Category: Public Policy

Blog author: abradley
Thursday, December 29, 2016
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On December 27, 2016, at the age of 86, Thomas Sowell published his last column. After publishing dozens of books and hundreds of columns, Dr. Sowell’s retirement may mark the beginning of the end of an era of black intellectuals who were champions of political and economic liberty. Other black scholars like Walter Williams, W.B. Allen, and Shelby Steele are all in the 70s or 80s and there does not seem to be a cadre of like-minded black scholars in their wake.
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Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, December 29, 2016
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endthepennyOver the past twelve months there have been considerable discussions of monumental public policy issues.  But before 2016 ends we need to consider one more of (in)significant importance: what to do about the penny.

As the Wall Street Journal noted earlier this week, in fiscal 2015, the cost to produce a single penny was 1.43 cents. In 2014, that cost rose to 1.66 cents. Despite years of effort to wring costs out of production, it is doubtful the copper-coated coin will ever sink below the expense of making it, says Jeffrey Sparshott.

The actual cost to American taxpayers of having the cent is $45 million a year. That’s how much it costs, but not necessarily how much it is worth. “Worth is, with the coin, what it’s worth, the face value,” explains Tim Worstall. “Value is the value we gain from having the coin. The two are quite obviously not the same thing.” Worstall adds,
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Peter Paul Rubens 139Now that conservative Christians are something of a favored group by the executive branch of the US government again after a two-term hiatus, it’s time for many to dust off those old memes regarding the theocratic tendencies of the Christian Right.

To wit, Julie Ingersoll throws some Reconstructionist shade at Betsy DeVos: “Opposition to public education for the religious right is rooted in a worldview in which education is solely the responsibility of families (and explicitly not the civil government), and in which there are no religiously neutral spheres of influence.” There’s a lot wrong with that sentence.

What is more interesting to me, though, is that Ingersoll goes on to invoke the figure of Abraham Kuyper, among others, as influential for DeVos, an influence that has been noticed elsewhere, too. Ingersoll grants that holding to views like those of Kuyper does not necessarily make one a Reconstructionist: “These views were popularized in the work of Rushdoony and the Christian Reconstructionists and became dominant in the religious right, which is not to say that everyone who holds them is a Christian Reconstructionist.”

But this shouldn’t prevent one from being suspicious. Perhaps guilt by association is legitimate in this case after all. So if there is a distinction between Christian conservatism, Kuyperianism, and Reconstruction, we shouldn’t be too careful in distinguishing them, because, after all, “It’s a mistake to think of these distinct movements with hard boundaries that prevent cross fertilization, particularly since Christian education as a replacement for public education is a place where this happens.”
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Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos

Your writer hates to be the one to do this, but sometimes it’s necessary to bring a necessary understanding of religion to those who deliberately misunderstand and mischaracterize it. In this specific instance, it’s the Interfaith Alliance, a group more intent on spreading progressive ideology than religious faith. How else to explain a consortium that declares education vouchers anathema and clutches its respective pearls at the nomination of Betsy De Vos for U.S. Education Secretary?

Here’s IA on vouchers, for example:

Religious schools provide an important service to many students and families, [sic] However, Interfaith Alliance firmly believes that public funds should not go to private religious schools or to any educational institutions that may discriminate against students and teachers based on religion. Interfaith Alliance has a long history of fighting in in [sic] the halls of Congress and in our communities to ensure that voucher programs for sectarian schools are eliminated, not expanded.

Got it? So intent is the nominally faith-based IA “to separate church and state” it would deprive families of viable educational options and opportunities they otherwise may not be able to afford. (more…)

ATMs-650x360In September 1969 the Chemical Bank branch in Rockville Center, New York opened the first automatic teller machines. The first ATM was only able to give out cash, but by 1971 the machine could handle multiple functions, including providing customers’ account balances. The machine could do the job that was once reserved for human tellers. Over the next three decades, the number of ATMs increased exponentially. Today there are about 400,000 ATMs across America.

You can probably imagine what happened to bank teller jobs, can’t you? Their numbers increased.

What? That’s not what you expected? You thought the increase in ATMs would reduce the need for human tellers? As James Bessen explains,
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Global-Communications-900Free trade and trade agreements are not the same thing. In fact, they are often times in direct contradiction with each other. Acton Director of Research Samuel Gregg recently wrote an article about this at The Stream. Gregg explains how all trade agreements are ‘managed trade,’ not free trade. He explains how free traders should approach the issue of economic nationalism and the best ways to work toward freer trade. Concerning the issue of trade agreements and managed trade, Gregg says this:

There’s no-one-size-fits-all form of trade agreement. Some are bilateral arrangements between two nations. Others are multilateral and embrace several nations. Within that framework, there are several possible arrangements.

You can have, for instance, single markets like the European Union. These involve the free movement of goods, services, capital and labor between all member-nations of the single market. But barriers are maintained or created against all non-single market members. Another model is a preferential trade area. Participating nations give preferential access to certain products from all the area’s members. Tariffs are reduced, but not completely abolished.

Note, however, that all trade agreements involve two or more governments negotiating how their citizens economically interact with each other. That also means they’re indirectly deciding how the same citizens will economically engage with people from nations who aren’t part of the trade agreement.

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customer-satisfactionThe United States spends a lot of money each year on public schooling. As a percentage of GDP, government expenditures on public education (five percent) exceed the amount we spend on defense (four percent) or welfare (two percent). But how do we know if we are getting our “money’s worth” on public school?

Too often, the primary criterion of effectiveness is standardized testing. A school is rated almost exclusively on on how well its students perform on standard testing (usually limited to reading and math) as compared to other students in the same city, district, or state. When the issue of school choice comes up, critics assume that this standard is the only one that matters.

If an experiment in school choice doesn’t show improvement on test scores, it’s often considered empirical proof choice doesn’t work. Yet as economist Tyler Cowen says,
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