Nominated for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award: Chad Kroeger and JT Parr

October 24, 2019

For this year’s Al Copeland Humanitarian Award I would like to nominate Chad Kroeger and JT Parr. Chad and JT take advantage of the public comment sessions that virtually all local governments offer to express their views.  And like the 2015 Al winner, Ken M, Chad and JT show us exactly how important those opportunities for public comment really are. In the video above they speak to the LA City Council in defense of house parties.  They note all of the ways that house parties had helped them, with JT observing: “I could play beer pong and compete with real integrity. In short, I fulfilled my potential.” And then sounding like an economist (with about the same level of influence over policy), JT warns that there are “externalities” associated with banning house parties, such as the loss of bonding, emphasizing, “America needs bonding.”

In this second video, Chad and JT ask the City Council of Laguna Beach to “boke” their “shmole.” As Chad explains, a shmole is “someone with a good heart who kinda sucks.” They claim that one of the members of their squad, Kevin, is a shmole and the city needs to help them boke him, or remove him from their crew. But they don’t wan’t Kevin to go “homie-less,” so they want the city to enact a shmole relocation program and adopt Kevin to rehabilitate him. Chad and JT estimate that this program would cost about $75,000 per shmole, which could be paid by increasing taxes on their parents’ houses.

In this third video, Chad and JT propose to the Manhattan Beach City Council that they rename their wastewater plant “The Britney Spears ‘Toxic’ Water Center.” Chad mentions that he almost went to a Britney Spears concert when he was 14 but his Dad said, “No. You have to do math.” JT then sings the song “Toxic” to the council.

In our modern age in which leading academics waste countless hours sending messages of 280 characters to each other in “an effort to democratize access to knowledge,” or boast about being a “subtweet aficionado,” Chad and JT reveal this activity for what it really is — a world in which everyone is on the stage and no one is in the audience and where all forms of expertise and authority are degraded.  People active in Edu-Twitter and Econ-Twitter may imagine that they are shaping the world because they have thousands or even tens of thousands of followers, but remember that Chad and JT’s videos have been viewed well over a million times. Chad and JT have no more influence over local government policy than academic Twitter has over public policy. And by wasting so much energy on social media, academics place themselves on the same level as people like Chad and JT who have no shortage of proposals, opinions, and even evidence such as a a large graph with “metrics” proving that Kevin is a shmole.

But Chad and JT don’t just reveal the silliness that has gripped much of academia, they also reveal the phoniness of democratic input in public policymaking.  Governments create public comment opportunities to give people the illusion that they have control over government policy.  In actuality, public influence over policymaking has always been indirect and mostly channeled through the activities of organized interests.  This is not a bad thing to be lamented.  It is simply a reality to be accepted. The Voice of the People as expressed on social media or in public comment times is more about catharsis than it is about control.

If people are going to waste their time on social media or in public comment periods, it might as well be amusing rather than the self-important and over-earnest stuff typically found in academic Twitter or local government meetings. For taking this useless activity and making it entertaining, Chad and JT have significantly improved the human condition and therefore are worthy of the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award.

Don’t Overregulate Choice

October 24, 2019


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my article on the dangers of overregulating choice programs:

Recent proposals have suggested imposing new burdens on these programs in Oklahoma. One of the most common approaches is to demand that schools compile and turn over to the state extensive personal data on every participating student. This raises important student-privacy concerns. But lawmakers should also be asking what this or other proposed regulations has to do with helping parents hold their schools accountable. More power for regulators is less power for parents.

Your freedom to tell me what you think in the comments is regulated, but not overregulated, so fire away!

Nominations Solicited for the 2019 Al Copeland Humanitarian Award

October 14, 2019


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

It! Is! That Time!

Time once again for us to solicit nominations for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award, that is! The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded, so by immemorial custom it is time to begin considering which non-Nobel-esque humanitarian we will honor.

As our thoughts turn Al-ward this October, recall that this has been a banner year for fast-food chicken joints bringing joy to the world. Scott Lincicome elegantly captured the moment back in August:

There’s a full-on chicken sandwich war underway, yet some lunatics still question capitalism.

Words for the ages, Scott. America has problems, many and serious. But lack of an economic system that delivers goods and services to the people who need and want them is not one of them – thanks to heroes like Al Copeland.

In September, a local KFC tried to top everyone by giving a free car to a single-mom worker who had walked to work for a year. Josh Jordan suggested Popeye’s could do KFC one better by giving that mom the last of their new chicken sandwiches!

But you want to hear about The Al. Nominations can be submitted by emailing a draft of a blog post advocating for your nominee. If Jay likes it, he will post it with your name attached. A winner will be announced after Halloween.

The criteria of the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award can be summarized by quoting our original blog post in which we sang the praises of Al Copeland and all that he did for humanity:

Al Copeland may not have done the most to benefit humanity, but he certainly did more than many people who receive such awards.  Chicago gave Bill Ayers their Citizen of the Year award in 1997.  And the Nobel Peace Prize has too often gone to a motley crew including unrepentant terrorist, Yassir Arafat, and fictional autobiography writer, Rigoberta Menchu.   Local humanitarian awards tend to go to hack politicians or community activists.  From all these award recipients you might think that a humanitarian was someone who stopped throwing bombs… or who you hoped would picket, tax, regulate, or imprison someone else.

Al Copeland never threatened to bomb, picket, tax, regulate, or imprison anyone.  By that standard alone he would be much more of a humanitarian.  But Al Copeland did even more — he gave us spicy chicken.

The 2018 winner of The Al was Joy Morton. Like Al Copeland, Morton promoted good by doing well. It was known that small amounts of iodine could prevent goiters, but no one was doing anything about this until Morton saw a way to gain a competitive advantage for his salt company: adding iodine to salt, and advertising its health benefits. The bumper crop of nominees in 2018 also included Elizabeth VandiverLeo Moracchiloli, Richard Garfield, Eric LundgrenAdam Butler and Autumn Thomasson and George Henry Thomas.

The 2017 winner of The Al was Stanislav Petrov, who literally saved the world from nuclear destruction by refusing to follow Soviet orders to retaliate against what he suspected (as was later confirmed) was a false warning of a US strike. It’s not quite spicy chicken, but it’s close. Petrov was selected from an excellent set of nominees, including Whittaker ChambersJustin Roiland and Dan Harmon and Russ Roberts.

The 2016 winner of The Al was Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, who prevailed over a very competitive field of nominees, including Tim and Karrie LeagueRemy Munasifi, and Yair Rosenberg.  Edmonds stood up against fascists at considerable risk to himself by declaring that he and all of his fellow prisoners of war were Jews to foil the Nazis’ effort to separate Jewish prisoners.  It is this type of courage in the face of illiberalism that we need more of in these times.

The 2015 winner of The Al was internet humorist Ken M.  Ken M did more to improve the human condition than just make us laugh by making idiotic comments on social media (although that would have been enough).  His humor reveals the ridiculousness of people trying to change the world by arguing with people on the internet.  Given how much time ed reformers waste on social media, especially Twitter, Ken M’s humor is a useful reminder that many of the people reading your posts are probably not much swifter or influential than the Ken M persona.  Ken M beat a set of strong nominees, including Malcolm McLeanGary Gygax, and John Lasseter.

The 2014 winner was Peter DeComo, the inventor of the Hemolung Respiratory Assist System.  To save a life, DeComo tricked border control officials to bring a model of his artificial lung machine into the US from Canada, because the device had not yet been fully approved by the FDA.  DeComo won over a worthy field, including Marcus Persson, the inventor of Minecraft, Ira Goldman, the developer of the “Knee Defender,”  Thomas J. Barratt, the father of modern advertising, and Thibaut Scholasch and Sébastien Payen, wine-makers who improved irrigation methods.

The 2013 winner of The Al was Weird Al Yankovic. Weird Al beat an impressive set of nominees, including Penn and TellerKickstarter, and Bill Knudsen.

The 2012 winner of The Al was George P. Mitchell, a pioneer in the use of fracking to obtain more, cheap and clean natural gas. Mitchell won over a group of other worthy nominees: BanksyRansom E. OldsStan Honey, and Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes.

In 2011, The Al went to Earle Haas, the inventor of the modern tampon. Thanks to Anna for nominating him and recognizing that advances in equal opportunity for women had as much or more to do with entrepreneurs than government mandates. Haas beat his fellow nominees:  Charles Montesquieu, the political philosopher, David Einhorn, the short-seller, and Steve Wynn, the casino mogul.

The 2010 winner of The Al was Wim Nottroth, the man who resisted Rotterdam police efforts to destroy a mural that read “Thou Shall Not Kill” following the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamic extremist. He beat out The Most Interesting Man in the World, the fictional spokesman for Dos Equis and model of masculine virtue, Stan Honey, the inventor of the yellow first down line in TV football broadcasts, Herbert Dow, the founder of Dow Chemical and subverter of a German chemicals cartel, and Marion Donovan and Victor Mills, the developers of the disposable diaper.

The 2009 winner of The Al – in the first year the award bore that name – was Debrilla M. Ratchford, who significantly improved the human condition by inventing the rollerbag.  She won over Steve Henson, who gave us ranch dressing, Fasi Zaka, who ridiculed the Taliban, Ralph Teetor, who invented cruise control, and Mary Quant, who popularized the miniskirt.

Also noteworthy from 2009: history’s greatest monster, William Higinbotham, was declared permanently ineligible to receive The Al. He remains the only individual thus disqualified. In (dis)honor of Higinbotham, The Higgy award has been bestowed on (un)worthy candidates annually since 2012.

Al Copeland himself was honored in 2008 as the official humanitarian of the year of Jay P. Greene’s Blog. The award was renamed in his honor the following year.

Happy nominating and good luck!

Interview on Education Philanthropy

October 11, 2019

Check out my two-part interview on education philanthropy with Mike Hartmann: Part 1 Part 2

Readers of JPGB will recognize many themes from earlier posts like:

Advice to the Arnold Foundation

Political Science for Ed Reform Dummies

Gates Foundation Follies

Build New, Don’t Reform Old


The Eternal Teacher Shortage

September 18, 2019


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The Oklahoman carries my article on how a century’s worth of headlines in the Oklahoman (formerly the Daily Oklahoman) have kept on telling us over and over again about a dire teacher shortage:

Nor was this limited to 1919. Examples abound in succeeding decades. “State Feeling Sharp Teacher Pinch Again” ran a headline in 1964, for example. That story said shortages happened only occasionally, but the paper ran similar headlines in 1966, 1969 and 1970.

The “dire teacher shortage” story appeals not only to readers who are teachers and their families (a fairly large constituency) but to any reader who likes a good underdog-versus-huge-uncaring-system story.

But journalists ought to be exercising a little more critical thought. Reviewing more recent coverage in Oklahoma, I point out:

The coverage did not raise obvious questions like: If the huge, indiscriminate across-the-board pay raise that was sold as necessary to recruit teachers in fact had little effect on recruitment, why did we enact it?

Or: Shouldn’t we tear down the artificial barriers to entry that keep people out of the teaching profession, like useless certification requirements that have consistently failed to show any connection to classroom outcomes?

Or: Shouldn’t we reform the pay scales and contract provisions that prevent us from targeting the best teachers for recruitment and retention?

No, the implicit takeaway is always more, more, more indiscriminate spending, without systemic reform.

I’d like to thank the Oklahoman for being such a good sport and running this!

Let me know what you think.

Childhood Trauma and School Choice

September 9, 2019


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Opinion leaders in Oklahoma are orchestrating a full-court press to use remediation of “childhood trauma” as the next narrative under which they should get big, indiscriminate spending increases without accountability for results. As someone who had a traumatic childhood myself, I’m all in favor of expanding access to effective services in this area. That’s why I’m against big, indiscriminate spending increases without accountability, and in favor of school choice, which actually helps kids with traumatic experiences.

OCPA carries my article:

The usual reply to concerns such as this—other than “you’re cruel and heartless for asking whether the money we spend on helping people actually helps people”—is to lament how hard it is to have a positive impact on such intractable problems. When children are abused or mistreated, or have mental health disorders or other traumatic problems, they lose their proper chance to grow in their human potential. Getting wounded people on the road to recovery and growth is very, very hard.

That is all true. It is not, however, a reason to spend large amounts of money without accountability. It is a reason to look for more promising policy approaches.

There follows a recitation of findings on how school choice decreases rates of childhood trauma and provides a more supportive and effectively nurturing school environment.

I’m also unscrupulous enough to remind everyone of how poorly the Oklahoma government school system handled some notorious cases of childhood trauma just last year:

Last year, a number of cases came to light in Oklahoma in which minority students were being targeted by racist bullies. One family was finally given permission—permission!—to transfer their child out of the school where he was being constantly persecuted. Untold thousands more children continue to suffer in their assigned government schools, whether because of racist bullying or whatever other adversity they experience, because they didn’t happen to catch the attention of the media and make the system look bad.

Why on earth should one family get permission to choose, and not everyone else? Why should even that one family have had to go begging to the powerful and get permission to protect their own child? Did we lose a war?

Yes, by all means let’s throw more money at the unaccountable government monopoly system as the only permissible defense for children experiencing trauma!

I promise not to be traumatized if you let me know what you think.

Op-Ed in Houston Chronicle Against State Takeover of Houston ISD

September 5, 2019

Josh McGee and I have an oped in the Houston Chronicle today arguing against state takeovers.  Here’s the money quote:

State policymakers may imagine that they are smarter and better than the elected officials they would displace, but, even if they were right, the intelligence and goodness of the school board is hardly the issue. Distant and unaccountable bureaucrats, no matter how well-trained and well-intentioned, are unlikely to understand and address the specific needs of communities as well as locally elected officials are, no matter how fractious and chaotic they may appear. Conservatives have long understood this principle, which is why they have traditionally supported decentralization of responsibility over schools to local governments, communities, and families, so it is puzzling that self-styled conservatives in Texas would support state takeovers.

There is no simple solution to chronic low academic performance, but the problem is almost certainly better addressed by empowering communities and families rather than disenfranchising them.

This is a mistake reformers have made over and over.  It’s time we learn from our mistakes and avoid repeating them.