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Archive for December, 2010

The invaluable Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner is an expert at exposing the corruption of big government, and his article about for-profit colleges and government-subsidized tuition shows that everybody involved in this fight is sleazy. Unfortunately, no matter who wins, the taxpayers lose. It’s also worth pointing out that the main effect of government-financed tuition payments and loans is to drive up the cost of college – another example of the third-party payer phenomenon.

Here are key passages from Tim’s column.

For a case study in the tawdry and twisted world of Washington policymaking and lobbying, you can’t do much better than the current fight over the subsidies and regulations for for-profit colleges. Behind every argument is an ulterior motive, around every corner is a conflict of interest, and in every pocket there is cash procured through government policy supposed to serve the public good.
…don’t confuse “for-profit” with “capitalist.” Without federal subsidies in the form of Pell grants and federal loan guarantees, the for-profits might not exist. At the very least, they would be much smaller. About 87 percent of the revenue at the biggest for-profits comes from federal taxpayers, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. They belong to a class of company that I call Subsidy Sucklers.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, earlier this year declared war on the for-profits, ordering the Government Accountability Office to investigate these schools’ marketing techniques. The GAO produced a scathing condemnation.
…But a closer look revealed a murkier picture. The GAO last month corrected the paper, modifying 16 of the report’s 28 findings. At Education Week, Rick Hess wrote, “all 16 of the errors run in the same direction — casting for-profits in the worst possible light.” The credibility of Harkin’s star witness in his August hearing, Steven Eisman, was also called into question.
Eisman is a short-seller who reportedly stands to make big money if the stocks of for-profit colleges collapse. He also is a vocal lobbyist for new regulations that would cripple these colleges. The term for Eisman is Regulatory Robber Baron.
… Bill Clinton’s former special counsel Lanny Davis first flagged Eisman’s role in a Politico op-ed, and liberal ethics “watchdog” Melanie Sloan followed up, criticizing Harkin for allowing Eisman to testify, sparking the liberal American Prospect to ask in a headline, “Why Are Progressives Fighting Student Loan Reform?” The answer: money.
On September 17 — about three months after Davis’s op-ed — Davis registered as a lobbyist for the Coalition for Educational Success, a trade group of for-profit colleges. Then in November, Sloan announced she was joining Davis’s lobbying firm. Also lobbying for the for-profit colleges are six former Democratic congressmen and three former Republican lawmakers.
This tale has no good guys, but it does have a moral: When you inject government into an industry, you get some pretty unsavory results.

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Courtesy of Powerline Blog, we have a story about how Sweden’s bureaucratic health system made a mistake and…well, I’m not sure how to delicately phrase this…so let’s just give you the headline of the story: “Man’s penis amputated following misdiagnosis.”

Here are some of the details from a news report about the incident.

The man, who is in his sixties, first visited a local clinic in Blekinge in southern Sweden in September 2009 for treatment of a urinary tract infection, the local Blekinge Läns Tidning (BLT) reported. When he returned in March 2010 complaining of foreskin irritation, the doctor on duty at the time diagnosed the problem as a simple case of inflammation. After three weeks passed without the prescribed treatment alleviating the man’s condition, he was instructed to seek further treatment at Blekinge Hospital. But it took five months before he was able to schedule an appointment at the hospital. When he finally met with doctors at the hospital, the man was informed he had cancer and his penis would have to be removed.

The fact that doctors amputated the man’s penis is not the point of this post. Bad things happen in any country, including medical mistakes by well-meaning people. But a five-month wait for an appointment is an indictment of Sweden’s government-run system. We don’t know if the man’s equipment could have been saved if he got a timely appointment, but a less-drastic approach surely would have been more likely.

But I doubt Sweden’s political elite are too concerned about this story, just like America’s beltway insiders probably don’t worry about the consequences of Obamacare. Waiting lines, after all, are for mere taxpayers. Folks such as Harry Reid, Joe Biden, and Nancy Pelosi will always rig things so they get to jump to the front of the line.

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Previous posts on this blog have featured charts showing that Obama’s policies are not working (see here and here). I even showed a cartoon making the same point.And I cited a column with data comparing Reagan and Obama.

The Heritage Foundation has a very powerful addition to this genre, a chart comparing job performance during the Reagan and Obama Administrations.

This is a remarkable image, but let’s start with some disclaimers. There are lots of factors that impact economic performance, and many of them are outside the control of politicians. Moreover, it is impossible to know what would have happened in the past two years or in the early 1980s if Obama or Reagan had chosen different policies.

But even with these caveats, it is difficult to look at this chart and not conclude that Obama’s big government policies are much less successful than Reagan’s small government policies.

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Like most federal agencies, the Federal Aviation Administration is a costly bureaucracy. Its $16.4 billion budget is enormous, but that is just the direct cost borne by taxpayers. The indirect costs, such as inefficiencies imposed on the air transportation system, also are significant. This has nothing to do with the TSA, by the way. The FAA is responsible for the air traffic control system, things like airport towers and radar systems that tell planes where to fly and when to land.

The Canadians have a much better approach. They privatized their air traffic control system back in the 1990s. So instead of having to rely on a clunky and incompetent government bureaucracy, our neighbors to the north have a private company that is generating very impressive results.

Not that this should be a surprise. Other nations have made remarkable gains through privatization, including Social Security personal accounts in Chile and 30 other nations, education choice in places such as Sweden and the Netherlands, and privatized postal service in Germany.

Reforming government monopolies should be a priority in the United States. Robust economic growth requires more than just low tax rates. It means getting rid of policies that cause resources to be misallocated. Privatization is an unsettling concept for some people, in part because they’ve always assumed certain things should be run by the government. This is why international examples are so important. Canada’s 14 years of experience with a private air traffic control system clearly shows that there are very successful alternatives to inefficient and costly bureaucracies.

Here are some excerpts from a story in Canada’s Financial Post about Canada’s remarkable reform.

A once troubled government asset, the country’s civil air traffic controller was privatized 14 years ago and is now a shining example of how to create a global technology leader out of a hulking government bureaucracy. Nav Canada’s efforts have flights moving more efficiently than ever through the skies above the country.

Many of the changes implemented by Nav Canada in recent years have gone unnoticed by the flying public. Certain flights are now shorter than they once were; aircraft no longer circle airports awaiting a runway; descents start further out and planes reach cruising altitudes more quickly; and flights to Asia now spend less time by jaunting over the Arctic than endlessly cruising the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans.

…Nav Canada estimates its efforts to modernize the aircraft navigation system in the country since it was privatized in 1996 have cut the fuel bill of airlines flying into Canada and above it by an estimated $1.4-billion collectively…

Meantime, Nav Canada has won the respect of airlines for keeping its fees steady, and in some cases, like in 2006, even reducing them when it can.

…John Crichton, Nav Canada chief executive, makes no bones about why he thinks his organization has been able to make these improvements and emerge as a global leader.

I don’t think there’s any question that the privatization was the best thing that ever happened,” he said. “That really unleashed all the innovation.”

…Calin Rovinescu, Air Canada’s chief executive, commended Nav Canada for its efforts to modernize the country’s navigation systems during a speech in Montreal earlier this year, while condemning the United States and the European Union, which still operates as a patchwork of nationalized systems, for their lack of leadership on the issue. Nav Canada also won the International Air Transport Association’s Eagle Award earlier this year for its efforts, in particular its constant consultation with the industry.

My Cato colleague Chris Edwards has more analysis, including a call to privatize the Federal Aviation Administration as well as some useful links.

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Too bad the gift-giving season is already over. Thanks to this story about three men who were arrested by Japanese police for providing coffee enemas without regulatory approval, I now know that I could have purchased a “rectal infusion kit” for only $110. But since Senator Reid will still be around next Christmas, let’s focus on the public policy angle and ask ourselves why Japan’s government has licensing rules for coffee enemas?

In almost all cases, licensing rules are imposed by governments to protect politically powerful providers in a certain industry. The Institute for Justice has done heroic work on this issue, and they are always fighting to break up government-sanctioned cartels that limit competition, lead to higher prices, and make it hard for new providers to enter the market.

I’m sure these Japanese rules exist to unfairly enrich that nation’s medical profession. I can’t help but wonder, though, whether Japan’s bureaucrats have covered all the bases. Are tea enemas also covered by the regulations? What about if you use “fair trade certified” coffee from Starbucks? Are people allowed to buy toilets with built-in enemas? And what about bidets? Surely regular people can’t be trusted to operate such equipments without some sort of government involvement!

So many…um…fascinating questions to ponder. Anyhow, here’s a blurb from the story.

Police in Chiba Prefecture arrested three men this month on suspicion of violating Japan’s Medical Practitioners Law by providing coffee enemas without the proper medical qualifications, according to local media reports. Chikayoshi Hishiki (55) and two associates offered coffee-based enemas as a beauty treatment at their now-defunct alternative medicine clinics, according to leading daily Sankei Shimbun. The three suspects denied any wrongdoing, claiming they only provided the equipment and cleaned up afterwards, while the clients themselves administered the procedure, the report said. Some Japanese have become interested in filling their bums with java, believing they have discovered a secret dieting technique used by celebrities in the US and Europe.

CYA Disclaimer: Just because the Internet is a handy way of accessing information, that doesn’t mean that everything you read is true. So I make no claims that this story is 100 percent true, though governments are so stupid that I’m guessing it is accurate.

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A picture says a thousand words.

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You wouldn’t expect any positive developments from California when it comes to schooling, but this video shows that parents now have the ability, for all intents and purposes, to fire the incumbent management of a government school.

I don’t think this is nearly as good as what’s being proposed in Douglas County, Colorado, but it’s a big step for a union-controlled state such as California.

And the parents of one failing school have pulled the trigger and are forcing good reforms.

2011 could be a very good year for school reform and improvement. That’s bad news for politicians and teacher unions, but great news for parents and kids.

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The world is a laboratory and different nations are public policy experiments. Not surprisingly, the evidence from these experiments is that nations with more freedom tend to grow faster and enjoy more prosperity. Nations with big governments, by contrast, are more likely to suffer from stagnation.

The same thing happens inside the United States. The 50 states are experiments, and they generate considerable data showing that small government states enjoy better economic performance. But because migration between states is so easy (whereas migration between nations is more complicated), we also get very good evidence based on people “voting with their feet.” Taxation and jobs are two big factors that drive this process.

Looking at the census data and matching migration data with state tax systems, here’s what Michael Barone wrote. He finds (not that anyone should be surprised) that the absence of a state income tax is correlated with faster growth, which attracts people from high-tax states.

…growth tends to be stronger where taxes are lower. Seven of the nine states that do not levy an income tax grew faster than the national average. The other two, South Dakota and New Hampshire, had the fastest growth in their regions, the Midwest and New England. Altogether, 35 percent of the nation’s total population growth occurred in these nine non-taxing states, which accounted for just 19 percent of total population at the beginning of the decade.

And here’s Diana Furtchtgott-Roth, writing for Realclearmarkets.com. She uses the presence of right-to-work laws (which prohibit union membership as a condition of employment) as a proxy for the degree to which big government and big labor are imposing restrictions on efficient employment markets. Not surprisingly, the states that have a market-friendly approach create more jobs and therefore attract more workers.

The American people have been voting with their feet, the Census Bureau announced on Tuesday, leaving states with heavy union influence and choosing to live in “right-to-work” states with higher job growth where they cannot be forced to join a union as a condition of employment. …As a result of geographic shifts in population uncovered by the 2010 Census, nine congressional seats will move to right-to-work states from forced unionization states. Some winners are Texas, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and South Carolina, while losers include New York, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and New Jersey. Over the past 25 years job growth in right-to-work states has been over twice as high as in unionized states.

This leaves us with one perplexing question. If we know that pro-market policies work for states, why does the crowd in Washington push for more statism?

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The contest between the United States and Europe for dumb public policy is always hard to judge. The Europeans tend to make more policy mistakes, though Obama certainly is giving them some stiff competition. America, by contrast, is prone to really inane bouts of political correctness. But perhaps the Europeans are catching up in that area.

Here’s something, for example, that sounds like it could have happened in San Francisco. The European Commission (the über bureaucracy of the European Union) sent out 3 million calendars to kids that mentioned significant holidays for the Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu religions, but omitted Christmas. Here’s an excerpt from the U.K.-based Guardian.

Italy has demanded that the European Commission recall millions of diaries that are being distributed to schoolchildren throughout the EU because they do not mention Christmas but they do give the dates of other religions’ festivals, such as Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, and Sikh, Hindu and Chinese feast days. …A Commission spokeswoman said it had “realised the absence of some important European religious holidays, in particular Christmas”. …But she gave no indication that Brussels would accede to Frattini’s demand to recall the diaries, which, according to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, was contained in a letter to the commission’s president, Jose Manuel Barroso. …Some 3 million copies of the latest edition of the Europe Diary have been sent to schools. The commission’s spokeswoman said its main purpose was “inform young Europeans as consumers and citizens on issues like rights, choices as consumers [and] climate change”. …The commission…spokeswoman said it had cost €5.5m (£4.6m).

Being a fiscal policy wonk, I don’t worry too much about the War on Christmas. Yes, political correctness is nauseating, but it’s not as if the government is actually using coercion to stamp out Christmas. When I read stories like this, what catches my attention instead are disturbing details such as the hefty price tag of $7.2 million. Why is the European Commission squandering so much money on calendars? And once a decision has been made to waste money, why leave out Christmas? And why did they include extraneous material such as global warming propaganda?

Perhaps the moral of this story is that governments – and international bureaucracies such as the EC – have an amazing ability to squander money. Sometimes they waste money for PC reasons, sometimes for vote-buying reasons, and sometimes for corruption. All we know for sure is that taxpayers get lumps of coal in their stockings.

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The Chairman of the Federal Reserve is such a swell guy, but you already would know that if you saw his Facebook page. Well, thanks to his “QE2 plan,” he’s giving the rest of us a very thoughtful Christmas present.

To be fair, I suppose it should be noted that Bernanke’s policy isn’t necessarily a bad idea – but only if you think that there will be future deflation and “quantitative easing” is the way of preventing that from happening. I’m quite skeptical, as explained here, but freely admit that I’m not a monetary policy expert (thanks for catching my mistake, Charlie). But Christmas isn’t the right time for serious discussion, so let’s just enjoy a laugh and keep our fingers crossed that we’re not heading into Jimmy Carter Inflation-land.

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