Category Archives: Freedom

Community Conservatism – Choosing Education that Works

MortarBoard

Making Education Work for the Middle Class

A) Simplify the Department of Education by Block Granting Most of its Budget to the States

Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Herman Cain all tried appealing to conservatives in the primaries in 2012 with the simple-minded proposal that we should simply abolish entire Federal departments. There is a certain libertarian appeal toward deleting expensive and useless departments with good-sounding mandates but bad results. We get that. But the public – the conservative public – rejected such notions and elected the guy that wanted to streamline the government and increase state power in an attempt to make government work properly, rather than giving up on government entirely. We believe most in the middle class want to see their government achieve results, rather than gambling that the results will happen naturally without government interference. We believe the GOP must embrace the notion of governing. One way to do that, is to let the states make decisions about education policy by handing them the money and reducing the role of the Federal department to that of balance sheet management and effectiveness monitor with a mandate to make sure that state programs are producing results and striking state policies that fail. We recognize that much of the spending is already block granted to the states – we are proposing to further shrink the Federal budget and return that money to the states with fewer restrictions on how it is spent.

B) Pass Federal Legislation Protecting the Right of Parents to Choose Homeschooling

There is a move afoot in some states to ban homeschooling – we have seen the same sort of movement in the EU and elsewhere in the developed world and it has led to some frightening limitations on liberty that no one should wish to see replicated in the US. The middle class, in particular, is interested in new and innovative education solutions including massive open online courses (MOOCs) at all educational levels and a variety of other homeschooling models – let’s get on the right side of history and liberty before we find ourselves unable to act decisively.

C) Incentivize States to Enact School Choice Laws

It is not within the appropriate jurisdiction of the Federal legislature to mandate open school choice, in our opinion, but we can encourage the states to accept that school choice is in high demand by the lower and middle classes by increasing federal awards to states that back successful public charter, public magnet, private, parochial and homeschooling alternatives monetarily and favor successful schools over bad ones in the distribution of education budgets, and by giving states bonuses that are efficient with their education funds (generate better performance to dollar ratios).

D) Back Trade Schools, MOOCs and Private Colleges with Oversight

One of the biggest problems with the alternatives to public colleges that prevent employers from giving much value to job applicants who obtain certifications and technical degrees from private technical schools, MOOCs and trade schools is that it’s the wild west for these colleges and they are under no obligation to provide a useful and quality education. Take a note here – because you will rarely see us asking for more federal regulation, but this is one such case. The Federal Government must promote alternatives to expensive public colleges to help ameliorate the growing higher education bubble and keep young people out of debt (and, in so doing, grow the future middle class). In order for us to break our addiction to student loans, we must empower high school kids to choose high school and college curricula that lead to technical certifications and trades, and we can’t do that until we can guarantee that our private and technical/trade colleges meet basic standards of educational value that will convince employers to hire people certified and degreed by such institutions. The standards need not be identical to the public system, but quality assurance should be required.

E) Encourage States to Enact Reforms that Limit Public Degrees that Do Not Produce

Here again, it would be beyond the scope of Congress to start outlawing college degree programs that do not produce expected revenue that justifies their existence – what we can do, however, is increase the available federal assistance for students who are majoring in a STEM, manufacturing, or technical field (and any other degree program with a solid history of wealth creation), decrease federal assistance for less productive or overrepresented majors, and tie interest rates to risk (a risky degree like puppetry or cultural studies should come with much higher interest rates than a STEM degree). Federal student loans should be treated like the investment they were billed to be, not like a pipeline of money that students may use and abuse to heart’s content. College degrees should improve the US economy, not burden it.

F) Pass a Law Requiring a Government Census of College Degree performance and Making Info Available Online

Openness and transparency in financial outcomes and expenditures usually has the immediate impact of change the demand for products based on rational financial decision-making. College degrees are a bit more emotional than the average investment opportunity, so having good data on which degrees are good investments and which are not will not stop bad degrees from existing, but I believe it will alter the number of students falling for them (because it will cause parents to deny their children’s requests to attend expensive colleges in order to study something that has a poor earning potential, along with making some students think twice about choosing bad or, at least, over-saturated, degrees). So require the department of education to conduct a census of colleges and universities and their various degree programs and report information such as the default rate on student loans for each school, each degree program and each combination of the two, the graduation rate, the employment numbers, and the net earnings of students (per capita) by degree program at each school. If a college degree is an investment, we should know what the investment is worth.

G) Pass a Law Guaranteeing the Right of Refusal to Parents

One more thing that Congress cannot tackle directly, but must move to address in what ways it can is ‘Common Core’. The concept of a Federally mandated curriculum is not compatible with liberty and the GOP should move to guarantee the right of all families to refuse to participate in common core and choose a different standard. This won’t help parents who are currently stuck in public schools and don’t have a viable alternative, but as GOP governors work on the problem of school choice, it will be crucial that alternative programs have the right to opt out of common core and use different teaching methods and standards.

Education is a state problem for the most part, as it should be, and in spite of efforts by leftists to nationalize and further institutionalize learning – but that doesn’t mean the legislature can’t take certain steps to lead on education policy and encourage the states to be bold and innovative o their own. Middle class families are aching for a better way forward for their children ad Congress should show that this is a priority for them as well.

Vote Libertarian, Because Not All Politicians Are Smart, But All Politicians Can Count

libertarian-party-logo

Thus proclaims Arvin Vohra, Vice Chair of the Libertarian National Committee and a candidate for Maryland’s fourth congressional district. Vohra and I are in agreement that the only effective way to tell politicians they must shrink the size and scope of government is to vote for libertarian candidates (“small l” intended).

Not voting at all accomplishes nothing more than making one’s opinions irrelevant to the people who hold political power. Voting for the “less bad” of the two contenders is guaranteed to continue the policies of the last two administrations.

In contrast, consistently voting only for libertarian candidates pulls the two major parties toward more libertarian positions. That, standing alone, is reason to vote libertarian.

We know the strategy works because it is working! Twenty-five years ago, mainstream journalists rarely mentioned libertarians. Now, not a day goes by that the word is not featured in the headlines of big-name publications or crossing the lips of mainstream commentators.

Google the words “libertarian moment,” and witness how shrilly both the left and the right deny that one is occurring.

Their foot-stamping to the contrary, Republicans are fundraising for openly gay candidates. Donors are pressing the party to stay out of marriage altogether. Republican candidates are campaigning to make birth control available over the counter. The first U.S. Senator has come out in favor of marijuana legalization.

Thanks for these shifts goes in some degree to the people who consistently prove their motivation to visit the polls, while simultaneously refusing to cast votes for statist candidates in either party. More people today identify as independents than either Republicans or Democrats. Fifty-nine percent of voters self-identify as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” Even under conservative estimates, 15% of voters can be treated as consistently “libertarian” in their positions.

Libertarians (“small l”) have become a swing-voting block as powerful as the religious right.

The best use of that power is to end the conspiracy of false choice and emotional partisanship that operates to keep the two-party oligarchy in power.

The Republocrats have given us federalized schools; a morass of unfunded entitlements and dependency; wild inflation in the cost of education and healthcare; the Drug War, the highest incarceration rate in the world, militarized police, and asset forfeitures; welfare and cronyism for corporations, agribusiness and green energy; a national debt in the trillions; the surveillance state and the erosion of the fourth amendment; expensive, immoral, ineffective and deadly interventions overseas; and restrictions on political speech.

If the foregoing is not convincing enough, consider the following. When Republicans are in power, Democrats support balanced budgets, oppose unfunded spending and resist increases to the debt ceiling. As then-senator Barack Obama said in 2006:

This rising debt is a hidden domestic enemy, robbing our cities and States of critical investments in infrastructure like bridges, ports, and levees; robbing our families and our chil- dren of critical investments in edu- cation and health care reform; robbing our seniors of the retirement and health security they have counted on.

*     *     *

Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘‘the buck stops here.’’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.

When the Republicans are in power, they simply trade positions. Republicans complain about spending and Democrats oppose balanced budgets.

Or consider this example from Robert Sarvis, Virginia’s libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate:

In 2008, when Republicans were the ones supporting the Export-Import Bank, candidate Barack Obama called it little more than corporate cronyism, but in 2014, it was Democrats lining up to support it. Virginia’s Democratic Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine introduced the reauthorization bill, and President Obama signed it.

Republicans are keeping the bank going until 2015 when they can figure out who is is in power, so they know which position to take.

How anyone keeps falling for this shtick is beyond me.

Spoilerism is a feature of third party voting, not a glitch. It communicates to mainstream politicians that we’re here, we vote, and if they want to beat their opponent, they need us to do it. The libertarian moment is nigh. Stay the course.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Ebola: Saving Life As We Know It, But Not You Specifically

ebola-quarantine-area

As the first U.S. citizen remains forcibly quarantined over Ebola fears, now seems a good time to revisit the role of government in our lives. Some so-called “conservatives” seem to have undergone a sudden evolution to the position that it is the government’s job to keep us perfectly safe from all risk.

One cannot help but wonder, is this their new position on guns as well?

One person has died in the U.S. from Ebola.

We lose 32,000 times that many every year to guns. Is there no cost too high, no civil liberty that cannot yield, in the quest to defeat that risk?

What about cars?

In 2012, 92 people died every day in automobile accidents. How many civil liberties can be ceded to protect us from death-by-car?

Anyone who thinks there is no cost too high to pay to keep Ebola from tarnishing the pristine lands of America is a statist in sheep’s clothing.

The government’s job is to preserve Life As We Know It. To do that, it does not need to save you, specifically. And it certainly does not so direly need to save you, specifically, that it should declare marshal law and shut down global travel.

In the years since 1976, the U.S. has lost between 3,000 to 49,000 people per year to influenza. By my math, that means we could lose another 48,999 people to Ebola this year and still not suffer much impact to Life As We Know It.

But you know what would impact Life As We Know It?

Massive losses in wealth due to travel bans, “aversion behavior,” quarantines and fear.

For example, Michael J. Casey, writing for the Wall Street Journal reports an interesting study about the effects on the global economy of a flu pandemic:

One study led by U.K economists that modeled the global economic fallout from a hypothetical influenza pandemic predicted only a 0.5% GDP loss from the base effect of the disease itself but up to 8% due to policies intended to mitigate its spread, such as school closures.

Think about it. Tourism to and from Africa ceases. Tourism between the U.S. and the rest of the world slows. Hotel rooms sit empty. Restaurants close early. No one rides the bus or takes taxicabs. A lot of people who would otherwise be working—and spending—are quarantined for weeks at a time. Equity indexes fall. Shares in travel firms dive alongside companies heavily invested in Africa. International financial institutions with interests in the region take a hit. The prices of iron ore and oil rise.

Your job might cease to exist. Your retirement account might be wiped out. The value of your house might plummet.

Is there still no price too high to pay when it is clearer that it will be you who must pay it?

However distasteful it might seem, the government must weigh the lives saved against the cost (in both dollars and civil liberties sacrificed) of saving them. Just like the Federal Reserve has a conflicting dual mandate to maximize employment and keep prices stable, the government has a conflicting dual mandate when it comes to Ebola—to protect us from Ebola and to protect the worldwide economy and our civil liberties from collateral damage in the fight to stop Ebola.

Take heart, gentle lambs.

Just because it is not the government’s job to spare no cost keeping you safe, does not mean you cannot make it your own priority. Disabuse yourself of the notion that only the government exercises any control over the big stuff, the important stuff, the dangerous stuff. You are free, all on your own, to spare no expense keeping yourself safe. Wash your hands more and touch your face less. Drive your car instead of using public transportation. Start prepping.

Stay home from work, like you think all those returning aid workers should.

Well go ahead.

You first.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Invalid Presumption of Moral Superiority

A reader commented that the problem with what you might call “strict Randites” is that they “seem to have a lack of compassion”.

An APPARENT lack of compassion.

Some do yes.

Others simply recognize that it isn’t compassion, when one is being “compassionate” with other peoples time, money, and resources.

Not a Randian by any stretch of the imagination… but there IS a point there.

The larger point with Rand, and with Neitzsche, and other individualist philosophers; is that the assumed obligation to sacrifice oneself in favor of others, and the assumed moral superiority of it, are both not only false, but in fact harmful.

Voluntary self sacrifice for good cause, and to good effect (or at least with a realistic attempt at good effect), is a noble thing. In all other cases, it is not.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

James Comey vs. your privacy

Today’s smartphones contain more data about your life than any other device in human history. It could be argued that they even contain more usable information about your whereabouts and activities than your own brain. Naturally, post-Edward Snowden, protecting that information is a priority for a lot of people.

James Comey wants access to all of that information and he’s willing to let bad guys get at it too:

“Encryption threatens to lead all of us to a very dark place.”

“Encryption isn’t just a technical feature; it’s a marketing pitch … it’s the equivalent of a closet that can’t be opened. A safe that can’t be cracked. And my question is, at what cost?” Comey said. “Both companies [Apple and Google] are run by good people, responding to what they perceive is a market demand. But the place they are leading us is one we shouldn’t go to without careful thought and debate.”

[…]

“With Going Dark, those of us in law enforcement and public safety have a major fear of missing out—missing out on predators who exploit the most vulnerable among us … kids call this FOMO,” he said.

Comey kept referring to the “debate” and “national conversation” that needs to be had regarding widespread encryption. That conversation, in Comey’s mind, should stop and start with the idea that there must be a “front door” means for the FBI, NSA, and other law enforcement agencies to blast through encryption. In other words, companies should be “developing [law enforcement] intercept solutions during the design phase,” a proposition that, beyond making encryption useless, is potentially not even technically feasible.

“Congress might have to force this on companies,” he said. “Maybe they’ll take the hint and do it themselves.”

Read the whole thing.

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