ESA Update

April 20, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arizona lawmakers included children living on reservations. The Florida Senate unanimously passed an expansion of their Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts and the measure has bipartisan support in the Florida House. Also in Florida 10,000 applications for the program have been opened by parents, showing strong demand.

Mississippi lawmakers created the third ESA program, and lo and behold Montana lawmakers passed an ESA bill over the weekend.

Other proposals continue to move through legislative chambers. Our favorite primate may be developing a taste for food other than bananas.

And the Higgy Goes to… Jonathan Gruber

April 16, 2015

I know that the winner of the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian Award is supposed to be announced on April 15, but I needed more time to decide among our three excellent (horrible) nominees and filed for an extension.

I thought my nominee, Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis, was a strong candidate because he illustrates how our liberty faces the greater threat of gradual erosion from Petty Little Dictators than from Big Scary Dictators.  Ardis may only be the mayor of a small city, but he still has the power to find some legal pretext to send the police to raid the house of people who mocked him on Twitter.  We can all recognize how a Putin or Khomeini might want to oppress us and so we all (or should be all) make efforts to counter those threats.  But the mayor of a small city in cahoots with the local police and judge can exploit the fact that our extensive legal code makes each one of us a possible criminal to selectively use the force of the government to punish enemies.

Ardis, however, falls short of earning a Higgy because his actions were too transparently self-interested.  The ideal Higgy candidate believes he is shaping the world for the better, but is foiled by hubris, self-delusion, and the extent to which the complexity of the world exceeds the ability of people to impose centralized plans on it.  No one believes Ardis was trying to make the world better.  He was just trying to settle a score.  It’s oppressive but it isn’t Higgy-worthy.

Greg’s nominee, John Maynard Keynes, is also a strong candidate.  Yes, Keynes’ ideas provide justification for reckless state intervention in the economy.  But my previous objection to awarding Keynes with the Higgy still holds.  I don’t think the state needs much justification to intervene.  In fact, the historical norm is heavy state distortion of economic activity.  This was true for centuries (probably millenia) before Keynes came along and is still true today when few even bother to reference Keynes for support.  Keynes may have bad ideas but so does the guy who stands on the corner of the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market who shouts about how Jesus smoked pot and 9/11 was an inside job.  You don’t get the Higgy just for having bad ideas.

Matt’s nominee, Jonathan Gruber, didn’t just have bad ideas, but he helped develop a plan to foist those bad ideas on the country through deception and manipulation.  And he engaged in this central planning because he believed he was doing something good for us.  Let me be clear — I don’t believe Jonathan Gruber is a bad guy.  I know a number of economists who are his friends and they swear that he is a decent, capable economist who was just caught on camera expressing the type of hyperbolic commentary that is fairly common at academic conferences.  That may be true, but there is a kernel of truth even in that hyperbole.  And that truth is not very flattering to Gruber or ObamaCare.  It reveals the type of hubris and delusion of control over events that is a near-perfect model of a Higgy winner.  And Gruber does not have to be a a bad guy to do something that worsens the human condition enough to warrant a Higgy.

I therefore bestow the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian Award to Jonathan Gruber with all of the dishonors, responsibilities, and lack of privileges that accompany it.

Jonathan Gruber for the Higgy

April 15, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

An ongoing plea to think twice, and even three times, before buying into the wonders of central planning and/or technocrats more broadly stands as one of the underlying themes of JPGB. Given that we primarily discuss American education policy here, and that if rules, regulations and earnest bureaucrats were a solution America would long ago ceased to have had K-12 problems, this ought not to require elaboration. Technocrats sadly have a funny habit of either exacerbating problems or creating new problems under the best of circumstances. At their worst, such people hide behind a false cloak of science in order to boss other people around while rationalizing away their ill effects in the name of some higher good. Each year we honor a select few of such people with a Higgy nomination.

It is my distinct pleasure therefore to nominate Jonathan Gruber for the 2015 Higgy.

It is no accident that the two broad fields with the heaviest government funding and regulation- education and health- have seen a truly incredible combination of rampant cost inflation in return for nebulous quality improvements. No one in their right mind would voluntarily pay higher prices for dubious quality improvments- only a truly convoluted system of indirect payment could deliver such an outcome. Health care comes with some additional difficulties of price inelastic demand (“nah don’t even try life saving heart surgery I don’t want to pay that much” is not a phrase often heard in America) and information asymmetries between doctors and patients.

In the end of the day the demand for health care exceeds our ability to supply it, which raises the difficult subject of rationing. There are two general methods for rationing a scarce good or service- by price or by bureaucrat. Europeans long ago embraced bureaucratic methods in various ways. The United States however created a hybrid system that in essence denied the need to choose in creating a convoluted system of tax subsidies and public programs that led to decades of rampant cost inflation. In the immortal words of the late Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas, America became the only country dedicated to the proposition that death is optional. The American left yearns for a European system but must face an American health care culture (largely of their own creation) that has operated without any type of rationing for many decades.

All of this predates Dr. Gruber, but Gruber has been deeply involved in fashioning both state and federal public policies designed to double down on third-party payers in order to treat a symptom of America’s health care dysfunction. Rampant and long-lasting health care inflation far above that in the consumer price index has, needless to say, made insurance more expensive. Increasing the price of any good or service decreases the pool of people able and willing to purchase it. Thus the percentage of those carrying insurance has been in decline, and the cost of private and public insurance programs have steadily increased.

What to do? How about a fine to compel people to buy health insurance? This of course would do nothing about the underlying problem per se, so Gruber and company engaged in an elaborate deception in the “Affordable Care Act.” CNN helpfully ran down several of Gruber’s greatest hits:

Gruber’s gloating on video regarding the various deceptions of Obamacare deservedly generated deep hostility manipulation of the scoring of the bill: obfuscation of the use of taxes, an attempt to obscure what amounts to a massive transfer of wealth. Gruber’s gleeful recounting of just how clever in deception Congressional Democrats and the Obama Administration had been represents a damning indictment all its own.

Jonathan Gruber perfectly symbolizes the dangers of “scientific progressivism” in my mind because by Gruber’s own admission very little has been done to address the real underlying problem.  In one of his videos, Gruber laments the fact that it was necessary to pretend to “bend the cost curve” and name the bill the “affordable care act” because controlling costs represents an overwhelming concern while expanding coverage to the uninsured does not. It was necessary to deceive the American public, you see, because the American public lacks virtue and cares more about controlling costs than expanding coverage.

The unwashed masses seem to understand much more clearly than our MIT technocrat that controlling costs represents the only sustainable method for expanding access to care. Expanding coverage cannot and will not be sustained without addressing the fundamental issue of rampant cost inflation.  The United States of America had trillions of dollars in unfunded entitlement liabilities before Gruber and company began their campaign of deception in order to transfer wealth and extend coverage while doing very little about cost.  “We’ll get to that part later” on cost control represents a sickening level of irresponsibility that treats a symptom (lack of health insurance) rather than the cause (decades of cost inflation).  Gruber and our other health technocrats would like us to trust them they will address this more difficult issue of cost containment later.  This after conclusively proving that no one should ever trust anything that comes out of their mouths ever again.

William F. Buckley famously noted that he would rather be ruled by the first 1,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard. Our elites routinely display horrible judgement and a sense of entitlement to make decisions for those whom they judge to be in need of their benevolent guidance. Plato had it all wrong in the Republic, would-be “philosopher kings” deserve our unrelenting skepticism. Voluntary exchange drives human progress and innovation, not allegedly well-meaning busy bodies concealing their lies and deceptions behind a lab coat as they attempt to better order our lives for us.


John Maynard Keynes for the Higgy

April 14, 2015


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Last year, when commenter Allen nominated John Maynard Keynes for the highest (dis)honor known to man, the Higgy judges expressed skepticism on grounds that politicians corruptly manipulate the economy with or without the convenient excuses provided by Keynesianism. However, the judges reserved final judgment on Keynes’ Higgyworthiness because a full case had not been made.

I hereby offer a full case, on three grounds:

  1. Corrupt political manipulation of the economy has been greatly increased as a direct result of Keynes’ influence.
  2. Keynes did far, far worse things than simply give politicians a convenient excuse to corruptly manipulate the economy. 
  3. On both the above counts, Keynes not only worsened the world, but also met the more specific Higgy qualification of having “arrogant delusions” that “self-righteous proclamations” improve the world. 

Point One: As Paul Johnson documents in Modern Times, in the first half of the 20th century there was an unprecedented shift in the politics of corrupt collaboration between political and business elites. Previously, such collaboration occurred episodically, when some serious crisis arose and it could be justified as an “emergency measure.” Hence the big expansions of corrupt government manipulation of the economy occur in tandem with wars, depressions, and financial panics. After each crisis passed, however, pressure would mount to roll back these manipulations and restore the natural order. These rollbacks were never 100% successful, of couse, but in most cases far more than 50% or even 75% successful. Consider Coolidge’s rollback of Wilson’s autocratic WWI measures. 

But after WWII, everything is different. We have entered a whole new world. Corrupt government manipulation of the economy is now normalized. It is universally expected that political and business elites will get together in smoke-filled rooms and determine our fate for us. This is simply the way we live now. True, the more extreme wartime measures like rationing were recinded, and without the war as a justification the further growth of political control of the economy was greatly slowed. But, however slowly, that growth did continue. The political ground had permanently moved. The old world of merely episodic corrupt manipulation was gone; a new world of permanent, normalized corrupt manipulation had arrived.

This was almost 100% attributable to Keynes, for reasons that will become clear in Point Two.

Point Two: To understand the significance of Keynes, it is necessary to set aside our immediate policy concerns (fighting over the latest stimulus package or “economic plan”) and appreciate his role as a world-historical figure of the first rank. He revolutionized the entire discipline of economics, and by doing so, had a dramatic impact on the social order as a whole.

From classical Greco-Roman philosophy through the Patristic Era, the Middle Ages, early modernity and the Enlightenment, the study of economic phenomena was a subset of moral philosophy. It was always grounded in moral assumptions about human nature. Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, the Salamanca School, the Reformers, Locke, the Physiocrats and Adam Smith, though they had different moral views in some important respects, were agreed that the purpose of studying economics was to help align economic activity with virtue and right purposes – encouraging productive, thrifty, efficient, flourishing behavior, often with a particular interest in extending opportunity to the poor; and opposing greed, sloth, irresponsibility and (above all) injustice. The professional scholar of economics was par excellence the opponent of corruption and abuse of power. 

Over the course of the 19th century, however, this was changing. Especially in England, prominent economists increasingly expressed a desire to get out of the ethics business and abandon the fight against corruption. They wanted to do something that is impossible, and would be irresponsible if it were possible – to describe the world without evaluating it, to be morally neutral, to refrain from calling injustice unjust without being implicated as its accomplices.

Try as they might, however, these would-be neutral technicians could not find a way to extract themselves from the ethics business. A century of efforts to invent a paradigm of economics not beholden to morality bore no fruit.

And then came John Maynard Keynes, and the Keynesian Revolution.

Where before economists had defined the purpose of their discipline as encouraging the ethical production of wealth and well-being, Keynes taught them their purpose was to help people gratify their immediate desires – whatever those happened to be. Where before economists took self-sufficiency (producing more than you consume) as normative, Keynes taught them “the paradox of thrift” and trained them to despise the old rule that households and nations must live within their means. Where before economists took it for granted that our goal was to leave the world better than we found it, Keynes taught them that “in the long run we’re all dead” so we don’t need to worry what kind of world we leave to our grandchildren.

And where before economists thought their policy recommendations were constrained by the limits of justice, which compelled us to be concerned about the problem of corruption, Keynes taught them to treat human beings as merely irrational animals – bundles of appetites – without a transcendent dignity that needed to be respected.

Point Three: At this point you might be tempted to say Keynes isn’t Higgy material in light of the Sarnoff Codicil, which holds that the Higgy should not go to those who intend to make the world worse and succeed. It should go to those who intend to improve the world and fail – or, more specifically, to those who have “arrogant delusions” that “self-righteous proclamations” improve the world.

But Keynes passes this test with flying colors. He intended to improve the world – he had a detailed and well worked out philosophy of utilitarian materialism, and believed he was replacing the reign of superstition and barbarism with a new era of beautiful technocratic progress. He was a constant, nonstop fount of self-righteous proclamations. And all his asperations failed. The new, post-Keynes economics does not work as empirical science. It does not work as a practical guide to policy, either. And it has created sociological conditions that will, in the long run, destroy it. Keynesianism today is in the same state as Marxism in the Soviet Union in about the 1970s or so; it is a politically convenient god to whom all must still bow, but longstanding suppressed doubts about the god’s power to deliver the goods have hardened into permanent cynicism. The downfall may still be 20 years away, but it is coming.

John Maynard Keynes richly deserves the Higgy.

Image HT

Jim Ardis for the Higgy

April 14, 2015

I nominate Jim Ardis for “The Higgy.” Jim Ardis has been the mayor of Peoria, IL since 2005.  A year ago Jon Daniel created a parody Twitter account, @peoriamayor, mocking the mayor with juvenile humor suggesting that the mayor had a penchant for drugs, liquor, and prostitutes.  The mayor didn’t appreciate the humor (or the 1st Amendment).  The Chicago Tribune describes what happened next:

Within two days of the account’s creation, the city manager sent an email to Sam Rivera, the city’s chief information officer, asking for his help in getting the account taken down.

“Someone is using the Mayor’s likeness in a twitter account,” Urich wrote in a March 11 e-mail. “It’s not him. @Peoriamayor. Can you work to get it shut down today?”

Less than an hour later, Urich turned to Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard and asked him to have a detective investigate the identity of the account’s creator. Settingsgaard quickly assigned the case to Det. James Feehan, a member of the department’s computer crimes unit. By 11 a.m. – about four hours after Urich first contacted the department – Feehan expressed doubts about whether any crime had been committed.

“I looked at the comments and photographs posted by the suspect. Nothing contained within amounts to criminal violations,” Feehan wrote in an email to his chief. “However, there are tweets posted by the individual which amount to defamation. Without a subpoena issued to Twitter to obtain the IP address of the account creator, there is not much else we can do. I did send Twitter the report of the impersonating account and requested it be removed asap.”

Settingsgaard passed the detective’s findings along to the mayor, though he doubted whether Ardis could meet the legal threshold for a defamation suit.

“This phony Twitter account does not constitute a criminal violation in that no threats are made,” the chief wrote. “I’m not sure if it would support a civil suit for defamation of character. I’m not an expert in the civil arena but my recollection is that public officials have very limited protection from defamation.”

Ardis was undeterred. He sent an email the next day to Urich, Rivera and Settingsgaard, urging them to get the account taken down.

“Any chance we can put a sense (of) urgency on this?” Ardis asked.

Urich echoed his boss’ wishes in a reply sent three minutes later.

“Quickly please,” he wrote.

Feehan and Rivera, however, already had separately reported the fake account to Twitter, which allows for parody accounts as long as they’re labeled as such.

In the meantime, Feehan continued to research the law regarding impersonation and came across a new state statute that prohibits people from falsely identifying themselves as public officials. Though it was only a misdemeanor crime, it would give the department the legal muscle it needed to force Twitter’s cooperation in shuttering the account.

If Ardis wanted to prosecute, they would proceed with taking a formal complaint.

“i absolutely will prosecute,” Ardis wrote in an email to Settingsgaard. “bring it on. thanks chief.”

Ardis’ decision allowed police to subpoena Twitter, which turned over the IP address used to access the account and temporarily suspended the account. With that information secured, the department subpoenaed Comcast for the account holder’s name and address.

On April 15 – more than three weeks after the @peoriamayor account was suspended – Peoria police raided the home where Daniel lived. Four officers tore the house apart, as records show they searched for any and all electronics capable of sending the offensive tweets. The search warrant also allowed officers to scour the house for drugs, as they believed “cocaine, heroin, (or) drug paraphernalia” could be present in the home because one of the tweets included a picture of a “white powdery substance” being cut by a razor blade.

In the end, police confiscated four computers, four iPhones, an iPad and two Xboxes belonging to several people who lived at the house. They also found a “broken black ashtray with green seedy substance” and a “large gold gift bag with five sandwich bags containing a green leafy substance,” according to police reports. Tests showed the seedy substance was marijuana, officials said.

Authorities charged Jacob Elliott, whose name was on the home’s Comcast account, with possession of marijuana. His case is pending.

Daniel, who was not home during the raid, showed up at the police station later that evening and declined to answer questions without a lawyer present. He later acknowledged he created the Twitter account, but he was never arrested….

Three days after the raid, with the public backlash gearing up, the would-be case against Daniel unraveled completely. In an email sent to Ardis and Urich entitled “Twitter problem,” Settingsgaard broke the news to his bosses.

“Det Feehan is going to review with (State’s Attorney Jerry) Brady on Monday but there may be an internet exception to the impersonating statute,” he wrote. “If it is exempt, everyone missed it from the investigators to the SAO (the state’s attorney’s office) and the judges.”

There are so many things wrong with this story that it’s hard to know where to begin.  You know what, I’m not even going to try to list what is wrong with what Ardis and other city employees did other than to emphasize that they ended up using a SWAT team to raid someone’s house over Constitutionally protected free speech on the pretext that it was a misdemeanor violation for impersonating a public official when it turns out that the statute actually exempts the internet from such violations (leaving aside the 1st Amendment stuff).

I think this qualifies Ardis for “The Higgy.”  As the award’s criteria state: “‘The Higgy’ will not identify the worst person in the world, just as ‘The Al’ does not recognize the best.  Instead, ‘The Higgy’ will highlight individuals whose arrogant delusions of shaping the world to meet their own will outweigh the positive qualities they possess.”  Jim Ardis is not the worst person in the world.  I’m sure he loves his family and (in the spirit of Al Copeland) the O’Leary’s Restaurant he used to own may serve a delicious fried chicken (even if it is only as chicken tenders.)

Despite these possible positive qualities, Ardis is still a tyrant who chips away at our liberty by using the authority of the government to persecute people who offend him.  You might even call him a Petty Little Dictator.

The delicious justice is that Ardis’ thuggery has not been effective.  When he once was being mocked by a single, obscure parody account on Twitter, there are now more than a dozen.  And Jon Daniel has filed a civil suit seeking damages.

Wildflower Fever

April 10, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So I am struggling not to nominate the most blindingly obvious choice for the Higgy this year….must……resist!

In the meantime, I decided what this blog needs this Friday is a late 20th Century folk-revival tune…enjoy!

Nevada Joins School Choice Family

April 7, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Nevada Senate approved a scholarship tax credit today, initially capped at $5m with annual cap increases of 10%, sending the measure to Governor Sandoval. This puts the enactments from out West at 3 (corporate tax credit expansion in AZ, ESA expansion in AZ, new corporate credit in NV). Down south I’m aware of the Arkansas legislature passing a special needs voucher bill and Alabama increasing the tax credit cap.

Greg 5, Mathews 0



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