Think Tanks Wrap-up

Dec. 18, 2001 at 7:09 PM
share with facebook
share with twitter

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- The UPI Think Tank Wrap-Up is a daily digest covering brief opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events, and position statements released by various think tanks.

Ludwig von Mises Institute

(The LVMI is a research and educational center devoted to classical liberalism -- often known as libertarianism -- and the Austrian School of economics. Grounded in the work of economists Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard, LVMI seeks to advance the Austrian School of economics by promoting the market economy, private property, sound money and peaceful international relations, while opposing government intervention as economically and socially destructive.)

In Defense of Sotheby's

By William L. Anderson

Government lawyers have another scalp for their belts. A. Alfred Taubman, the 76-year-old CEO of the Sotheby's auction house, has been convicted of price-fixing in federal court in New York City and now faces time in prison. Legitimate businesses find themselves in crisis, and it will be more difficult to auction items in the future. In short, it is just another day at the office for those who further the Leviathan State.

In the end, it probably was not difficult for prosecutors to obtain a guilty verdict for Taubman. Witness after witness -- people trying to stay out of jail themselves -- told the jury that Taubman had conspired with the top brass at Christie's, the other well-known auction house, to fix commissions. No doubt most of the jurors, not being wealthy people, had no problem declaring a rich man guilty of a crime.

However, as Holman W. Jenkins Jr., so aptly pointed out this past week in his Wall Street Journal column, Taubman did not commit a crime in the conventional sense. Granted, the political classes and their media allies (and more than a few misguided economists) have declared price-fixing to be a crime against humanity, but as in so many other things, their stand is at best wrong and at worst cynically hypocritical.

Price-fixing occurs when individuals from competing firms agree on what prices to charge for their products and services. Because private price-fixing is illegal in the United States, these meetings are done in private and carry potential criminal penalties if the participants are apprehended.

However, lest one think price-fixing is a shady activity, consider that governments at all levels are the primary price fixers. From setting minimum prices (and price supports) for agricultural products to restricting entry into markets (such as taxi ownership) to conferring monopolies (cable television) and the like, governments are in the job of restricting output and raising prices to consumers.

Furthermore, all of the regulation that so many supporters of antitrust laws seem to support is also price-fixing. For example, when government "regulated" railroads, airlines, and truck transportation, it did so by restricting routes and setting minimum prices.

That government has done (and continues to do) harm to consumers through its many regulatory practices, and sweetheart deals to politically placed producers should not be in question. Moreover, the alleged "harm" done by so-called anticompetitive practices of private business firms pales when compared to the real economic damage government does on a daily basis, yet no politicians call for economic regulators to be imprisoned. The Sotheby's case eloquently bears that out, since it was the agents of the politicians who pursued the case.

As Jenkins has pointed out, the auction business is fiercely competitive, with very small profit margins. Auction houses are prone to cut commissions in order to wrestle business from other auction houses, and the results are often deleterious for the houses. Jenkins notes that high-end auction houses have high fixed costs because they have to employ large staffs of experts.

Writes Jenkins: "These (overhead costs) bills have to be paid whether or not business is coming through the door. That's why the guy who brings two Picassos or a dump truck full of Kennedy heirlooms has such leverage. Losing such a sale means forgoing an opportunity to cover at least a portion of the houses' heavy fixed costs."

To protect themselves from these business realities, auction houses are tempted to make agreements with each other not to cut commissions. Whether those agreements hold or not is another matter, since the temptation in the business world is for producers to cheat on pricing agreements. The same problems that plague price fixing in the auction world are those that bedevil oil producers, which is why crude oil prices always seem to be heading south.

Another industry that one can compare to the auction houses is professional baseball, which is well known for paying gigantic salaries to players who become free agents. When Peter Uberroth became commissioner of Major League Baseball in 1984, following his successful tenure as the organizer of the Los Angeles Olympic Games, the first thing he did was to implore baseball owners to stop paying big money to free agents.

His plan worked -- at least, for a while. Although owners refused to admit they were colluding with one another (for fear of being charged with criminal price fixing and collusion), that seems to have been the case. Player salaries went down, and team profits went up. However, as time went on, owners began to leave the fold, and the competition began once again in earnest. Today, the major league owners are talking seriously about cutting out at least two franchises in order to cut costs.

Unlike baseball owners, who are heavily subsidized by taxpayers who pay for the Taj Mahal stadiums, auction houses don't have the cushion given to the national pastime. There is also another matter, that being the business of whether or not these actions actually constitute harm to anyone.

Furthermore, simply charging higher prices to individuals cannot necessarily be considered harm in the economic sense. After all, I and most other consumers would like to have things given to us for free. To charge any price at all would constitute harm in the eyes of antitrust advocates. If auction houses are able to charge higher commissions, then it will also mean that the future will be better for those who sell such properties, and those who buy them. The higher fees transferred from owners of goods to be sold to the principles of the auction houses are not money thrown into a black hole.

Jenkins notes that all those who dealt with Sotheby's did so voluntarily. Unlike government regulation where coercion is involved, no one forced anyone to use Sotheby's or any other auction house. To say that customers were cheated or defrauded is to do violence to the meanings of those words. All participants knew the commission schedules and were willing to pay them.

At the turn of the 20th century, British neoclassical economists argued about whether or not "pecuniary externalities" did harm to the economy, a pecuniary externality being the effect one economic agent might have on another. The idea was that the entry of a new producer into any industry would result in higher costs to other producers and would also force down prices to consumers. Some economists argued that new entrants should have to compensate established producers.

Economists eventually agreed that "pecuniary externalities" were normal in the course of business and could not be stopped, and this was supposedly was the final word on the subject.

However, antitrust and other laws that spell out "economic crimes" are nothing more than this debate brought back to life. While a jury can be convinced that the normal course of business is actually a crime, the truth is that the arguments used to justify antitrust laws are nothing more than the same empty opinions discredited 100 years ago.

A wealthy 76-year-old man is about to be thrown into the horror that is the U.S. prison system. The United States has one-fourth of the world's prison population, about two million of eight million prisoners worldwide. After seeing government prosecutors congratulate each other for "winning the big one" on the Sotheby's case, one might just come to the conclusion that Taubman is a political prisoner -- perhaps one of many such -- among our jailhouse population.

(William Anderson is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and teaches economics at Frostburg State University. )

Council on Hemispheric Affairs

(COHA is an active and broad-based independent research organization founded to promote the common interest of the Western Hemisphere, raise the visibility and increase the importance of the inter-American relationship, encourage the formulation of rational and constructive U.S. policies towards Latin America, and monitor Canadian/Latin American relations. COHA supports open and democratic political processes and condemns authoritarian regimes that fail to provide their populations with minimal standards of political freedoms, economic and social justice, personal security and civic guarantees.)

Washington partially to blame for raid on Haitian Presidential Palace

By Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Monday's unsuccessful attack on the presidential palace in Port-Au-Prince underlines the fact that Haiti for many months has been hanging from a rope, and that its final asphyxiation could be near at hand. Throughout this agonizing situation, Washington has not even visibly wrung its hands in grief over leaving the doomed nation to a tragic fate. Such an outcome could register a serious blow against U.S. national interests, however, as tens of thousands of Haitians again will risk their lives to seek refuge in the U.S., but more probably be interdicted and summarily returned to the island or drown on the high seas. Since the U.S. automatically repatriates all Haitians intercepted at sea (with the exception of a small percentage of these who may be genuine political refugees), while allowing 25,000 Cubans to enter the U.S. annually, Washington risks not only appearing heartless, but also racist.

A political deadlock and bitter street violence between the Lavalas Party and the opposition Convergence party, combined with abject poverty, are paralyzing Haitian society. The result is the first signs of what could become a major economically fueled exodus, as indicated by an already sharp increase in migration this past year--over 7,000 Haitians were repatriated to the island after attempting to flee to nearby Caribbean islands or to try the far more perilous

500-mile voyage to the U.S. mainland. Immediate international action is needed, on an emerging basis, to reverse the steady deteriorating living conditions on the island.

Despite the grim reports in the press, however, there is no indication that Washington will provide the leadership for relief and development funds to be sped to the island. In fact, no aspect of U.S. foreign policy has been more sterile and without talent or direction than U.S. policy toward Haiti. If U.S.-Haiti policy has been predictably second rate -- just as it was throughout the Clinton Administration -- the Congressional Black Caucus, in contrast to its

admirable pre-1994 effectiveness, can be censured for its current listless and ineffectual lobbying on Haiti's behalf, essentially buying in to the current White House orientation which is bent on tarnishing Aristide.

According to the State Department, the Bush administration is freezing nearly $150 million in Inter-American Development Bank loans until the Haitian government improves on its drug interdiction practices (the State Department had nothing to say about drug trafficking under the previous Haitian military junta) and the Aristide government and the Convergence Party agree on a formula to address voting irregularities in seven districts deriving from the May 21, 2000,

senate elections.

All told, $500 million is being withheld by international donors on a number of grounds, with Washington permitting the Convergence party to exercise a de facto veto over U.S. policy

toward the island.

Thus far, Lavalas has committed itself to solicit the resignation of the seven senators elected under questionable circumstances -- which is the issue of the greatest controversy -- as well as to the reduction by two years of the terms of all Senators elected on May 21, 2000, and early election for all sitting senators (by moving them to next year rather than the scheduled day of 2004), which are among other concessions offered by Aristide. But these have not been enough for the Convergence party or the international community. The opposition (many of whose members are former supporters of the U.S.-ousted military junta), which has benefited inordinately from tilted press coverage which repeatedly blames the Aristide government for the impasse, is demanding that the senators resign and that new elections be scheduled immediately, a position not markedly different from the concessions, which Aristide, in fact, is ready to make.

Recent meetings in October between the two parties made no headway on the matter and a stalemate now plagues a nation growing increasingly intolerant of what seems like intransigence on both sides, but which is mainly attributable to the Convergence. Demonstrably, with its direct connections to the U.S.-funded and militant anti-Aristide International Republican Institute and the Aristide-basher Senator Jesse Helms, Convergence essentially dictates how foreign countries view events in Haiti. Meanwhile many Haitians who supported Aristide since his overthrow in 1991 and worked for his return to power in 1994, still await the fruits of democracy and are becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of an economic revival, the ubiquitous political discord and the rise of violent crime without trivializing the importance of democratic elections.

Washington should consider on what grounds it normally denies essential humanitarian assistance to an impoverished nation. Specifically, it should ask itself whether other Third World recipients of direct government aid and multilateral loans have, relatively speaking, as clean voting records as Haiti and whether or not those nations are penalized. One example of this double standard is U.S. policy toward Mexico, which during the PRI's 70-year hold on power received multilateral aid despite its endemic venality and its high volume of human rights violations. Nevertheless, Mexico was warmly engaged as a democratic partner by the Clinton administration during NAFTA negotiations.

Currently U.S. and Haitian nongovernmental organizations receive about $75 million worth of aid from USAID humanitarian relief for the island. The aid is channeled through civil society organizations and democracy building institutions, but inevitably it does not provide Port-Au-Prince with the means to rebuild its impoverished public health and education programs or get the country running again.

Haitians are well aware of Washington's hold on the loans and are likening it to the U.S. embargo imposed on the Haitian people after their 1804 revolution made the island the first black republic in the world.

Reason Public Policy Foundation

Goo-Goo Dolls: The media's post-9/11 wishes for a safer, more regulated world

By James Morrow

If you are reading this, then it is a pretty safe bet that you don't consider John D. Donahue the sort of guy you would enjoy getting cornered by at a cocktail party. After all, Donahue is the co-editor of a book called "Governance Amid Bigger, Better Mar" -- the sort of work that suggests the instructor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government might discreetly whip out a pocket caliper to make sure the store-bought canapés don't present a choking hazard to small children.

However, Donahue is just the sort of thinker story editors at places like the New York Times and New Yorker have embraced over the past three months, where it has been decided that (to borrow a phrase from current parlance) if government doesn't get a good deal bigger in the wake of Sept. 11, and that if Americans don't start feeling real positive about trips to the DMV real fast, then the terrorists will have won.

"After 50 years of market ascendancy, government may be poised to reclaim its role as an integral and admirable part of American life," wrote Donahue on the op-ed page of The New York Times this past Thursday. "Whether it does so depends as much on how we view our public servants as on how we finance our public institutions and the work they do."

The article continues in this vein for several hundred words, saying that government has been "undervalued" for decades by Americans young and old and hoping that a cultural shift is taking place in which public service gets more respect and citizens start to see "solid protectors" in place of "feckless bureaucrats."

And Donahue is not the only one. Almost as soon as pundits found their footing a few weeks after the attacks, the good government -- or "goo-goo," in Washington wonk-speak -- drumbeat began, with the more smarty-pants members of the chattering class suggesting that Americans would, as if coming to their long-dulled and dormant senses, start to respect and value government again in the wake of Sept. 11.

The New Yorker, the New York Times' magazine, and the New York Times (to name a few) all threw in their two cents, with R.W. "Johnny" Apple taking a break from his plan to eat his way around the globe on the Sulzbergers' nickel to proclaim in a newsitorial from the White House that "big government is back in style."

It's hardly a new point, but with the spigot of opinion pieces on the subject still flowing, it bears repeating: September 11 didn't happen because there wasn't enough government, but despite too much government. Instead of providing for an effective common defense, the federal bureaucracy spent the last several decades meddling or attempting to meddle in far too many aspects of American life, from the appropriate size of the holes in Swiss Chees to how much water a toilet should use to do the job.

No wonder 19 foreign nationals could waltz into the country and teach themselves how to maintain level flight in a 767 without anyone in charge noticing something was amiss. And as far as September 11 promoting a new respect for government employees, well, it doesn't take a genius to understand that there's a big difference between the officials at the EEOC who make sure office Christmas parties don't get out of hand and the firefighters who charge into burning buildings.

Yet some people don't get this -- or, if they do, choose to ignore it in pursuit of their own agendas. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), in yet another attempt to step out of the shadow of his junior partner, published an op-ed of his own recently in the Washington Post. It's titled (you guessed it) "Big government Looks Better Now" and suggests that more government spending is the key to national security. After all, there's a lot of public infrastructure out there, and it'll take a lot of federal union members to keep it safe.

As a result, says Schumer, waving his magic wand, "The era of the shrinking federal government has come to a close." (Where Schumer gets the idea that government spending, especially when divorced from fluctuating defense spending, has been declining since Reagan was sworn in, as he later claims, is another question.)

And in Business Week, Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect wrote a piece titled (brace yourself), "The Economy Needs More Big Government -- Now." "Never mind that Americans haven't bought the line -- sure to be pushed hard by Democrats during the mid-term elections next year -- that Bush has mismanaged the economy, even as he has won the war. According to Kuttner, the United States needs a high-speed rail network to take the burden off airports, with an added dose of public health spending to boot, to get things moving again.

There is one heartening thing about those members of the good-government left who use the attacks on America and the need for heightened vigilance during wartime and beyond as an excuse to further their cause. If these editors and policy wonks on the left are so obviously up to their old tricks already, then maybe the terrorists haven't won.

(James Morrow is a writer based in Sydney, Australia, and New York City.)

National Center for Public Policy Research

(NCPPR is a communications and research foundation dedicated to providing free market solutions to today's public policy problems, based on the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility. NCPPR was founded to provide the conservative movement with a versatile and energetic organization capable of responding quickly and decisively to late-breaking issues, based on thorough research.)

By National Center for Public Policy Research

Ten Second Response: Senate Democrats' Energy Bill Promotes Global Warming Theory

Background: Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), joined by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), recently introduced an energy bill (S.1766, "The Energy Policy Act of 2002") which includes a number of claims on global warming. Below are our responses, using scientific studies, to refute the claims made in S.1766's Section 1001, "Sense of Congress on Global Warming."

S.1766 Claim: "Evidence continues to build that increases in atmospheric concentrations of man-made greenhouse gases are contributing to global climate change."

Response: While the earth's surface temperature has increased one degree Fahrenheit over the last century, measurements made using NASA satellites and balloons have found no rise in the temperature of the lower atmosphere over the last 22 years. According to climatologists, the greenhouse gas effect would cause temperatures in the lower atmosphere, or troposphere, to increase first, but this has not happened.

S.1766 Claim: "The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that 'there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities...'

Response: Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT, and one of the lead authors of the IPCC report, said "In point of fact, there may not have been any significant warming in the last 60 years. Moreover, such warming as may have occurred was associated with jumps that are inconsistent with greenhouse warming."

S.1766 Claim: "...and that the Earth's average temperature can be expected to rise between 2.5 and 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit in this century."

Response: Dr. Lindzen says, "... a doubling of carbon dioxide by itself would produce only a modest temperature increase of one degree Celsius." In 1988 the IPCC computer models predicted temperatures would rise 0.8 degrees Celsius each decade. By 1995 it had changed its prediction to 0.2 degrees Celsius. The predictions are guesses.

S.1766 Claim: "The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) confirmed ...that 'the IPCC's conclusion that most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase of greenhouse gas concentrations accurately reflects the current thinking of the scientific community on this issue.'"

Response: Dr. Lindzen, also a panelist on the NAS report reviewing the IPCC's findings says, "Our primary conclusion was that despite some knowledge and some agreement, the science is by no means settled. We are not in a position to confidently attribute past climate change to carbon dioxide or to forecast what the climate will be in the future."

S.1766 Claim: "The Environmental Protection Agency has found that global warming may harm the United States by altering crop yields, accelerating sea level rise, and increasing the spread of tropical infectious diseases."

Response: A new study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has found that cotton yields in the southeastern U.S. would increase with increased levels of CO2. Based on data from its computer models, NCAR predicts cotton yields would increase by as much as 26 to 36 percent.

S.1766 Claim: "In 1992, the United States ratified the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change which stated in part 'the parties to the Convention are to implement policies with the aim of returning to their 1990 levels anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.'"

Response: The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that gasoline prices would rise by 14 to 66 cents per gallon and electricity prices would increase 20 to 86 percent if such a policy is implemented.

The Hudson Institute

Is There A Campaign To Stifle Speech On Campus?

By Herbert London

Fire-breathing campus activists have declared war on America's war. They will say such absurd things as the attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center was payback for the nation's misguided foreign policy. Some innocents will believe them; most will not.

Yet what is most instructive is that at the first whiff of criticism, the radicals claim "McCarthyism," which is -- as they say on Broadway -- a "show stopper." What the charge of McCarthyism does is put the critic in the position of being criticized. Moreover, since these battles invariably take place on campus, the allied argument of stifling academic freedom is made.

Recently, in response to a report about anti-war statements on campus compiled by the The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, the New York Times charged that a campaign to diminish academic freedom was underway. Yet this claim is neither true nor legitimate.

Academic freedom does not inoculate anyone against criticism. Faculty members should be free to express their opinions and critics should be free to express their disagreement. In fact, this has nothing to do with McCarthyism, since I cannot cite one example of a professor being fired for this anti-war stance, or a student being expelled from campus because of his unpopular opinions.

The irresponsible use of such terms as "McCarthyism" and "academic freedom" is chilling. If one refers to the authoritative 1940 statement on academic freedom from the American Association of University Professors, the professor's right to express his opinion was related to professional competence and responsible behavior. Hence, the music instructor who expresses an opinion about American foreign policy has the right of free speech, but not the privilege of academic freedom unless, of course, he can demonstrate competence in a field different from his stated area of expertise.

No one -- in my judgment -- should stop Noam Chomsky -- a well known critic of the war on terrorism and the world's leading expert on linguistics -- from expressing an opinion about the war. He has, after all, written widely on American foreign policy.

However, Professor Chomsky's stature does not insulate him from criticism of his patently ridiculous positions. Rebuttals challenging his position are not McCarthyite and are not in any way limits on Chomsky's freedom of expression.

In sober times these reflections would be unimpeachable. But these are not sober times for the "hate America" crowd that has gravitated to American campuses. What the radicals use as defense mechanisms are the sacred cows of the liberal imagination: free speech and academic freedom. And astonishingly some pundits -- already inclined to support this argument -- opt for paranoid explanations.

Notwithstanding all of the Orwellian claims of "repressive tolerance," American universities are among the most free institutions on the globe. At a time of war, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, it is not surprising that there are bitter verbal reprisals against anti-war activists. But it would be a terrible mistake to claim this is rampaging McCarthyism or a systematic effort to curtail academic freedom.

If those claims have any meaning it is in the protective shield of national symbols and the extent to which they have penetrated the public imagination. The radicals on campus may have overlooked the lessons of war and peace, but they sure know how to protect themselves against criticism.

(Herbert London is president of the Hudson Institute and John M. Olin Professor of Humanities at New York University.)

Progress and Freedom Foundation

(The Progress & Freedom Foundation studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. P&FF is ideologically diverse and politically non-partisan, and its work focuses heavily on communications, computing and telecommunications.)

Our Arguments Stand: Issue Reply to Pro-Regulation Colleagues on Broadband

By the Progress and Freedom Foundation

Eight economists who earlier this month issued a letter calling on the Bush Administration to speed broadband deregulation have replied to a critique released by a group of their colleagues, led by New York University economist William J. Baumol. The critique, dated Dec. 11, argued that the Bell companies are "natural monopolies," and that deregulation would not enhance investment. The reply from PFF takes issue with both points.

On the first point, the economists noted that "with respect to broadband service, the local telephone carriers are engaged in a fierce rivalry for residential customers. Not only are the Bells not dominant in [the broadband] market, they serve fewer than 25 percent of household subscribers."

With respect to inventives for investment, they took direct issue with the Baumol letter's claim that "there is no evidence that regulation of broadband services slows investment."

"This view is incorrect," the economists say. "Both theory and evidence show that awarding rivals access to risky facilities at incremental cost reduces investment incentives for both incumbents and entrants."

Like the Dec. 4 letter, the reply was co-authored by eight free market economists, including Robert Crandall, senior fellow, The Brookings Institution; Jeffrey A. Eisenach, president, the Progress & Freedom Foundation; George Gilder, senior fellow, the Discovery Institute; Thomas W. Hazlett, senior fellow, the Manhattan Institute; Lawrence Kudlow, chairman, Kudlow & Company; James C. Miller III, counselor, Citizens for a Sound

Economy; William Niskanen, chairman, the Cato Institute; and Alan Reynolds, senior fellow, The Cato Institute.

National Center for Policy Analysis

(NCPA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization whose goal is to develop and promote private alternatives to government regulation and control, solving problems by relying on the strength of the competitive, entrepreneurial private sector.)

Brief Analysis: Cleveland, School Choice and the Constitution

By David J. Owsiany

Since 1996, the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program has provided tax-funded vouchers that allow children from low-income families to opt out of the city's failing public schools. Teachers' unions and the education establishment have challenged the program in court, arguing that it violates the First Amendment because many voucher students attend religious schools. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the Cleveland case, a decision that is expected to clarify whether it is constitutional for children to use tax-funded vouchers to attend religious schools.

The Cleveland program expands educational choice beyond magnet schools, charter schools and schools with limited open-enrollment policies to include private schools and participating suburban public schools. The program also provides tutorial assistance for students remaining in the Cleveland public schools.

Under the voucher program, students may receive scholarships of up to 90 percent of tuition to attend the private school of their parents' choice. The scholarships are capped at $2,250 or the amount of tuition, whichever is less, and participating private schools may not charge more than $2,500 for tuition. If suburban public schools choose to participate, they receive more than $6,500 from the state (the scholarship amount plus the state's regular per pupil share) for each voucher student.

The program began with students in kindergarten through third grade, expanding one grade each year through eighth grade so that once a child enters the program, he or she has the opportunity to remain through the eighth grade. If the number of children applying for new scholarships exceeds the number available, as routinely occurs, recipients are chosen by lottery with priority given to economically disadvantaged children.

In the 2000-2001 school year, 4,195 students received educational vouchers. While no suburban public schools currently participate, 46 religious and 10 nonsectarian private schools accept scholarship students.

Without the assistance these vouchers provide, almost all of the students in the voucher program would attend Cleveland public schools, which are among the worst performing schools in the country. In 1999-2000, the Cleveland public schools met only three of 27 minimum performance standards set by the Ohio Department of Education, and the district was deemed an "academic emergency."

Several studies and surveys have demonstrated the benefits of the program to students from low-income families. For example:

* A 1997 Harvard University analysis of two private schools opened in Cleveland as a response to vouchers -- Hope Academy and Hope Ohio City -- found that student test scores in math and reading rose in their first year enrolled, and that the Cleveland voucher program had "helped improve student test scores."

* A 1999 Harvard University survey found that voucher program parents were far more satisfied with their children's education than were parents whose children remained in the Cleveland public schools.

* A 1999 Buckeye Institute study found that children in the voucher program attended schools that were much more racially integrated than the Cleveland public schools.

* A 2001 evaluation conducted for the Ohio Department of Education by the Indiana Center for Evaluation found that students enrolled in the voucher program perform "slightly, but statistically significantly, higher" than public school students.

* After the litigation by teachers' unions and others challenging the validity of the Cleveland program wound its way through the state court system, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected the unions' First Amendment claim.

* Choice opponents then went to federal court, where the program was found unconstitutional by a U.S. District Judge in Cleveland and, on appeal, by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The effect of these court orders -- throwing voucher students out of the participating schools -- has been stayed until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the program.

Opponents of school choice have argued that because students can use the vouchers at religious schools, the Cleveland program violates the First Amendment's prohibition on the establishment of religion. This argument fails to appreciate that the Cleveland voucher program, as set up by the Ohio Legislature, does not establish or endorse religious schools.

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently upheld education programs even if government aid ultimately reaches religious institutions if the aid (1) is disbursed according to neutral criteria without regard to religion and (2) reaches religious institutions as a result of a genuine, independent private decision. The Cleveland voucher program clearly meets these two requirements.

First, scholarships are available to all Cleveland school children without regard to religion. The only priority given is to students from low-income families. The program does not disburse aid directly to private schools, and both public and private schools -- whether religious or nonreligious -- are eligible to participate.

Second, voucher aid reaches a religious school only after parents have made independent choices where to send their children to school. The check is made payable to the parents of the voucher student and is sent to the school the parents have selected. Any link between the state and the schools is determined entirely by the individual choices of the parents.

The Cleveland voucher program allows families who could not otherwise afford to exercise choice (e.g., by moving to another district, enrolling in private schools, undertaking home schooling) to decide what constitutes an appropriate education for their children. This was clearly a legitimate public policy goal for the Ohio General Assembly when it created the Cleveland program. The fact that no public schools have chosen to participate or that many parents and students choose religious schools under the program in no way de-legitimizes the goal of providing better education alternatives for children from low-income families.

As U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James Ryan wrote in dissent, to invalidate the Cleveland voucher program would be to sentence "nearly 4,000 (at the time of the decision) poverty level, mostly minority, children in Cleveland to return to indisputably failed Cleveland public schools" from which they escaped as long as five years ago. Ryan concluded that to do so would be "an exercise in raw judicial power having no basis in the First Amendment."

(David J. Owsiany, J.D., is president of the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a free market think tank in Columbus, Ohio.)

Institute for Public Accuracy

(The IPA is a nationwide consortium of policy researchers that seeks to broaden public discourse by gaining media access for experts whose perspectives are often overshadowed by major think tanks and other influential institutions.)

Dissenting Voices At a Time of War and Faith

* Sister Evelyn Mattern, program associate at the North Carolina Council of Churches:

"Christians have a 'just war' teaching that in theory can be used to judge any war. In practice, the teaching serves to bless rather than judge wars. For example, the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops recently invoked the 'just war' teaching with regard to Afghanistan. In their hurry to support the president, they failed even to mention one of the main criteria for a just war: that it can be declared only after every other effort has failed. It has yet to be revealed, I think, what the U.S. tried and failed before it began bombing."

* David Potorti, who lost his brother in the World Trade Center attack and recently completed a peace walk from the Pentagon to New York:

"The phrase 'just war,' used in reference to the battle being waged in Afghanistan, is resonating, but not as a deep philosophical concept ... War, to the increasing exclusion of everything else, is almost the only thing that America collectively cares about anymore ... We direct our attention and our resources into what we do best: War."

* Laila Al-Marayati, founder of the Muslim Women's League:

* "America pays lip service to things like human rights, that makes it a source of hope, but when we don't walk the walk, that leads to resentment ... We should not sacrifice our freedoms in the name of this war. The crackdown on various religious charities feels like an attempt to limit the American Muslim community's activism on behalf of legitimate causes like the suffering of Palestinians, especially during Ramadan."

* Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, director of the Shefa Fund's Torah of Money project, which deals with Jewish ethics on finances and socially responsible investing:

* "We have to find a way of getting beyond the levels of despair and misunderstanding that grip much of the world. Despair makes a populace rife for an opportunistic leadership that easily divides the world into good and evil, leading to bloodshed. The focus on defeating evil rather than on improving living conditions leads to more people raised in despair. We need to rekindle hope. That comes from working for real change."

* The Rev. G. Simon Harak, a priest with the West Side Jesuit Community in New York City and adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University has been in the Mideast many times:

"After Sept. 11, we began to ask questions about our place in the world, including asking the question, Why? But this was short-circuited. We were provided with the meaning, rather than taking time for serious reflection. We were given a name and a target and that was supposed to provide the answer."

Related UPI Stories
Trending Stories