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InsiderOnline Blog: September 2014

School Choice Saves Taxpayers Money

Contrary to what opponents of school choice claim, voucher programs saved taxpayers $1.7 billion between 1990 and 2011. There is also plenty of evidence that school choice produces better outcomes, too. See for example, “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice,” by Greg Forster, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, April 2013.

In the slide show below, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice explains where the critics go off the rails in claiming that voucher programs cost money:

More: “The School Voucher Audit: Do Publicly Funded Private School Choice Programs Save Money?” by Jeff Spalding, The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, September 2014.

Posted on 09/30/14 05:56 PM by Alex Adrianson

Are Green Activists Writing Our Environmental Laws?

Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency have given outside pressure groups unprecedented access and improper influence over environmental policy, says Christopher Horner. Horner and his colleagues at the Energy and Environment Legal Institute reviewed hundreds of pages of agency emails obtained—with considerable resistance from the EPA—via Freedom of Information requests. Here is a snippet from a summary of the report by Anthony Watts:

The relationship between Michael Goo, recently head of the EPA Office of Policy and a former Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) lobbyist, and John Coequyt, a top Sierra Club lobbyist, is particularly close, to the point that Coequyt worked to ensure Goo participation in meetings important to Sierra, while Goo ensured his colleagues paid particular attention to Sierra’s concerns and materials.

The emails discussed in the report demonstrate how Coequyt supplied research and advocacy materials directly to individual activists within EPA, even helping EPA keep a score for “internal use” of coal plants to shut down. He advised EPA officials to ensure “zombie” coal plants, i.e. plants that had been planned and may one day be built, remain shelved avoided creating complete logs of their interactions through various means, including, e.g., meeting with Goo at the nearby Marriott Hotel near the EPA headquarters (circumventing detailing their discussions in EPA’s visitor logs, where people most logically would look), and when he was otherwise in the building including for numerous meetings with senior officials Goo facilitated had such a direct pipeline into the Agency that when he was on vacation his Sierra Club team would plead with EPA friends for updates.

In another case, EPA press staff collaborated with a Sierra Club lobbyist to write Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-NH) statement on the “climate” agenda for a “roundtable” event EPA, Sierra Club, and Sen. Shaheen participated in.

In multiple instances, green lobbyists provided EPA with their polling on the shared priorities, were directly involved in deciding where EPA would hold public hearings, and ensuring supportive crowds. Further, EPA repeatedly gave green groups a leg up in preparing comments intended for the administrative record on important regulations. This meant the green groups were able to submit comments ahead of any members of the general public, or other interested parties, even though the comments in question were submitted before the record was open for comment by the general public. EPA employees also submitted special interest group comments directly if those groups failed to do so themselves.

The special relationship goes all the way to the top. Lisa Jackson, aka “Richard Windsor”, used her private Verizon account to email directly, impermissibly off the record, with green lobbyists like Sierra Club Michael Brune, which the public only now knows because she clumsily instructed one lobbyist to contact her there, and forwarded a Brune email to EPA colleagues seeking to “amplify” Brune’s work. [Watts Up With That, September 15]

Posted on 09/19/14 07:43 PM by Alex Adrianson

The War on Poverty Never Ends Because They’re Not Really Measuring Poverty Anymore

Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield explain why the 50-year-old War on Poverty seems like a never-ending skirmish:

The unchanging poverty rate for the past 45 years is perplexing because anti-poverty or welfare spending during that period has simply exploded. As Chart 2 shows, means-tested welfare spending has soared since the start of the War on Poverty. In fiscal year 2013, the federal government ran over 80 means-tested welfare programs that provided cash, food, housing, medical care, and targeted social services to poor and low-income Americans.

Overall, 100 million individuals—nearly one in three Americans—received benefits from at least one of these programs. Federal and state governments spent $943 billion in 2013 on these programs at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient. (Again, Social Security and Medicare are not included in the totals.)

Today, government spends 16 times more, adjusting for inflation, on means-tested welfare or anti-poverty programs than it did when the War on Poverty started. But as welfare spending soared, the decline in poverty came to a grinding halt. As Chart 2 shows, the more the government spent, the less progress against poverty was made.

How can this paradox be explained? How can government spend $9,000 per recipient and have no apparent impact on poverty? The answer is that it can’t.

The conundrum of massive anti-poverty spending and unchanging poverty rates has a simple explanation. The Census Bureau counts a family as “poor” if its income falls below specific thresholds, but in counting “income,” the Census omits nearly all of government means-tested spending on the poor. In effect, it ignores almost the entire welfare state when it calculates poverty. This neat bureaucratic ploy ensured that welfare programs could grow infinitely while “poverty” remained unchanged. [Internal citations omitted.] [“The War on Poverty After 50 Years,” by Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, The Heritage Foundation, September 15]

Posted on 09/19/14 07:21 PM by Alex Adrianson

Asset Forfeiture Has Turned Cops into Crooks

John Yoder and Brad Cates explain how police departments’ use of their asset forfeiture powers “has turned into an evil itself, with the corruption it engendered among government and law enforcement coming to clearly outweigh any benefits”:

First, many states adopted their own forfeiture laws, creating programs with less monitoring than those at the federal level. Second, state law enforcement agencies and prosecutors started using the property—and finally even to provide basic funding for their departments.

Even at the outset, the use of seized property was an issue. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, for example, might see a suspected dealer in a car they wanted for undercover work and seize it. But if the car had an outstanding loan, the DEA could not keep it without paying the lien. This led to distorted enforcement decisions, with agents choosing whom to pursue based on irrelevant factors such as whether the target owed money on his car.

As time went on and states got into the forfeiture game, the uses became more personally rewarding for law enforcement. Maintaining an undercover identity was often no longer even part of the justification for seizures.

Law enforcement agents and prosecutors began using seized cash and property to fund their operations, supplanting general tax revenue, and this led to the most extreme abuses: law enforcement efforts based upon what cash and property they could seize to fund themselves, rather than on an even-handed effort to enforce the law.

Many Americans are familiar with old-time speed traps, which became so notorious that most state legislatures reformed their systems to require local police and courts to deposit traffic fines into the state treasury to avoid the appearance of biased justice. Today, the old speed traps have all too often been replaced by forfeiture traps, where local police stop cars and seize cash and property to pay for local law enforcement efforts. This is a complete corruption of the process, and it unsurprisingly has led to widespread abuses. [Washington Post, September 18]

And that’s the opinion of the guys who helped create the federal asset forfeiture program.

Posted on 09/19/14 07:08 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Find Your Liberty-Loving Friends in Denver

Confab with your allies in the state-based liberty movement. The State Policy Network’s Annual Meeting, on the theme “Dare to Disrupt,” will be held in Denver on September 23 – 26. (We’ll be there!)

Discover who were the most biased of the liberal media in the past year. The Media Research Center’s Gala ’14 will begin at 6 p.m. on September 25 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

Figure out what’s next in energy policy. The Texas Public Policy Foundation will host At the Crossroads: Energy & Climate Policy Summit on September 25 – 26 at the Hyatt Regency Houston.

Learn how Rock and Roll helped tear down the Berlin Wall. Historian and rock drummer Larry Schweikart will bring his new documentary Rockin’ the Wall to North Carolina for a screening. The event, hosted by the John Locke Foundation, will begin at 7 p.m. on September 25 at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.

Find out how accreditations policies are blocking innovation in higher education and what can be done to fix the problem. The Heritage Foundation will host a panel discussion featuring former U.S. Senator Hank Brown (R-Colo.), Ann Neal of the American Council for Trustees and Alumni, and Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute. The discussion will begin at noon on September 22.

Posted on 09/19/14 06:58 PM by Alex Adrianson

Ending the Export-Import Bank Would Help the Economy

Congress has an opportunity to end a little bit of corporate welfare when the authorization for the Export-Import Bank expires on September 30. If Congress does nothing, the Export-Import Bank ceases to exist.

The Export-Import Bank is a government agency that exists to make and guarantee loans to foreign companies and governments so that they can then buy stuff from American companies. That is supposed to increase U.S. exports and create American jobs. In theory, the bank is supposed to finance that dubious category of transactions that are worthwhile but cannot obtain financing from private lenders. That is to say, this government bank is supposed to make loans that commercial banks judge to be a bad deal. That is to say, bank bureaucrats use other people’s money to make loans that people investing their own money won’t touch.

If that isn’t enough to make you skeptical, here are a few more problems:

The Bank claims to earn a $1 billion return per year on its investments. As Ryan Young explains, the Bank actually loses money:

In estimating the present value of its portfolio, Ex-Im uses Federal Credit Reporting Act standards, which use a discount rate equal to the yield of U.S. Treasury bonds. Treasury bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, so markets treat them as essentially riskless. As a result, they have a very low interest rate. Other investments, whether stocks, bonds, or Ex-Im’s own financial products, tend to have higher yields than Treasury bonds. Because its portfolio outperforms Treasury bonds as an investment opportunity, Ex-Im claims to make money for the government. What this really tells us is that the Bank succeeds in jumping over the lowest of all possible hurdles.

Ex-Im’s portfolio does not perform nearly as well under more widely used fair-value accounting standards, the dominant standard for both the private sector and many government agencies. Fair-value accounting, which uses discount rates set by market values to account for risk, gives a more accurate picture of how risky Ex-Im’s portfolio truly is, and how it performs compared to similar alternative investments. By this standard, CBO estimates that Ex-Im will lose the government about $2 billion over the period 2015-2024, instead of gaining it $14 billion. [“Ten Reasons to Abolish the Export-Import Bank,” by Ryan Young, Competitive Enterprise Institute, July 15]

Bank supporters talk as if the Bank’s loans only add to the economy. But among the hard-to-see costs of the Bank’s lending is the loss in market share suffered by unsubsidized companies that must compete with firms who have been given a financing advantage. Firms that cannot get a loan on the same terms as a competitor are not able to expand their services or production as much as they otherwise could. The economy loses those products and services, even though they might have been superior to the products and services offered by subsidized companies. Diane Katz notes a few examples of how Export-Import Bank financing has put U.S. firms at a competitive disadvantage:

• Mongolia’s Oyu Tolgoi copper mine ($500 million). The copper from this open-pit and underground mine competes with excavations in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, and Montana just as global refined copper production is expected to exceed demand by more than 390,000 metric tons this year.

• Papua New Guinea’s Liquid Natural Gas Project ($3 billion). Despite regulatory challenges faced by U.S. producers of liquid natural gas, Ex-Im approved $3 billion in financing for development of gas fields, onshore and offshore pipelines extending 400 miles, a gas liquefaction plant, and marine export facilities.

• Air India ($3.4 billion). The financing will guarantee the purchase of 27 Boeing aircraft intended for international service, including U.S. destinations. According to the Air Line Pilots Association, Air India will enjoy rates and terms that are not available to U.S. airlines, giving it a cost advantage of about $2 million per airplane. Surplus seat capacity resulting from Ex-Im airline subsidies—totaling about $50 billion between 2005 and 2011—has resulted in the loss of approximately 7,500 U.S. jobs. [Internal citations omitted.] [Testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation and Regulatory Affairs, Diane Katz, July 29]

Another problem is that while the bank is supposed to finance projects that cannot obtain financing from commercial banks, in practice it finances the sales of big companies who don’t really need help like Boeing, General Electric, and Bechtel. Veronique de Rugy breaks down which companies benefit from the Bank’s loans:

[Mercatus Center, April 29]

Supporters of the Export-Import Bank also claim that ending export subsidies would amount to unilateral disarmament in trade policy. Other countries subsidize their exports, so U.S. firms need them to compete, they say. Aside from the fact that only 2 percent of U.S. exports are supported by Export-Import Bank loans, export subsidies are a bad way of promoting free trade, as Brian Riley explains:

Arguments over export credit subsidies bring to mind debates over U.S. tariff policy in the 20th century. There was no legitimate economic argument for the United States to maintain protective tariffs, which impose costs on consumers and transfer their resources to politically powerful or well-connected firms—a classic case of cronyism. Yet proponents often argued that the United States should impose self-destructive tariffs to counter high tariffs in other countries, just as some people now argue that the United States should impose self-destructive export subsidies in response to foreign export subsidies.

U.S. and foreign tariffs were dramatically reduced through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and WTO negotiations. In 1947, the average tariff rate in industrial countries was about 40 percent. Today, the average worldwide tariff rate is less than 3 percent. This huge reduction would not have occurred if the United States had decided to raise its tariffs after World War II to match high tariffs in other countries—the type of approach many supporters of the Ex–Im Bank advocate with respect to export subsidies. [Internal citations omitted.] [“Foreign Export Credit Subsidies: Kill Them, Don’t Copy Them,” by Brian Riley, The Heritage Foundation, September 12]

Posted on 09/19/14 05:25 PM by Alex Adrianson

Limiting Congress Is a Feature, Not a Bug, of the Constitution

Wednesday was the 227th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, which says, among other things, that “Congress shall make no law […] abridging the freedom of speech.” But some people now want to change the Constitution to give Congress to power to limit speech that makes it harder for members of Congress to get reelected. On Thursday, a panel at The Heritage Foundation discussed that and other assaults on free speech:

Posted on 09/19/14 03:38 PM by Alex Adrianson

Did the Accountability Review Board Get All the Benghazi Documents?

Key aides of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “scrubbed” the documents collected for the review board that looked into the Department’s response to the 9/11/12 attack on Benghazi. That claim comes from Raymond Maxwell, then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Maghreb Region, who says the aides were looking for documents that would have been damaging to Clinton. Sharyl Atkisson reports Maxwell’s revelations. Here is a snippet of her report:

Maxwell says the weekend document session was held in the basement of the State Department’s Foggy Bottom headquarters in a room underneath the “jogger’s entrance.” He describes it as a large space, outfitted with computers and big screen monitors, intended for emergency planning, and with small offices on the periphery.

When he arrived, Maxwell says he observed boxes and stacks of documents. He says a State Department office director, whom Maxwell described as close to Clinton’s top advisers, was there. Though the office director technically worked for him, Maxwell says he wasn’t consulted about her weekend assignment.

“She told me, ‘Ray, we are to go through these stacks and pull out anything that might put anybody in the [Near Eastern Affairs] front office or the seventh floor in a bad light,’” says Maxwell. He says “seventh floor” was State Department shorthand for then-Secretary of State Clinton and her principal advisers.

“I asked her, ‘But isn’t that unethical?’ She responded, ‘Ray, those are our orders.’”

A few minutes after he arrived, Maxwell says, in walked two high-ranking State Department officials.

In an interview Monday morning on Fox News, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, named the two Hillary Clinton confidants who allegedly were present: One was Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff and a former White House counsel who defended President Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial. The other, Chaffetz said, was Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan, who previously worked on Hillary Clinton’s and then Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.

“When Cheryl saw me, she snapped, ‘Who are you?’” Maxwell says. “Jake explained, ‘That’s Ray Maxwell, an NEA deputy assistant secretary.’ She conceded, ‘Well, OK.’”

Maxwell says the two officials, close confidants of Clinton, appeared to check in on the operation and soon left.

Maxwell says after Mills and Sullivan arrived, he, the office director and an intern moved into a small office where they looked through some papers. Maxwell says his stack included pre-attack telegrams and cables between the U.S. embassy in Tripoli and State Department headquarters. After a short time, Maxwell says he decided to leave.

“I didn’t feel good about it,” he says. [Daily Signal, September 15]

Posted on 09/18/14 06:44 PM by Alex Adrianson

Individual Income Inequality Still About the Same as It Was 20 Years Ago

Once again, numbers from the Census Bureau show that economic inequality has been about the same for the past 20 years—contrary to claims made by Piketty/Krugman/et al. that the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.

That chart is from Mary Perry who summarizes:

The top chart above shows the shares of total income earned by the top 20% and top 5% of US households from 1993 to 2013 (from Table A-2). In 1993, 49% of total income went to the top quintile of US households, and 20 years later in 2013, the share of income going to the top 20% has increased to only 51%. Likewise, in 1993 the share of total income going to the top 5% of US households was 21%, that share had increased to only 22.2%. Interestingly, the 22.5% share last year was slightly lower than the 22.4% of income that went to the top 5% in 2001. Over the last two decades, the income share of the top 20% (top 5%) has been remarkably stable at about 50-51% (21-22%) and there has been no statistical evidence of “rising income inequality” according to this measure. [AEIdeas, September 16]

As Perry has pointed out, inequality as measured by the distribution of income across households has gone up. That result, however, reflects a rise in the number of single-person households. Emphasizing household inequality paints a false picture of the economic condition of individuals who are no more or less unequal than they were 20 years ago. [AEIdeas, June 5]

Posted on 09/17/14 05:36 PM by Alex Adrianson

Toolkit Tuesday: Four Tips for Responding on Social Media

Did someone say something about your organization on social media? Before you respond, think about these four points, which come from Spark Freedom’s “How to Protect Your Organization Online”:

1. Be Memorable. Find a unique way to say something, even if it’s just standard information or a factual point. By doing the unexpected your followers will reward you with their affection, and your opponents will be caught off guard.

2. Choose Your Tone. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Decide what personality you want to establish online, and make sure it aligns with the rest of your brand identity, and then stick to it. Do not get angry. By showing that you’re listening, you’ll win respect and support from others.

3. Be Authentic. People on social media look for authenticity and can sense insincerity from a mile away. Keep that in mind as you engage online. Rather than turning on the PR spin machine, find a way to craft a reply that shows you recognize users as people to whom you can relate. People are on social media because they are looking to make connections with others, even the person behind the brand.

4. Act Quickly. The beauty of social media is that it is real time. You can snub out misconceptions and fix problems instantly through a quick, smart reply. Never expect things to go away. Blog posts and forum comments linger in search engine results forever, so you need to make sure your viewpoint is there as well.

Check out the entire guide for examples and more ideas on how to manage your reputation online.

Posted on 09/16/14 05:41 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Celebrate the Constitution

Celebrate Constitution Day by examining the Supreme Court’s recent decisions. The Cato Institute will host an all-day conference examining the Court’s decisions on the First Amendment, federalism, labor relations, religious liberty, and other subjects. The program will begin at 10:30 a.m. on September 17.

Discover how the Constitution engages many of the fundamental questions of political life. The American Enterprise Institute will host a talk by James Ceaser, who will explore some of the Constitution’s most significant contributions to political thought. Ceaser’s talk will begin at 5 p.m. on September 16.

Learn whether the Constitution is a conservative document, a liberal document, or neither. The James Madison Institute will host a talk by David Azerrad of The Heritage Foundation. Azerrad’s talk will begin at 7 p.m. on September 16 at the Challenger Learning Center Planetarium in Tallahassee.

See the movie Messenger of Truth which tells the story of how Father Jerzy Popieluszko’s fight for freedom of religion and political reform inspired the nonviolent movement that ended communist rule in Poland. The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation will host a special screening of the film at the E Street Cinema in Washington, D.C. The screening will begin at 7 p.m. on September 16.

Hear what should be done about “inversions.” CNBC’s Larry Kudlow, The Heritage Foundation’s Stephen Moore, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorties’s Chye-Ching Huang, and Emerson’s retired Vice Chairman Walter J. Gavin will explore the issue at a discussion hosted by The Heritage Foundation. The talk will begin at noon on September 17.

• Get an update on the IRS targeting scandal. Cleta Mitchell will speak at the next meeting of the Conservative Women’s Network. The meeting, co-hosted by the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute and The Heritage Foundation, is open to all and will take place at The Heritage Foundation on September 19 at noon. RSVP by emailing chart@cblpi.org.

Learn how the “sustainability agenda” threatens your prosperity and your liberty. The American Dream Coalition’s Preserving the American Dream Conference will take place September 19-21 in Denver.

• Save the dates: The State Policy Network’s Annual Meeting, on the theme “Dare to Disrupt,” will be held in Denver on September 23 – 26. The Media Research Center’s Gala ’14 will begin at 6 p.m. on September 25 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The Texas Public Policy Foundation will host At The Crossroads: Energy & Climate Policy Summit on September 25 – 26 at the Hyatt Regency Houston.

Posted on 09/13/14 01:02 AM by Alex Adrianson

There Might Be a Flaw in that Plan!

By now you’ve probably heard of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the book every Leftist hails as proving capitalism leads only to greater and greater inequality. Only a more active government reining in capitalism can reverse the trend, so the argument goes. Steve Fritzinger points out Piketty’s blind spot:

Though his ideas of how productive capital works might be a bit off, there is one form of capital that does closely match Piketty’s expectation. That is political capital. Having powerful friends is the closest you’re likely to get to a risk-free, high-yield investment.

Take, for example, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton claims that when she and President Clinton left the White House in 2001, they were worse than “dead broke." They were actually drowning in debt. Today, the Clintons enjoy a fortune estimated to be worth more than $100 million. From dead broke to the 1 percent of the 1 percent in 12 short years. That’s a rate of return that should make professor Piketty quake in his boots.

Far from fearing the returns on political power, Piketty sees it as the solution to our problems. He proposes the creation of a worldwide 80 percent annual wealth tax, with periodic extra assessments, to both tax away huge fortunes and fund government programs Piketty thinks are needed to reduce inequality. Enforcing this tax would require the equivalent of a global, financial NSA capable of tracking every economic transaction everywhere and a global police force to make sure no one dodges his or her obligations.

Piketty seems oblivious to the abuses inherent in such an organization.

Seeking to protect us from a potential economic elite who would have too much control over our lives, Piketty would give more power to the existing political elite that already has too much control over our lives. [The Freeman, September 11]

Posted on 09/12/14 11:14 PM by Alex Adrianson

Congress Wants the Power to Say Who Can and Can’t Criticize Congress

An attempt to amend the First Amendment failed in the Senate this week when only 54 senators voted to end debate on a proposed constitutional amendment. Sixty votes were needed to end debate and move to a vote on proposing the amendment to the states. A two-thirds vote is needed in order to propose a constitutional amendment. All the Democrats voted to end debate except Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) The measure was sponsored by 48 Democrats. The measure would have given Congress the power to regulate money spent on political speech intended to influence elections. But the amendment would have protected the media from any such regulation, which raises the question: Who gets to decide who is the media?

Hans von Spakovsky and Elizabeth Slattery wrote about the amendment back in June, noting:

Supporters of this amendment claim that restricting the amount of money that may be spent on political speech and activity is not the same as limiting speech, but that is the equivalent of saying that limiting the amount of newsprint a newspaper may buy does not limit the newspaper’s speech. Coincidentally, the proposed constitutional amendment has one glaring exception: It would not apply to the press. Thus, The New York Times and MSNBC could continue to spend as much money, newsprint, and airtime as they want supporting their preferred candidates (or attacking those they oppose), but individuals, associations, and non-media corporations would be strictly limited in their political speech. This is certainly no way to “level the playing field.” Instead, this would allow Members of Congress to tie the hands of candidates and ordinary Americans who are trying to unseat them. [The Heritage Foundation, June 2]

National Review echoes that point this week:

The Democrats, keenly appreciating the boobishness of their voters, present this as a measure to regulate “corporations,” but the amendment explicitly empowers Congress to regulate individuals as well. As for those corporations: The New York Times is a corporation; ABC News is part of a corporation; NPR is a corporation; Random House is a corporation; Gawker is a corporation; National Review is a corporation. Neither the First Amendment nor any substantive body of American jurisprudence distinguishes media corporations from other sorts of corporations, nor should it. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are not restricted to journalists and newspaper publishers. The same First Amendment that protects Scott Pelley protects Noam Chomsky and you, in exactly the same way. [National Review, September 9]

And so does George Will:

The 48 senators proposing to give legislators speech-regulating powers describe their amendment in anodyne language, as “relating to contributions and expenditures intended to affect elections.” But what affects elections is speech, and the vast majority of contributions and expenditures are made to disseminate speech. The Democrats’ amendment says: “Congress and the states may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections,” and may “prohibit” corporations — including nonprofit issue-advocacy corporations (such as the Sierra Club, NARAL Pro-Choice America and thousands of others across the political spectrum) from spending any money “to influence elections,” which is what most of them exist to do.

Because all limits will be set by incumbent legislators, the limits deemed “reasonable” will surely serve incumbents’ interests. The lower the limits, the more valuable will be the myriad (and unregulated) advantages of officeholders. [Washington Post, September 10]

WAMU radio, as David Boaz observes, pointed to one of those advantages this very week with a report on how members of Congress use franked mail to communicate with their constituents—AKA, voters—about all manner of issues. As Boaz concludes: “It’s not that members of Congress object to people spending money on elections. They just want the people’s money sent to Washington, and spent by Congress, on their own re-election efforts. So much less messy and divisive that way.” [Cato Institute, September 9]

Posted on 09/12/14 10:41 PM by Alex Adrianson

Elizabeth Whelan, R.I.P.

Elizabeth Whelan, a relentless exposer of unscientific alarmism, died Thursday. If you’ve heard the term “junk science,” it’s probably because of Whelan’s pioneering efforts to identify and expose that genre of propaganda. Whelan wrote Panic in the Pantry, a history of food scares, which was published in 1976. That work led her to found the American Council on Science and Health in 1978. The ACSH website has this tribute to Whelan:

Beth was a giant in the annals of public health. With postgraduate degrees from Yale and Harvard, she grew increasingly frustrated with the discrepancy between what she knew to be fact-based scientific truth, and the distorted information that the public was hearing and reading from the media. Unlike many of her colleagues, however, she resolved to do something about it. That’s how ACSH was born.

By sheer force of will—despite her youth and inexperience with any sort of activism—she recruited several towering figures in epidemiology, science and public health. These included Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution—the man who is credited with saving more lives than any other human being—and Dr. Fredrick Stare, the founding chairman of the Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Department. Other scientists and policy experts, now numbering close to 350, flocked to join the nascent nonprofit’s Board of Scientific Advisors and Policy Experts.

At the same time, she assembled and led a coterie of scientific professionals at the ACSH headquarters in New York City. Before long, publication after publication—all strictly devoted to the concepts of sound science and independent peer review—began to flow. These continue to this day. Every effort she inspired promoted the mantra of evidence-based science, while at the same time countering the hysteria and hyperbole spread by the media and agenda-driven activists. Beth firmly believed that the nonsense and destructive myths posing as science were only allowed to exist because of what she termed “mute science”: competent, expert scientists failing to speak up to dispute the junk science advocacy agenda that permeated the media. Beth led the way in urging scientists to speak out against the fallacies that are all too pervasive in our culture. [American Council on Science and Health, September 12]

Posted on 09/12/14 09:24 PM by Alex Adrianson

Back to 1986 for a Back to School Econ Lesson

The 1986 comedy Back to School helps Andrew Heaton and EconPop examine the question: What’s the value of college?

Posted on 09/11/14 07:01 PM by Alex Adrianson

ObamaCare Makes Our Health Care Problem Worse

Compared to 1960, we pay for health care a lot less with money we’ve taken out of our own pockets and given directly to health care providers. We also pay a lot more with money we’ve taken out of our own pockets and given to the government or insurers so that they can then give the money to health care providers (while keeping a cut of it). The result of that arrangement is about what you expect: Health care consumers have been behaving much like 100 diners who decide to split a restaurant bill equally regardless of what anybody orders. [See: “If You’re Paying, I’ll Have Top Sirloin,” by Russell Roberts, Wall Street Journal, May 18, 1995.] And the problem is projected to get worse, thanks to ObamaCare:

The graph above is basically a replication of one John Merline produced at Investor’s Business Daily last week. We added the trend line on health care’s share of the economy. ObamaCare hasn’t fixed the third-party payer problem; it has reinforced it by creating new entitlements, massively expanding others, and mandating more extensive insurance coverage. As Merline reports:

ObamaCare is fueling some of this spending surge. This year, federal spending on health care is expected to climb an eye-opening 14.7%. And its growth rate will exceed that of private spending for at least the next 10 years, the data show.

CMS also expects Medicaid spending to shoot up 18.4% this year, thanks largely to 28 states' expansion of the Medicaid program under ObamaCare. [Investor’s Business Daily, September 5]

Posted on 09/11/14 06:31 PM by Alex Adrianson

Milwaukee District Attorney Still Coordinating Criminal Investigations with Democratic Politics

Democratic Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm is trying to get his criminal investigation of Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker back on track this week. On Tuesday, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit heard Chisholm’s appeal of the federal civil rights lawsuit he lost in May. Judge Rudolph Randa had quashed the investigation, ruling it had no “reasonable expectation of obtaining a valid conviction” and that its legal theory was simply wrong.

What started as a simple investigation of a rather ordinary theft of campaign funds morphed into an ever-expanding but initially secret probe based on the theory that Wisconsin campaign laws make it illegal for a candidate to coordinate with outside groups on issue advocacy that falls short of endorsing a candidate. The investigation used an extraordinary procedure that allowed the prosecutor to issue gag orders on those being investigated, which eventually included employees of 29 different conservative non-profits.

If you haven’t been following the story, a 3,000-word account by Stuart Taylor covers a lot of ground and provides some juicy bits, including this revelation from one of Chisholm’s colleagues:

Chisholm told him and others that Chisholm’s wife, Colleen, a teacher’s union shop steward at St. Francis high school, a public school near Milwaukee, had been repeatedly moved to tears by Walker’s anti-union policies in 2011, according to the former staff prosecutor in Chisholm’s office. Chisholm said in the presence of the former prosecutor that his wife “frequently cried when discussing the topic of the union disbanding and the effect it would have on the people involved … She took it personally.”

Citing fear of retaliation, the former prosecutor declined to be identified and has not previously talked to reporters.

Chisholm added, according to that prosecutor, that “he felt that it was his personal duty to stop Walker from treating people like this.”

By the way, here are some details on Chisholm’s treatment of conservatives exercising their constitutional rights to participate in politics:

Those conservatives say that the long-running criminal investigation has unconstitutionally prevented them and their allies from participating in politics and tilted the political field to favor Democrats, whose campaign practices are almost identical to the Republicans’ but largely ignored by the prosecutors. The probe, conservatives say, has forced them to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills and harassed some of them with pre-dawn raids on their suburban homes that seized cell phones and computers of all family members, including a child’s iPad. Prosecutors imposed “gag orders” to prevent the investigation’s targets from publicly complaining. […]

Armed officers raided the homes of Walker’s supporters across the state, using bright floodlights to illuminate the targets’ homes. Deputies executed the search warrants, seizing business papers, computer equipment, phones, and other devices, while their targets were restrained under police supervision and were denied the ability to contact their lawyers.

At other times, the prosecutors jailed at least two witnesses “who did not possess the information they sought” and “blanketed conservative activists nationwide with [more than 100] invasive subpoenas,” according to court filings.

Who sees a First Amendment problem here?

The vague rules of some states barring “illegal coordination” between candidates and independent groups are in tension with the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeated emphasis that donors forfeit free-speech protections only if their ads are essentially campaign contributions, such as running television spots specifically endorsing a candidate or allowing the candidate to dictate content and timing.

The prosecutors vigorously defend their theory of illegal coordination, but do not deny the plaintiffs’ assertion that “after years of investigation, [the prosecutors] have been unable to identify a single advertisement by the Club [for Growth] so much as referencing Governor Walker when he was a candidate.” [Legal Newsline, September 9]

Chisholm’s investigation of the governor may have already succeeded in chilling conservative advocacy enough to give Democrats back the governorship. In his campaign for reelection, Gov. Walker trails Democratic challenger Mary Burke 44 percent to 48 percent in the latest poll of likely voters by We Ask America of Springfield, Ill, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 8] Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight, however, says Wisconsin’s polarized political climate means that registered voters are a better predictor than likely voters, and that measure gives Walker the edge. [FiveThirtyEight, August 28]

Posted on 09/10/14 05:49 PM by Alex Adrianson

Government Is the Problem

That’s basically what the Harvard Business School’s 2013-14 Survey on U.S. Competitiveness has found. James Pethokoukis notes the following chart from the study, which “shows how respondents categorized various elements of the American business environment and how they have shifted since the original 2011 survey.”

Pethokoukis:

Among those elements described as a “strength and improving”: capital markets, corporate management, universities, property rights, supply chains, and entrepreneurship. Among those elements described as a “weakness and deteriorating” are the K-12 education system, the tax code, regulation, and the efficiency of the legal system. [AEIdeas, September 9]

Could it be that when the federal government does too many things, it becomes inept at doing even the things it is supposed to do—like operate a legal system? As we observed in May, states that score high in economic freedom (generally meaning that they tax, spend, and regulate less) are also the most trusted states:

The seven most-trusted states [according to Gallup] have an average ranking of 11.9 in the ALEC-Laffer Economic Outlook measurement and an average ranking of 15.3 in the Mercatus Center’s economic freedom index.  The corresponding average rankings for the seven least-trusted states are 38.9 and 39.6. (A ranking of 1, for example, means the state achieved a better score than each of the other 49 states; while a ranking of 50 means the state achieved a worse score than each of the other 49 states.) [InsiderOnline.org, May 2]

And, by the way, the U.S. score in the Index of Economic Freedom has fallen from 81.2 to 75.5 since 2007. [2014 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal]

Posted on 09/09/14 06:30 PM by Alex Adrianson

There Has Been an 18-Fold Increase in Regulation Since 1950

Here’s one way of visualizing the growth in the regulatory state:

Posted on 09/09/14 04:16 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Examine Civil Rights and the Rule of Law

Get up to date on civil rights issues. The Federalist Society, the Cato Institute, and The Heritage Foundation will host a one-day conference examining such topics as disparate impact liability, racial preferences, and voting rights. The conference will begin at 9 a.m. on September 9 at the Mayflower Hotel.

Help recognize the young conservatives who are making a difference for liberty. The Young Conservative Coalition is accepting nominations for its annual Buckley Awards until October 30. If you know a deserving individual, send the person’s name in. The awards ceremony will be November 13 at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C.

Learn about the Constitution. Hillsdale College is offering a free online course, Constitution 101. Sign up today.

Hear Michelle Malkin and honor M. Stanton Evans. The Heartland Institute will hold its Anniversary Benefit on September 12 at the Cotillion in Palatine Illinois. The Institute will award its Liberty Prize to M. Stanton Evans, journalist, book author, and mentor to many. The reception will begin at 6 p.m.

Tell the Federal Communications Commission to keep the Internet free. The FCC is considering regulating the Internet as if it were a public utility. If you think that’s a bad idea, let them know. You can submit your contents via the website dontbreakthe.net.

Find out what comes “After Leviathan.” That will be Kevin Williamson’s theme when he speaks at the Mackinac Center on September 11. The talk will begin at noon at the Country Club of Lansing, Michigan.

• Save the dates: The State Policy Network’s Annual Meeting, on the theme “Dare to Disrupt,” will be held in Denver on September 23 – 26. The Media Research Center’s Gala ’14 will begin at 6 p.m. on September 25 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The Texas Public Policy Foundation will host At The Crossroads: Energy & Climate Policy Summit on September 25 – 26 at the Hyatt Regency Houston.

Posted on 09/05/14 10:30 PM by Alex Adrianson

At the Environmental Protection Agency, the Agenda Drives the Analysis

Diane Katz notes some funny business in the cost-benefit analyses performed by the EPA:

In Charting Federal Costs and Benefits, Chamber researchers analyzed the benefits calculations of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is responsible for the largest portion of the most costly regulations in recent years. What they found obliterates the president’s claims that sky-high regulatory costs are justified.

Specifically, the researchers reviewed the 45 rules for which the agency calculated benefits between 2000 and 2013. (The fact that the EPA failed to calculate benefits for any of the other 7,570 rules imposed by the agency in that period is another serious problem.) Although the regulations were crafted to address a variety of emissions, including carbon dioxide, lead, mercury and sulfur dioxide, a whopping 97 percent of the benefits actually were derived from the reduction of a single element—fine particulate matter—that was incidental to the pollutant targeted by the regulation.

In other words, the EPA could not justify the enormous costs of its regulations and thus relied on ancillary outcomes to make it appear the benefits exceeded the costs. Doing so helped the agency avoid the scrutiny that otherwise would accrue to regulations for which the costs exceed the benefits.

This analytic fraud is made worse by the fact the current level of particulate matter already is 30 percent below what the EPA claims is needed to protect health (with a margin of safety), according to the Chamber. [Daily Signal, September 5]

Posted on 09/05/14 09:55 PM by Alex Adrianson

Forget about “Dark Money”; Here Is the Real Political Spending Problem

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, reports Dan Mitchell, has become a propaganda agency for President Obama’s agenda of expanding government. And you, dear taxpayer, are paying for it. Mitchell summarizes some of the OECD’s policy recommendations from its latest report on the United States economy:

The OECD urged that politicians “Make the personal tax system more redistributive.” This is an astounding proposal given that the United States already has the most “progressive” tax system of all developed nations (primarily because we have much lower taxes on poor and middle-income taxpayers). The only silver lining to this black cloud is that the OECD wants to further penalize the rich “by restricting regressive income tax expenditures” rather than by raising tax rates. Maybe Francois Hollande gave them some advice on being merciful?

The OECD is a big fan of redistribution, so it’s not surprising to read that the bureaucracy suggests “expanding the ETIC,” regardless of all the fraud. But I confess that I’m surprised that the organization also endorsed “a higher minimum wage.” I understand that the organization see its role as being supportive of Obama, but you would think that the economists at the OECD would have enough self respect and human decency to block a proposal to harm poor people.

The OECD not only wants to make it hard for low-skilled people to get jobs, it also wants to encourage discrimination against younger women. At least that’s the only logical conclusion after reading that the bureaucrats embraced the White House’s scheme for “paid family leave nationally.” As you might imagine, businesses respond to incentives and will be less likely to higher women of childbearing age if the law makes them liable for paying workers who aren’t on the job.

The OECD unsurprisingly reiterates its support for Obama’s global-warming agenda, suggesting that U.S. politicians should be “putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions.” Translated from jargon, this would mean a big tax on energy consumption. And speaking of energy taxes, the bureaucrats also say that government in America should be “capturing some of the resource rent” of energy production. That’s another jargon-laden way of saying that politicians should make it more expensive for people to drive their cars and heat their homes (makes you wonder if they hacked the IMF computers to come up with those bad ideas). [International Liberty, September 3]

Posted on 09/05/14 09:16 PM by Alex Adrianson

ObamaCare Enrollment Is Dropping

The Obama administration reported in April that the ObamaCare exchanges had signed up 8 million people, exceeding the target of 7 million enrollees that it said were needed to create a stable insurance pool. So what’s been happening since then? It’s hard to say for sure since the administration stopped providing monthly reports, but there are indications that too many sign-ups are not converting to steady paying customers. Peter Suderman has rounded up some datapoints on the trend:

The latest comes from Florida, where June enrollment in private plans through the federally run insurance exchange in the state is about 760,000—or about 220,000-persons lower than the 980,000 total reported by the administration following the end of open enrollment, according to an official with the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

If that figure, reported last week by the South Florida Business Journal, is correct, it represents a 22 percent decline from the total reported by the administration’s Department of Health and Human Services in April. […]

For one of the nation’s largest health insurers, the decline appears to have been pretty steep. Aetna’s 720,000 sign-ups turned into just 600,000 paying customers by June, according to an August Investor’s Business Daily report. The company expects paid enrollment to drop down to close to 500,000 later this year—a roughly 30 percent decline.

The same IBD report noted that the official enrollment tally in Washington state dropped from 164,062 in May to 156,155 in June. [Reason, September 2]

Posted on 09/05/14 06:32 PM by Alex Adrianson

Global Warming Stops, Science Progresses

The good news is that global warming doesn’t appear so catastrophic anymore—since it’s not really happening. Writes Matt Ridley:

[T]he pause [in global warming] has now lasted for 16, 19 or 26 years—depending on whether you choose the surface temperature record or one of two satellite records of the lower atmosphere. That’s according to a new statistical calculation by Ross McKitrick, a professor of economics at the University of Guelph in Canada.

And the other good news is that climate scientists are finally taking the pause seriously. They’re working out explanations for it anyway, which is what scientists are supposed to do. Here’s Ridley again:

Last month two scientists wrote in Science that they had instead found the explanation in natural fluctuations in currents in the Atlantic Ocean. For the last 30 years of the 20th century, Xianyao Chen and Ka-Kit Tung suggested, these currents had been boosting the warming by bringing heat to the surface, then for the past 15 years the currents had been counteracting it by taking heat down deep.

The warming in the last three decades of the 20th century, to quote the news release that accompanied their paper, “was roughly half due to global warming and half to the natural Atlantic Ocean cycle.” In other words, even the modest warming in the 1980s and 1990s—which never achieved the 0.3 degrees Celsius per decade necessary to satisfy the feedback-enhanced models that predict about three degrees of warming by the end of the century—had been exaggerated by natural causes. The man-made warming of the past 20 years has been so feeble that a shifting current in one ocean was enough to wipe it out altogether.

Putting the icing on the cake of good news, Xianyao Chen and Ka-Kit Tung think the Atlantic Ocean may continue to prevent any warming for the next two decades. So in their quest to explain the pause, scientists have made the future sound even less alarming than before. [Wall Street Journal, September 4]

Posted on 09/05/14 05:59 PM by Alex Adrianson

More School Choice Comes to Florida

It’s “back to school” time, but that doesn’t have to mean the same thing for every child. Florida, following the lead of Arizona, has created a program that lets the parents of children with special needs customize their children’s educations with funds they control through Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts. The Goldwater Institute recently profiled some of the families who will benefit from Florida’s new program. Here is one of the profiles:

Unfortunately, as the Goldwater Institute reports, the Florida Education Association has filed a lawsuit that could wipe out the program. Visit GoldwaterInstitute.org to learn more and see the rest of the videos.

Posted on 09/05/14 05:39 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Insider: Fortunately, There Is an Alternative to Green Energy

Tradeoffs exist—yes, even in energy policy. We examine those and more in the latest issue of the magazine:

Big oil and big natural gas companies, we are told, are like the slave owners of the antebellum South—people who extract personal gain from an evil system. That kind of moralistic styling is deployed frequently by those who want to use government policy to force a switch from fossil fuels to so-called “green energy.” But making an actual moral case about any policy issue requires reckoning with tradeoffs.

As Kathleen Hartnett White explains in our cover story, renewables like wind, solar, and biomass are all more expensive, less versatile, and less reliable than fossil fuels. If fossil fuels are replaced with more “green energy,” then energy and everything else will become more expensive. Food, transportation, heating your home in the winter, and all the things that run on electricity will become more expensive.

And cheap, reliable energy doesn’t just keep us comfortable; it makes us safer and healthier. Wealthier societies are more resilient societies because they have more resources to call on in an emergency. That is why strong earthquakes kill tens of thousands of people in poor countries but only a few dozen in wealthy countries.

For the sake of reducing Earth’s temperature a few tenths of a degree 90 years from now, we are being asked to embrace the risk of unnecessary deaths and more misery. That is the moral calculus of “green energy.”

A related issue is control of public lands, which have many alternative uses—including energy development. Here too, some want to preclude the weighing of tradeoffs by preserving the large federal estate in the West. The biggest cost of this arrangement, as Carl Graham explains, is the distortion introduced into our constitutional system by giving Western states a kind of second-class sovereignty.

Also in this issue, Grace-Marie Turner lays out a vision for replacing ObamaCare: Putting patients, instead of bureaucrats, in charge of health care dollars will ensure those dollars are spent well and also incentivize innovations in care and delivery that make patients healthier. Finally, we have Mark James explaining how you can help your donors plan their estates so that their wishes will be carried out. [The Insider, Summer 2014]

Posted on 09/04/14 07:02 PM by Alex Adrianson

An Anti-American History

The College Board’s new and detailed “framework” for the Advanced Placement U.S. History Exam (APUSH) presents an America “riddled with racism, violence, hypocrisy, greed, imperialism, and injustice” while ignoring “[s]tories of national triumph, great feats of learning, and the legacies of some of America’s great heroes” write Ralph Ketchum, Anders Lewis, and Sandra Stotsky:

Marching in step with so much trendy academic scholarship, the new APUSH curriculum minimizes attention to important political leaders (in the name of what radical and multicultural historians derisively refer to as “top down” or “white male” history) and replaces them with “history from the bottom up”—a history of processes and social movements, and explorations of “identity.” When teaching about the American Revolution, teachers are not asked to teach about Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, Paul Revere, or Sam Adams. Alexander Hamilton is mentioned as a suggestion, not a requirement. Neither Thomas Jefferson nor James Madison (a primary author of the Federalist Papers) is mentioned. Neither are such titans of antebellum American politics as Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, and Henry Clay mentioned. Important 20th-century presidents such as Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and JFK are also absent. Harry Truman will not be around to give anyone hell as he, too, is missing. […]

Although the College Board has nothing to say about Indian methods of warfare and captivity, including the use of ritualistic torture, it is relentless in castigating Europeans, particularly the English, as racist. The English, the curriculum notes, developed “a rigid racial hierarchy.” It also notes the “strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority” and the “racial stereotyping and the development of strict racial categories among British colonists…” Whatever else the British settlers brought to this country (such as their rights as Englishmen) is missing.

Similarly, the College Board paints a dark picture of the Industrial Revolution. “Labor and management,” the College Board writes, battled for control over wages and working conditions, with workers organizing local and national unions and/or directly confronting corporate power.” That most workers never joined unions and that most workers (and the millions of immigrants who came to America) embraced the Industrial Revolution and the increased standard of living it entailed (through higher wages, electrical power, refrigeration, and indoor plumbing) is a truth that does not appear in the new APUSH curriculum. The Board’s treatment of various political movements in the 1960s and 1970s is equally distorted. Movements led by Latinos and American Indians are said to be motivated by a concern for “social and economic equality and a redress of past injustices.” Conservatives, on the other hand, are motivated by fear. As the Board writes: “Conservatives, fearing juvenile delinquency, urban unrest, and challenges to the traditional family, increasingly promoted their own values and ideology.” […]

One searches the new APUSH framework in vain for mention of the Mayflower Compact, Washington’s crossing of the Delaware, the War of 1812, or the writing of the Star Spangled Banner. The Battle of Gettysburg is mentioned (as a suggestion!), but Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is not. Thomas Edison has disappeared from our history, as have Emma Lazarus (and her great, symbolic poem “The New Colossus”) and Eleanor Roosevelt. It is not clear why all of them are gone.

Most mysterious of all is the total absence of Martin Luther King, Jr. and King’s great “I Have a Dream Speech.” [“Imperiling the Republic: The Fate of U.S. History Instruction under Common Core” by Ralph Ketchum, Anders Lewis, and Sandra Stotsky, Pioneer Institute, August 2014]

Posted on 09/03/14 11:48 AM by Alex Adrianson

Looks Who’s Worried about Kids Questioning Authority

Today’s young adult dystopian fiction is going to turn the kids into pro-capitalist libertarians! Or at least one progressive commentator worries that it will. Ewan Morrison writes:

What marks these dystopias out from previous ones is that, almost without exception, the bad guys are not the corporations but the state and those well-meaning liberal leftists who want to make the world a better place. Books such as The Giver, Divergent and the Hunger Games trilogy are, whether intentionally or not, substantial attacks on many of the foundational projects and aims of the left: big government, the welfare state, progress, social planning and equality. They support one of the key ideologies that the left has been battling against for a century: the idea that human nature, rather than nurture, determines how we act and live. These books propose a laissez-faire existence, with heroic individuals who are guided by the innate forces of human nature against evil social planners. […]

This is one of those zeitgeist moments where the subconscious of a culture emerges into visibility. We might be giving ourselves right-wing messages because, whether or not we realise it, we have come to accept them as incontestable. This generation of YA dystopian novels is really our neoliberal society dreaming its last nightmares about the threat from communism, socialism and the planned society. We’ve simplified it to make it a story we can tell to children and in so doing we’ve calmed the child inside us.

It’s all just fiction, remember. There’s no parallel to real-life control freaks, is there? Morrison concludes:

If you see yourself as a left-leaning progressive parent, you might want to exercise some of that oppressive parental control and limit your kids exposure to the “freedom” expressed in [young adult] dystopian fiction. But let’s not worry about it too much, the good thing about laissez-faire capitalism is that things come in waves and pass out of fashion quickly, and already people are saying that [Young Adult] dystopia is dead. [The Guardian, September 1]

Whew! Thank god for capitalism!

Posted on 09/02/14 03:37 PM by Alex Adrianson

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