here’s how today’s Milwaukee Journal describes what was at stake.

Interest groups on both sides had portrayed the election as a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker’s agenda and particularly on the collective bargaining law. Conservatives backed Prosser, and liberals supported Kloppenburg, even though the candidates themselves insisted they were politically neutral.

The election is critical, not just in terms of whether the Wisconsin reforms could be blocked by an ideologically motivated state Supreme Court, but also because the election has been closely watched by political activists in other states.

Simply stated, the winning side will gain lots of momentum. Unions poured lots of money and muscle into the race. They want to send a signal to lawmakers around the nation that any effort to control compensation costs will result in a political backlash.

At this stage, you’re probably saying, “enough blather, Dan, tell us who won!” Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question. Here’s the screen capture of the latest results from the Milwaukee newspaper. As of this moment, the union-backed candidate is trailing by a very tiny margin.

We’ll find out later today (hopefully!) who won the race, but I feel much better than I did last night. When I went to sleep, Kloppenburg had a lead of 18,000 votes and it appeared things were trending in her direction.

P.S. This election comes very close to debunking my cranky post from last year saying that voting was theoretically a waste of time since no single vote would ever decide an election.

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