Monday, July 31, 2006

Income Inequality Re-examined

The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector and Rea Hederman, Jr. in August 2004 answered income inequality arguments, arguments based on the Census Bureau’s annual income distribution figures (see chart above):

In 2002, the Census reported that the top fifth of households had 49.7 percent of income, while the bottom fifth had only 3.5 percent. Thus, the top appeared to have $14.20 of income for every $1.00 at the bottom. . .

The Census figures [are] misleading. . . [I]n 2002, government spent over $500 billion on means-tested welfare (including cash, food, housing, and medical care) for the poor and near poor and over $250 billion subsidizing medical care for the elderly through Medicare. . . a mammoth transfer of resources from those who work a lot to those who work less or not at all. . . not reflected in conventional Census income inequality figures. . .When taxes and benefits are counted, the . . . top fifth has $8.60 for each $1.00 at the bottom.

But . . . [while] Census fifths . . . contain the same number of households, [those] at the bottom have few people while those at the top are large and have multiple earners. [So the bottom fifth] has only 14 percent of the population while the top quintile has 25 percent. [If] each fifth contain[ed] an equal number of people. . . The post-tax/post-benefit income of the bottom rises to 9.4 percent of income while the top drops to 39.6 percent. [Now], the top fifth has $4.20 of income for each $1.00 at the bottom.

[Beyond that, the Census Bureau found] the top quintile of households performs over a third of all paid labor, while the bottom performs only 4.3 percent. . . due in part to a shortage of working-age adults within the bottom quintile, [and because] non-elderly adults at the bottom, on average, work half as many hours per month as do their higher-income counterparts. If the quintiles are adjusted [so that those] at the bottom work as many hours as adults in the rest of society, the . . . top quintile would have only $2.91 in income for every $1.00 at the bottom (see chart below).

[Finally, is income] distribution . . . becoming less equal over time? . . . In 2002, after adjusting quintiles to contain equal numbers of persons, the ratio of the income of the top quintile compared to the bottom quintile was exactly the same as in 1997.

The top fifth of U.S. households (with incomes above $84,000) . . ., many with two or more earners. . . pay 82.5 percent of total federal income taxes and two-thirds of federal taxes overall. The bottom quintile pays 1.1 percent of total federal taxes.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

U.S. Prosperity Benefits Only the Ultra-Rich

New York Times editorial writer Teresa Tritch has written an important critique, presented in its entirety here, outlining why Bush economic policies benefit only the super rich. Here are some of her points:

Income inequality used to be about rich versus poor, but now it's increasingly a matter of the ultra rich and everyone else. The curious effect of the new divide is an economy that appears to be charging ahead, until you realize that the most of the people in it are being left in the dust. . .

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank, . . . found a striking share of total income concentrated at the top of the income ladder as of 2004.

• The top 10 percent of households had 46 percent of the nation's income, their biggest share in all but two of the last 70 years.

• The top 1 percent of households had 19.5 percent.

• The top one-tenth of 1 percent of households actually received nearly half of the increased share going to the top 1 percent.

. . . the bottom 60 percent - average income grew by less than 20 percent from 1979 to 2004, with virtually all of those gains occurring from the mid- to late 1990's. Before and since, real incomes for that group have basically flatlined. . .

At issue, in economic terms, is the tradeoff between equality and efficiency: It can be difficult to divide the economic pie more equally without reducing the size of the pie. But it's not impossible, and doing so is crucial for widespread prosperity. . . [I]nequality is generally deemed to be dangerous - socially, economically, (and, perhaps, politically) - when it becomes so extreme as to be self-reinforcing, as many researchers suggest is currently the case.

. . . [And] tax cutting that overwhelmingly benefits the rich continues because, we're told, failure to keep cutting taxes would, somehow, shrink the pie. . .

The New World Order

There’s little question the world order is changing. Michael Mandelbaum’s The Ideas that Conquered the World, published just four years ago, defined the world’s “core” as Western Europe (EC states Britain, France, Germany and Italy), plus the U.S., Canada, and Japan: the old G-7 powers. Now US News’ Michael Barone quotes bestselling author Thomas Barnett’s having the world led by a functioning "Core" of North America, plus all of Europe, plus East Asia, rising China and India. And Tom Friedman (picture) is saying that because they are key powers, Russia, China, and India need to supply troops to make a peace settlement in Lebanon work (7.21.06 New York Times).

Barone/Barnett are hopeful about how the world is developing, and their optimism comes from the core's growing strength. As Barnett says:

Plenty of people look at the world today and see only decline and violence and chaos since 9/11. I am amazed at how little the Functioning Core of globalization has suffered since that date: no real violence or threats of same amidst our ranks, slow but steady political integration that's still not keeping up with the economic bonds that are booming, spotty but emerging sense of shared security values, and the usual pinpricks of harm inflicted by terror and God, but all in all, nothing really bad despite all this 'tumult' centered in the Middle East and the rising price of oil.

Friedman’s latest column, however, working from a similar take on the world order, offers a far darker reading:

America should be galvanizing the forces of order — Europe, Russia, China and India — into a coalition against [Middle East problems]. But we can't. . . because our president and secretary of state, although they speak with great moral clarity, have no moral authority. That's been shattered by their performance in Iraq.

[And it’s] also because China, Europe and Russia have become freeloaders off U.S. power. They reap enormous profits from the post-Cold-War order that America has shaped, but rather than become real stakeholders in that order, helping to draw and defend redlines, they duck, mumble, waffle or cut their own deals. . .

When will the Arab-Muslim world stop getting its "pride" from fighting Israel and start getting it from constructing a society that others would envy, an economy others would respect, and inventions and medical breakthroughs from which others would benefit?

When, indeed? Bush and Rice are asking the same question.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Next 25

The Top 15 are the biggest, most powerful nations. They account for roughly two-thirds of the world’s people and economic output.

The Top 15 are defined, in part, by the countries just below them in the various rankings. This is a second group of nations, not quite at the top, but more important than the remaining states. These current second division powers include some who certainly could later move into the Top 15, much as European Football has top divisons, second divisions, and movement between them. I have called this worldwide second division “The Next 25.”

Eighteen of “The Next 25” countries are already either in the top 25 in population, in economic output, or both. We add five others to “The Next 25” because of their oil reserves, beginning with Saudi Arabia, which is the 27th largest economic power, and also Venezuela, Iraq, the UAE, and Kuwait. And two nations, Israel and North Korea, are in “The Next 25” because they have active nuclear weapons programs.

Collectively, “The Next 25” have over a billion people, account for over 17% of the world’s economic output, and possess 75% of the world’s oil reserves. Combining the “Top 15” and the “Next 25,” our grouping of 40 nations has 81% of the world’s people, 87% of its economic output, 88% of its oil reserves, and 100% of the countries with active nuclear weapons programs.

The remaining 153 nations combined account for less than 19% of the world’s population and not quite 13% of its economic output. Yet their voting power dominates the UN General Assembly and makes up a majority of the UN Security Council.

Notes: See "Notes" in "The Real Security Council" post.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Ranking the Top 15

1. China
2. United States
3. India
4. Russia
5. Brazil
6. Japan
7. Germany
8. Indonesia
9. United Kingdom
10. France
11. Mexico
12. Pakistan
13. Italy
14. Bangladesh
15. Nigeria

The ranking used to determine the Top 15 Nations, the "Real Security Council," relies heavily on population. As stated earlier, democracy means that people count—no matter where they live or what they have. The absurdity of the current world order, as represented by the UN, is that while the General Assembly exists to allow every micro state to act as if it’s another Brazil, the UN Security Council is supposed to assemble important countries to sort out war-and-peace issues. Well, isn't population the best way to measure importance? So eleven of our Top 15 are the eleven largest countries, with the remaining four in national population’s top twenty-three.

Yet the ranking also weighs economic strength, or total GDP. Each of our Top 15 is among the twenty-six largest economies, except for Bangladesh and Nigeria. To me, it would be wrong to leave out the seventh and ninth largest nations because their economies are too small. Placing Bangladesh and Nigeria (279 million people between them and growing fast) in the Top 15 calls attention to the economic well-being of those living in two large but still poor countries.

While the ranking awards points for being a nuclear power or having oil reserves, no nation is in the Top 15 because of bombs or oil. Admittedly, rewarding a country for possessing nuclear weapons seems on its face a bad idea—it encourages nuclear proliferation. But nations that possess nuclear weapons lose the most when yet another country goes nuclear. So why not acknowledge those who have the bomb, while making them responsible for keeping the Nuclear Club's doors shut to future members?

Within the Top 15, the ranking’s most astounding feature is its placing China ahead of the U.S., and India, Russia, and Brazil in the top 5. Actually, it’s not such a surprise to have former superpower Russia near the top. And aren’t we all increasingly aware of the impact China’s and now India’s rapid economic growth is having on the global economy? The Top 5 ranking of both confirms economic reality. Brazil? It's another India on the way.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Real Security Council

1. China
2. United States
3. India
4. Russia
5. Brazil
6. Japan
7. Germany
8. Indonesia
9. United Kingdom
10. France
11. Mexico
12. Pakistan
13. Italy
14. Bangladesh
15. Nigeria

Democracy means one person, one vote. To have a clear idea about who really counts in an increasingly democratic world, study and absorb the list above. These nations are home to 65% of the world’s people. The rest of the world, combined, has 35%. These same nations account for 70% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product, measured in Purchasing Power Parity terms. The rest of the world, combined, accounts for only 30% of total GDP. Every country on the list is one of the ten biggest in population, one of the ten biggest in GDP, or both, except for Mexico, which is 11th in population and 14th in GDP, and so also belongs on a list of the top fifteen.

Beyond population and economic clout, these fifteen nations include seven of the world’s nine nuclear powers, and seven of the twenty nations with the largest oil reserves (Indonesia, a nation on this list, also has significant oil reserves).

If these fifteen countries made up the Security Council, the UN might actually become a meaningful body. Yes, the UN Security Council's five permanent members are all listed on "The Real Security Council." But how meaningful is a UN Security Council that excludes India, Brazil, Germany, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria, or that has France and the United Kingdom but not Italy, or that this year drops Japan as a member?

Why does the UN Security Council instead listen to Congo Brazzaville, Denmark, Ghana, Greece, Peru, Qatar, Slovakia, and Tanzania? I mean, who really cares what they think about war in the Middle East? Why do we give space to these smaller countries? Because the UN isn't about One Person, One Vote. It's about One Nation, One Vote, treating Qatar the same as India.

And while we're looking, what about the "Group of 8" so-called economic powers, seven European-dominated nations plus honorary European Japan, a group that includes Canada instead of Mexico, and skips non-European economic giants China, India, and Brazil? Embarrassing, huh?

Let’s start, right now, viewing the world as it truly is. Our planet is dominated by the fifteen countries that make up “The Real Security Council.” If they came together in one room and worked together, the UN itself could work.

Notes for table above:

Pop: Population 2006, from International Development Bank at
PPP GDP: Purchasing Power Parity Gross Domestic Product, from World Bank, PPP GDP 2005 at,
Nuclear Bonus: Nuclear powers have five points deducted from their “Total Score” column (lower the score, higher the ranking), see:
Oil Res.: Oil Reserves, in billions of barrels, from
Oil Bonus: Top 20 countries placed in groups of four based on their oil reserves, with five points for top four countries, dropping to one point for countries ranked 16-20 (points deducted from their “Total Score” column; the lower the final point total, the higher the ranking).
Total Score: Total of rank for population plus rank for PPP GDP, minus bonuses (if applicable) for being a nuclear power and/or for having significant oil reserves. This means that countries with the lowest total score are at the top of the rankings--the lower the score, the higher the ranking.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

History Lives

Israel is reborn on the land God first gave to his chosen people over 3,000 years ago. To get there, the Jewish nation in exile kept its dream alive for nearly 2,000 years. With that kind of history, the time since the Turks were at the gates of Vienna occupying much of Christian Europe was almost yesterday—1683. The thousand years from Muhammad’s death to 1683 Vienna were a thousand years of Muslim triumph.

And now, with oil so precious, Muslim nations control two-thirds of the world’s proven oil reserves. Is it any wonder Muslims look forward to rebalancing history in their favor?

I earlier noted how al Qaeda’s bin Laden and Iran’s Ahmadinejad both seek to restore Islam to its rightful place in the world by ending Israeli occupation of Jerusalem and Palestine—just as Saladin drove the Crusaders from Jerusalem in 1187 following the Christians’ century-long occupation. As bin Laden is the putative Sunni Saladin, so is Ahmadinejad emerging as the Shiite Saladin, eclipsing his Sunni rival, thanks to U.S. responses to 9.11 in Afghanistan and Iraq that have set back al Qaeda.

Threatened by Iran, Israel is once again fighting for its existence. Westerners and Russians attack Israel for its “disproportionate” response to Hamas and Hizbullah. Yet Israel may be doing the right thing. Terrorists are supposed to be such difficult opponents because their warfare is asymmetrical—they kill so many with so little. So maybe Israel’s disproportionate response is the right response.

I was fascinated by Spielberg’s anti-war film, “Munich.” On the DVD, Spielberg almost apologizes for portraying Israel in a bad light. He needn’t have. Israel botched some of its reprisals against Black September, and has no doubt learned the lessons of its failures. Where Spielberg saw a case for humanity over revenge, I saw a case for more effective killing.

Modern warfare is about highly-targeted use of power, because democracies have no stomach for killing. Before the U.S. started succeeding in low-casualty warfare in the Gulf, in Afghanistan, and yes, in Iraq, Israel had pioneered the techniques first in the Six Days War (1967) and the Yom Kippur War (1973). Israel then did mess up in Lebanon in 1982; we’ll see how it has learned from that experience.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Syria Watch

Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz told The Jerusalem Post on Friday. . . that there was no sign that Syria and Iran would be dragged into the conflict, but added that those who acted against Israel would themselves be acted against. "I see no reason that the Syrians would want to jump into a pool they are liable to drown in," he said, adding that the IDF has not seen any unusual Syrian military activity in recent days.

How Republicans Win

George Will is spreading the word about how Republicans win elections, drawing on the work of Los Angeles Times reporters Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten. Their book, One Party Country, refers to where the authors think Republicans are headed, unless Democrats get their act in gear.

Excerpts from Will’s column:

Democrats face "tremendous odds" in their quest to avoid "marginalization" [unless they use] what Republicans embrace, marketing information and what they theoretically are wary of, federal power. . .Did you know that bourbon drinkers are disproportionately Republican and gin drinkers disproportionately Democratic? Karl Rove knows.

[Rove’s] slivers were trimmed from the Democratic base in so many places, "the shift," Hamburger and Wallsten write, "did not always register in national polls, or on the radar of Democratic strategists. It was the political equivalent of stealth technology in air power: Democrats would feel the bombs explode, but they could not see the bombers."

Politically, there are . . . countless constituencies to be courted with niche marketing. In a closely divided nation, with a small and shrinking number of truly unaffiliated voters, supremacy goes to the party with the best database and most nimble microtargeters. . .

[Rove wants to advance] conservative goals that also cripple the other party. For example, shielding businesses from excessive tort-liability lawsuits conforms to basic conservative values—and also slows the flow of money to the Democratic Party from its most lavish constituency, the trial lawyers. . .

Republicans . . . [ironically] use business skills of market segmentation to defeat Democrats by mastering the favor-dispensing and constituency-assembling power of the sprawling government that Democrats did so much to build and justify.

. . . [Still,] Hamburger and Wallsten's intelligent book has a dumb title. This is a closely divided country, and its divisions seem to be hardening. It is not close to being a "one-party country." . .

Friday, July 14, 2006

No Wider War

According the a Jerusalem Post report:

In a significant move, the Syrian ambassador to London, in an interview with the BBC, called on Hizbullah to stop firing missiles at Israel.

"Syria is not interested in joining the battle," the ambassador said. He also asked Hizbullah to come to an arrangement that would include exchanging prisoners.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Wider War

Efraim Inbar, in the The Jerusalem Post, comments here on Israel’s current options. Excerpts:

Israeli threats to seriously punish Hizbullah probably mean targeting its leadership. A "gloves off" policy to decapitate Hizbullah could paralyze this terrorist organization for several years. This would clearly signal Israel's determination to deal with terrorist threats and with Iranian proxies.

A further expansion of goals concerns Syria - the channel for Iranian support to Hizbullah. Damascus still hosts the headquarters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, despite promising the Americans a few years ago to close their offices.

Israel may enjoy much freedom of action versus Syria because . . . Washington, in particular, may relish military pressure on a Bashar Assad regime that allows infiltration of insurgents into Iraq from its territory. . .

A successful Israeli military operation in Lebanon and in Syria would have many ripple effects in the region. Radicals advocating terror against militarily superior powers could be constrained. The Palestinians might pay attention and calibrate their goals accordingly.

I believe the Bush administration is looking for a way to take Syria out of the Middle East equation, and that the U.S. will therefore support Israeli action against Syria.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Truman Belongs to Democrats or No?

[I love this July 9, 2006 John McIntyre post in RealClearPolitics so much that I have run it as is. The Emery article is great:]

Truman's Ideological Heirs

Noemie Emery has a great article in this week's Weekly Standard on Harry Truman and his foreign policy ideological heirs. She confronts many of the myths modern day liberal hawks push concerning Truman's legacy and George W. Bush's foreign policy. She asks:

One wonders, what would today's liberal hawks have made of him (Truman) and Korea, given their penchant for neat, well-planned wars that end quickly, and their standard of zero mistakes? Would they have screamed for the scalp of Acheson? Ripped Truman to shreds for having gone in too rashly? Flayed him alive for undoubted misjudgments? Said (as did John Kerry and some "pro-war" Democrats) that while they supported the invasion in theory, they had never expected Harry Truman "to f-- it up as badly as he did"? If they quail at the expense of Iraq, what would they have said to the expense of Korea? If they quail at casualties of under 3,000, what would they have said to the more than 37,000 dead? Would they have been among the 23 percent who stayed loyal to Harry? Or would there have been second thoughts, mea culpas, and abject, not to say groveling, apologies to the antiwar left?

What is fascinating is while the Beinarts and Holbrookes debate the history of Truman's legacy, ground zero of the fight for the Democratic Party is on display in the Connecticut primary battle between one of the few remaining Harry Truman Democrats in Joe Lieberman versus the McGovern/Howard Dean/Netroots Ned Lamont.

And if Lieberman is defeated August 8th (I don't anticipate Lieberman losing) it may be the final nail in the coffin for the dwindling band of FDR/Truman/JFK/Scoop Jackson Democrats.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

All The News Fit to Misprint

John Hinderaker, lead writer of the conservative Power Line Blog, goes after the New York Times coverage of soaring federal revenues here. Below, an excerpt from Hinderaker’s post:

The [Times] article is titled "Surprising Jump in Tax Revenues Curbs U.S. Deficit." Of course, the jump in tax revenues was especially surprising to those, like the Times, who deprecate supply side economics and stubbornly refuse to learn from experience.

The Times begins: “On Tuesday, White House officials are expected to announce that the tax receipts will be about $250 billion above last year's levels. . .” You'd think the Times would be rejoicing, right? The deficit is coming down and the money is coming from the "wealthy" . . . and corporations. Yet somehow, champagne corks aren't popping . . .

[The Times writes that] “many independent budget analysts note that overall revenues have barely climbed back to the levels reached in 2000. . .”

[But look at] the chart [above,]presented by John Snow at the end of 2005. . .

As you can plainly see, total receipts soared far past the 2000 total last year, and, if 2006 revenues are up by $250 billion, as the article itself reports, they will exceed 2000 by around 20%. [T]hat's [a] Times' . . . blooper. . .

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Real Inconvenient Truth

Newsweek’s Robert Samuelson writes about global warming:

Al Gore calls global warming an "inconvenient truth,'' as if merely recognizing it could put us on a path to a solution. That's an illusion. The real truth is that we don't know enough to relieve global warming, and -- barring major technological breakthroughs -- we can't do much about it. This has long been obvious. Let me explain.

From 2003 to 2050, world population is projected to grow from 6.4 billion people to 9.1 billion, a 42 percent increase. If energy use per person and technology remain the same, total energy use and greenhouse gas emissions (mainly, carbon dioxide) will be 42 percent higher in 2050. But that's too low, because societies that grow richer use more energy. Unless we condemn the world's poor to their present poverty -- and freeze everyone else's living standards -- we need economic growth. With modest growth, energy use and greenhouse emissions more than double by 2050.

. . . a new report from the International Energy Agency in Paris . . . assumes that existing technologies are rapidly improved and deployed. Vehicle fuel efficiency increases by 40 percent. In electricity generation, the share for coal (the fuel with the most greenhouse gases) shrinks from about 40 percent to about 25 percent -- and much carbon dioxide is captured before going into the atmosphere. . . Nuclear energy increases. So do "renewables'' (wind, solar, biomass, geothermal); their share of global electricity output rises from 2 percent now to about 15 percent.

Some of these changes seem heroic. . .Never mind. Having postulated a crash energy diet, . . . the IEA report indicates we're now powerless. We can't end annual greenhouse emissions, and once in the atmosphere, the gases seem to linger for decades. So concentration levels rise. They're the villians; they presumably trap the world's heat. They're already about 36 percent higher than in 1800. Even with its program, the IEA says another 45 percent increase may be unavoidable. How much warming this might create is uncertain; so are the consequences. . .

No government will adopt the draconian restrictions on economic growth and personal freedom (limits on electricity usage, driving and travel) that might curb global warming. Still, politicians want to show they're "doing something.'' The result is grandstanding. Consider the Kyoto Protocol. It allowed countries that joined to castigate those that didn't. But it hasn't reduced carbon dioxide emissions (up about 25 percent since 1990), and many signatories didn't adopt tough enough policies to hit their 2008-2012 targets. . .

The trouble with the global warming debate is that it has become a moral crusade when it's really an engineering problem. The inconvenient truth is that if we don't solve the engineering problem, we're helpless.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Iraq: Measurable Progress

Here’s the latest monthly, highly abbreviated version of the Iraq Index, published and updated twice a week by Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution:

Americans Killed in Action, Iraq (monthly average)

2003: 32
2004: 59
2005: 56
2006: 48
June: 44

Americans Killed in Action, Vietnam (weekly average)

1965:* 30
1966: 97
1967: 177
1968: 263
* = First U.S. combat troops arrived in Vietnam, 5.3.65
Vietnam table compiled by Galen Fox using Defense Department sources.

Note please—the Vietnam KIAs are weekly, not monthly, averages.

Crude Oil Production (m. bbls./day)

Prewar: 2.50
Goal: 2.50
actual: 2.30 (6/06)

Electricity (megawatts)

Prewar: 3,958
Goal: 6,000
actual: 4,500 (6/06)

Oil production in June was the highest it’s been since October 2004, and higher than for any month since Baghdad’s liberation except for September/October 2004. June electricity output reached its highest ever monthly average since liberation, and was higher than the pre-war Iraq monthly average. U.S. killed in action in June fell below the monthly average for 2006, after shooting up in April-May.

Tom Friedman, close friend and advocate of Michael Mandelbaum, is the spiritual father of this blog. Friedman is upset enough about the power high oil prices give to autocratic governments in the Middle East and elsewhere that he is calling for creation of a “Geo-Green” anti-petroleum party in the U.S. that would compete under the banner, “Green is the New Red, White and Blue.” (New York Times, 6.16.06)

Maybe not. But Friedman is not only right about our oil addiction, he is forthright about attacking Democrats for neglecting “Islamic totalitarianism.” He quotes Will Marshall, head of the Democratic Progressive Policy Institute, who says Democrats need to convey to voters “that they viscerally understand that liberty is in danger” when groups of terrorists think they can kill anyone at any time. Democrats, according to Marshall (and Friedman), wrongly focus “only on what we’ve done wrong.” (New York Times, 6.12.06)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


One advantage of external enemies is that they could bring us together as a nation. Since external enemies used to produce unity, those of us old enough to remember are sad they don't anymore. While we all have enemies, we no longer have the same enemies.

This July 4, we can agree Americans believe in freedom. Earlier this blog at some length gave attention to the question of what freedom is. Is it a negative concept that means the absence of controls? Or does freedom require positive factors, such as economic justice, that make freedom possible? As noted, Isaiah Berlin’s influential essay on liberty warned that placing any qualification on freedom starts one down the slippery slope toward authoritarianism.

What’s the health of (negative) freedom in America in 2006? It depends a great deal on how one views democracy building overseas. Does it help insure our freedom at home by making it more secure elsewhere? Or does war distort the very values we cherish when we honor freedom? In America today, Libertarians are divided between those who believe we need to secure freedom abroad to assure it at home, and those who don’t. Religious Conservatives support building democracy abroad and using government to advance religious beliefs at home. Conservative Democrats want government to assure economic justice at home, and go along with building democracy abroad.

Liberals have a detailed positive agenda at home—social engineering on behalf of all minorities and women, restrictions on business to protect the environment, redistribution of wealth in the name of equality—tied to rejecting foreign policy activism except for humanitarian reasons. Adventures abroad drain wealth Liberals want used at home. And "national security" seems to mean war and killing abroad matched by restrictions on freedom at home.

Liberals’ enemies are Americans. Here’s an example. “Mission Impossible” was a 1960’s TV series that pitted CIA-like operatives against evil Communists. Now Communists are scarce, while Islamic-based terrorism threatens the West. So who is Tom Cruise’s current enemy? Not al Qaeda, but rather rogue operatives with White House connections who foment war abroad to create business for Halliburton-like firms.

I guess Hollywood really does think like Michael Moore: we are in Iraq because of Halliburton.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Education Myths

Jay Greene, writing in The American Enterprise magazine, notes that myth’s aren’t lies, but rather “beliefs that people adopt because they have an air of plausibility.” But of course, myths aren't true either. Greene identifies several myths about education that currently block improvement of our public schools. What follows is a brief summary of Greene’s essay:

The money myth: [The myth] most directly at odds with the available evidence. . . education spending per pupil has been growing steadily for 50 years. At the end of World War II, public schools in the United States spent a total of $1,214 per student in inflation-adjusted 2002 dollars. [It has climbed since then] to $8,745 in 2002. . . the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) [means it’s] possible to measure student outcomes in a reliable, objective way. . . [Yet f]or twelfth-grade students, who represent the end product of the education system, NAEP scores in math, science, and reading have all remained flat over the past 30 years. And the high school graduation rate hasn't budged.

The teacher pay myth: The average teacher's salary does seem modest at first glance: about $44,600 in 2002 for all teachers. But when we take an accurate account of what teachers are paid for their labor and compare it to what workers of similar skill levels in similar professions are paid, we find that teachers are not shortchanged at all. . . teachers work only about nine months per year. . . the average teacher gets paid a base salary equivalent to a fulltime salary of $65,440. . . in 2002, elementary school teachers averaged $30.75 per hour and high school teachers made $31.01. That is about the same as . . . architects, economists, biologists, civil engineers, chemists, physicists and astronomers, and computer systems analysts and scientists.

The myth of insurmountable problems: [The] argument that schools are helpless in the face of social problems is not supported by hard evidence. It is a myth. The truth is that certain schools do a strikingly better job than others at overcoming challenges in the culture. . . In Texas, for example, schools perform much better than their student demographics would predict: whereas its raw test scores place it 32nd among the states, Texas ranks fourth after its academic outcomes are adjusted for [my] Teachability Index. . .[A] reform that can help overcome the educational challenges caused by social problems is school choice.

The class size myth: In California, the state appropriated $1 billion in 1996 to reduce elementary school class sizes. . . A RAND Corporation study concluded that California students who attended larger elementary school classes improved at about the same rate as students in smaller classes. Though California's overall educational performance went up, it did not seem to be due to smaller classes.

The certification myth: In a review conducted for the Abell Foundation, researchers found that teachers holding a master's in education did not produce higher student performance, and among new teachers, traditional certification made no difference in student performance. After examining every available study on the impact of teaching credentials on job performance--171 in total--Eric Hanushek found that only nine uncovered any significant positive relationship between credentials and student performance, five found a significant negative relationship between the two, and 157 showed no connection.

The rich-school myth: According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average private school charged $4,689 per student in tuition for the 1999-2000 school year. That same year, the average public school spent $8,032 per pupil. Among Catholic schools (which educate 49 percent of all private-school students), the average tuition was only $3,236. The vast majority of private-school students actually have less than half as much funding behind them as public-school students.

Spread the truth: Over the past 30 years, many of our education policies have been based on beliefs that clear-eyed research has recently shown to be false. Virtually every area of school functioning has been distorted by entrenched myths. Disentangling popular misconceptions from our education system--and establishing fresh policies based on facts that are supported by hard evidence--will . . . be especially difficult because powerful interest groups with reasons to protect and extend the prevailing mythology will oppose any rethinking.