Think Tank Wrap-up

March 5, 2002 at 1:38 AM
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WASHINGTON, March 5 (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.

The Cato Institute

WASHINGTON -- A Quality Teacher in Every Classroom

By David Salisbury

President Bush, in his State of the Union address, promised "a quality teacher in every classroom." How Bush plans to accomplish this remains to be seen. Given his business background, he should realize that market forces and consumer choice are the most powerful means to improve the quality of a service.

For instance, when was the last time you stayed awake at night worrying about the quality of food in your local grocery store? Most people don't think about that. The reason is because of consumer choice and competition. If a grocery store starts to

sell bad food, it will lose customers.

Because stores don't like losing customers, they go to great efforts to make sure they don't sell bad food. Most have a "satisfaction guaranteed" policy. If the customer doesn't like something he bought, for any reason, the store will refund the customer's money. That doesn't happen in public schools. Customers -- students and parents -- may walk away, but the money stays.

All that should give Bush a strong hint about how to improve teacher quality. If he wants to see the quality of teachers and schools improve, he should encourage reforms that allow consumer choice and competition among schools. Then schools will make efforts to employ only the best teachers. Competition for consumers is what drives quality improvement in every other sector of our economy. It will do the same thing in schools.

Bush's recent proposal for tuition tax credits is an indication that he has the right idea. But we should remember that education is primarily a local and state issue, since almost 95 percent of the tax dollars going to schools come from state and local governments. Bush was right in saying (as he did during his campaign) that he didn't want to be the superintendent of education. Therefore, he should encourage legislators in the 50 states to carry the ball for school choice.

Hopefully Bush won't try to invent a new federal program to put 100,000 quality teachers in U.S. schools. Bill Clinton's COPS program, which promised 100,000 new police officers on the streets, showed how wasteful such federal meddling can be. Large portions of the money from COPS were wasted because the funds got spent for other purposes or were used to supplant local funds. This is the typical pattern for most federal programs.

The federal government can do much more to harm education in America than it can to help it. Federal "aid" to education has only created a web of regulation and bureaucracy, which prevents public schools from responding in unique and creative ways to their customers -- parents and students. Even the defenders of government schools implicitly acknowledge this when they complain that it is "unfair" that charter schools and private schools aren't burdened by the same regulations and restrictions they must function under. Since federal "help" always comes with paperwork and regulation, more federal involvement in local schools will hurt, not help.

It appears that political leaders at the state and local level are recognizing that the problem with education isn't a lack of good teachers or even a lack of funding but overburdening bureaucracy. This year there were 20 states that proposed implementing

school choice either through vouchers or tuition tax credits as a way to end discrimination between public and private schools and nurture positive marketplace pressures in education.

Today we have 10 states that have passed school choice measures. Such actions at the local level address the problem in the right way. That's because they begin to free parents, teachers, and students from a bureaucratized monopoly that doesn't respond to consumer demand.

Bush's ideal of a quality teacher in every classroom can best be realized by unleashing the same power that gives us quality food, cars, telephones, doctors and plumbers. That power is free enterprise. Consumers making choices is what drives quality up in every other economic sector. Education is no different. School choice options, implemented at the state and local level are the key that will make the president's vision a reality. Without free enterprise, no amount of federal money or government mandate will make much difference.

(David Salisbury is director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute.)

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.)

WASHINGTON -- Conservative Outreach to Black America Should Not Be Spurned

By Rita Thompson

There's something more to celebrate during this year's Black History Month observance.

The dream of a Smithsonian Institution museum celebrating the lives, accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans is closer to becoming a reality. President George W. Bush signed legislation on Dec. 28 to establish the location of the museum and the means of supporting it.

This is big news not just because we are getting some long overdue recognition, but also because conservatives brought this dream closer to a reality.

After the racially divisive 2000 presidential campaign, when candidate Bush received less than 10 percent of the black vote, it would have been easy for conservatives to write off Black America. As a race, we seemed to offer no political value, so depriving us of a seat at the governing table could be justified. Thankfully, this cynical scenario never occurred.

To the contrary, the Bush White House is surprisingly open to our concerns even though so many of us turned our back on him. Bush recently reaffirmed his commitment to minority higher education during this time of economic belt-tightening when he announced that funding for historically minority black colleges would rise by 30 percent by 2005.

Then there's the museum. The National Mall in Washington, D.C., is already home to a special Smithsonian museum dedicated to the Holocaust, and another currently under construction will focus on Native Americans. Since 1988, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., has struggled to add to the Smithsonian collection a museum dedicated to the achievements of African-Americans. He celebrated some small victories, but his bill never made it to the president's desk.

The goal of establishing a national museum about the African-American experience has long been an elusive one. Activist Richard Smith III discovered this in 1997 when he lobbied Congress for a slavery museum. The Washington City Paper described his futile efforts. "After a few tries, (Smith) says, he learned the drill: 'Pat on the head, a shuffle of feet and out the door you go.'"

The struggle changed in 2001. Conservatives embraced the idea of a Black History museum. Lewis found an eager and willing Senate co-sponsor in conservative Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. It's not often that bills are co-sponsored by conservatives like Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and ardent liberals like Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., but for this cause, lawmakers from across the political spectrum came together. The alliance worked. Even in the chaotic post-9/11 Congress, the bipartisan legislation quickly passed through the House and Senate.

A commission comprised of 23 museum specialists and individuals "committed to the research and study of African-American life, art, history and culture" is now tasked with figuring out where to put the new Black History museum, learning what exhibits they can find to put into it and determining how the new museum might impact regional African-American museums.

The commission has a $3 million budget and a year to complete its study.

Why did conservatives jump on the bandwagon to build an African-American museum, providing the strength necessary to finally move it forward? As a black conservative involved in the campaign, perhaps I can provide some insight.

First of all, conservatives want to spotlight the contributions blacks have made to America. The history of Black America is unique because so many of our forefathers were brought here in chains. The elders of our community lived in segregation, and we still must tolerate a degree of prejudice from certain quarters. Despite these challenges, we've survived and succeeded.

Conservatives agree this rich history and the lessons it provides deserves recognition.

Conservatives value freedom, and that is why this museum is appealing. Our freedom was restricted, and a threat to one man's freedom is a threat to everyone's freedom. All of America must recognize these past mistakes so they are not repeated in the future. And that is why a museum about the history of Black Americans should be a place of solemn reflection and celebration and not a platform for finger-pointing.

While we celebrate our history, we should celebrate our renewed partnership with our conservative allies. When only 10 percent of the black population supported them in the 2000 presidential election, they did not become vindictive and they are doing the right thing and supporting the museum. Let's find a way to work with them to bring this part of history forward.

(Rita Thompson is a member of the National Advisory Council of the African-American leadership network Project 21.)

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy

(MCPP is a nonpartisan research and educational organization devoted to improving the quality of life for all Michigan citizens by promoting sound solutions to state and local policy questions through the objective analysis of Michigan issues. MCPP seeks to broaden the policy past the belief that government intervention should be the standard solution for various issues. MCPP offers an integrated and comprehensive approach encompassing the role of voluntary associations, business, community and family, as well as government.)

MIDLAND, Mich. -- CAFE: Causing Auto Fatalities Every Day?

By Diane Katz and Lawrence W. Reed

The U.S. Senate will devote most of March to debating a $35-billion energy package that supposedly will protect Americans from both greedy sheikhs and global warming. But if enacted as proposed, the measure actually would result in a good deal of American blood needlessly spilled on U.S. highways.

At the heart of the proposal is a dramatic tightening of automotive fuel economy standards fleet-wide to 35 miles per gallon by 2013. Current standards require passenger cars to average 27.5 mpg and light trucks 20 mpg.

But the vehicle downsizing necessary to meet such a standard would jeopardize the safety of American motorists far more than any threat posed by an oil embargo or melted ice caps. For all the fury against trading blood for oil in foreign policy, the fuel economy chorus largely disregards the lives lost to satisfy mileage requirements.

Seizing on the events of Sept. 11, proponents of stricter fuel efficiency standards have taken to claiming that our "dependence" on foreign oil increases the nation's vulnerability to terrorism. National security thus demands that we surrender our "gas guzzling" sport utility vehicles for knee-scraping subcompacts.

Given that gasoline is priced less than bottled water these days, there's no evidence of a petroleum shortage. Nor has the regulatory regime known as CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) succeeded in reducing U.S. imports over the past two decades. In fact, foreign oil as a share of U.S. consumption has actually risen some 17 percent since CAFE kicked in.

Although Congress evidently prefers to demonize Detroit, it is misguided government policy that most often disrupts the energy market. As chronicled by Donald Losman of the National Defense University, the worst of the '70s oil shocks, for example, were more a consequence of federal price controls than OPEC's market muscle.

Fortunately, Americans have heeded their own experiences rather than the tired rhetoric of the auto bashers. Indeed, small trucks comprise nearly half the vehicles on the road today, and most motorists instinctively know what empirical research and the laws of physics confirm: Larger vehicles are safer than small ones.

But stricter CAFE standards would require further downsizing of the nation's fleet. A 10 percent reduction in weight, for example, increases mileage by 8 percent on average, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

However, reducing vehicle weight by 500 pounds also increases crash fatalities between 14 percent and 27 percent annually (2,000 to 4,000 additional deaths), according to research by Harvard University and the Brookings Institution. And the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has found that cars with a curb weight under 2,500 pounds account for two-and-a-half times as many crash fatalities as sport utility vehicles weighing 5,000 pounds or more.

Not only are SUVs deemed wasteful, but CAFE advocates claim they pose a mortal threat to the sedan-driving public. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, passenger car occupants are 27 times more likely to be killed in a side-impact crash with an SUV than those riding in the larger vehicle. This fact supposedly also warrants the size limitations that tougher CAFE rules would impose.

But it is also a fact that highway fatality rates have fallen more than 20 percent during the same period in which SUVs have swelled in number. According to government statistics, the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles of travel fell to a historic low of 1.5 in 2000, the latest year for which statistics are available.

The improved fatality rate is undoubtedly driven, in part, by the rarity of fatal collisions between passenger cars and SUVs, which account for a mere 4 percent of all car occupant deaths. Single-car crashes actually account for 42 percent of all highway fatalities.

Driving habits largely beyond the reach of government intervention are the primary cause of most traffic fatalities. Nearly two-thirds of those killed in crashes were unbuckled, and 40 percent of all traffic deaths were alcohol related.

As to the notion that SUVs are major contributors to global warming, Robert Crandall of the Brookings Institution has shown that emissions from all new vehicles amount to around 2 percent of all CO2 emissions in the U.S. "Changing truck fuel standards is an inefficient way to address global warming," he says.

Congress has been fully apprised of CAFE's inherent dangers. In the upcoming Senate debate, then, lawmakers need only decide whether to score political points or save American lives.

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