Think tanks wrap-up

Feb. 14, 2003 at 5:16 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks.

The Cato Institute

WASHINGTON -- School choice can help states meet budget challenges

by David Salisbury

Washington Gov. Gary Locke's response to President Bush's State of the Union Address highlighted state budget woes. Washington and other states are facing the "worst budget crises since World War II," Locke said, and are being forced to "cut vital services from police to fire to healthcare."

However, reforms in one area of state spending could both save money and improve services. That area is education.

Since public education accounts for the largest category of state spending in every state, governors should look for ways to optimize education spending. One way to do that is to give parents a free choice of public or private schools. Since private schools cost less than average per pupil spending in government-run schools, states would save money.

According to the National Center on Education Statistics, per pupil spending in private schools is around $4,600. Washington state per-pupil spending is currently $6,100. So, giving parents a voucher of $4,600 for each child who switches to a private school would save the state $1,500 per child. Washington State has nearly a million elementary and secondary students, so they would save $1.5 billion of the state's $13 billion education budget.

Some states have already started to move in this direction, reducing class sizes and saving on their education budgets. Florida, which allows children with disabilities to attend private or public schools, will save nearly $8 million dollars this year because of students attending less expensive private schools. With participation in the program doubling each year, the savings will continue to grow.

Because of the recently adopted constitutional mandate to reduce class sizes in Florida, lawmakers there are considering expanding tuition vouchers and tax credits as a way to reduce the enrollment and budget burden on the state's elementary and secondary schools. The number of private schools in Florida has grown from 1,785 in May 2000 to 2,138 this year, demonstrating that new private schools open as demand increases.

Arizona gives tax breaks to residents who contribute to private school scholarship funds. Since the program began five years ago, more than 19,000 students have received scholarships to attend private schools. If the program continues to grow at current rates, by 2015 the scholarship credit will fund 35,000 to 65,000 scholarships every year, saving taxpayers as much as $100 million annually.

States could also save money by expanding dramatically the number of charter schools. Charter schools are public schools that operate free from the regulations and requirements of the local public school district. According to a recent survey of the nation's charter schools, the average per pupil cost is $4,507, significantly less than the $7,000 average in traditional schools, and charters are forced to use that money to underwrite facilities costs not included in traditional public schools' operating budgets.

Parental demand for charter schools is growing. "On a dollar-for-dollar basis, successful charter schools are outperforming their traditional public school brethren and doing more for students, and that performance is why parental demand is increasing," said Jeanne Allen, director of the Center for Education Reform, which conducted the survey.

An even more radical approach would be to allow communities to opt out of the public school system altogether and just let private schools take care of educating children. The idea isn't so unrealistic as you might think. Maine and Vermont have allowed communities to utilize private schools exclusively for decades. Some of those communities have never even built a public school.

In 1995, the citizens of Arrowsic, Maine, voted down an attempt to build a public school. Arrowsic preferred the freedom of being able to select among various private schools.

In Vermont, 17 towns either have no public school or have a school too small to accommodate all local students, and 95 towns have no public high school.

Rather than building their own public schools, the state and town combine funds to pay tuition for students at local private schools. Families choose from more than 83 independent schools or utilize public schools in surrounding towns. In 1998, the town of Winhall voted to close its public school and become a "tuition town," sending its students instead to two local private schools.

Tuition vouchers, tuition-tax credits, charter schools, and even total privatization are all viable solutions to the states' budget crises. Rather than cutting basic services and raising taxes, governors like Gary Locke should implement school choice programs to save money and improve education.

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

The Heartland Institute

(HI is an independent, market-oriented think tank whose mission is to help build social movements in support of ideas that empower people. Such ideas include parental choice in education, choice and personal responsibility in healthcare, market-based approaches to environmental protection, privatization of public services, and deregulation in areas where property rights and markets do a better job than government bureaucracies.)

CHICAGO -- Please don't poop in my salad

by Joseph L. Bast

Anti-smoking advocates sure know how to hurl insults at those who defend smokers' rights. In response to an opinion piece of mine that ran recently in a daily newspaper, I received an email from "Harry" in Milwaukee saying if "Bast promises not to smoke within 10 feet of me, I promise not to poop on his salad bowl while he's eating." Only he didn't say "poop."

Thanks, Harry. I hope the guys you have lunch with know about your curious habit.

Defending smokers isn't popular, but if you care about jobs, property rights, the rise of the Nanny State, and the use of junk science in public policy, you just can't look the other way when smoker abuse occurs.

On Jan. 7, opponents of legislation to ban smoking in Chicago's restaurants and bars had a chance to testify at a hearing at City Hall. For the better part of a day, dozens of restaurateurs, bar owners and managers, waiters and waitresses, experts on ventilation, community leaders, and at least one public health expert testified that a ban is unwanted, unnecessary, would destroy jobs and hurt tourism, and would violate rights.

When it was over, Alderman Ed Smith, chairman of the Health Committee, told the Chicago Tribune, "there was nothing said in the hearing today that we had not heard all along. It's the same old soup just warmed over."

Smith apparently slept through some pretty compelling testimony.

For example, a Gallup poll was cited showing 52 percent of the public believes restaurants should set aside space for smokers, versus 44 percent that supports a ban. Support for a ban would have been even less if respondents were told restaurants already are required to make accommodations for nonsmokers, or that bans on smoking could cause the loss of jobs or closure of small businesses.

Nonsmokers who visit restaurants and bars are not complaining. The Public Health Department of the City of Chicago received just 16 complaints about cigarette smoke in restaurants and bars in all of 2001. If current accommodations are inadequate, why aren't nonsmokers complaining?

A smoking ban would have a severe negative effect on local businesses. Restaurant and bar owners testified that smokers spend more, on average, than nonsmokers on alcohol, food, and tips. Consequently, a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars would reduce business and sales by 50 percent or more.

Chicago-area restaurants, bars, and hotels employ more than 118,000 people (with wages of more than $1.85 billion). A smoking ban would mean fewer jobs, less tourism, and the loss of millions of dollars in sales and property taxes.

Bar and restaurant owners stressed the fact that no one is forced to eat or work at establishments that allow smoking. Bars and restaurants are privately owned businesses that earn a profit by giving customers what they want. As demand grows for smoke-free entertainment, the owners of these establishments will deliver it; indeed, many already do. Since they own the property, their right to set the rules of conduct concerning guests should be respected.

Science writer Michael Fumento testified how the threat of secondhand smoke has been greatly exaggerated. Claims that secondhand smoke causes as many as 65,000 early deaths in the United States each year have been debunked as "junk science." Studies by the Congressional Research Service, World Health Organization, and U.S. Department of Energy all failed to find secondhand smoke to be a significant health risk. In 1998, a U.S. District Court ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency's attempt to classify secondhand smoke as a known human carcinogen.

Why, then, is Chicago's City Council debating a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants when the public doesn't want it, the public health benefits would be nonexistent, and the costs in terms of jobs and our rights would be so heavy? Part of the answer lies in the corps of tax-financed professional anti-smoking activists. Lobbying for this legislation is how they earn a paycheck.

But I think there's another reason. There are far more bars and restaurants in Chicago than there are cops to enforce a smoking ban. Deciding which establishments to ticket would provide many opportunities for corruption, favoritism, and harassment. I think Chicago's crafty aldermen are looking for another way to shake down bar and restaurant owners, what we Chicagoans call "payola."

With 645 murders in 2002, Chicago barely missed repeating its title as "murder capital of the United States." Diverting scarce law enforcement resources from fighting real crime to harassing smokers just so some alderman can line his pockets with bribes is disgusting, irresponsible, and could be downright deadly.

And that, Harry, is why I defend smokers' rights.

(Joseph Bast is president of the Heartland Institute, which is based in Chicago.)

The 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 a radical shift in the intellectual climate by promoting the market economy, private property, sound money and peaceful international relations, while opposing government intervention.)

AUBURN, Ala.-- Costs of war on Iraq

By Christopher Westley

It's finally dawning on commentators that the economy is in pretty sorry shape.

Stock valuations have fallen 33 percent since Bush became president; investors are still withdrawing money; consumer sentiment is at historic lows; consumer debt is at historic highs; we face the worst hiring slump in 20 years; production, as measured by the gross domestic product minus government, is falling; the deficit is ballooning; oil and gas prices are soaring even as retail and travel sectors slash prices; and all of Europe is clearly falling into recession.

What's a government to do? Why, go to war, of course.

Sometime in March, it seems, U.S. troops will cross the Kuwaiti and Turkish borders and descend on Baghdad. While some resistance is expected, it cannot amount to much, given that the Iraqi army is only a shell of its former self of 12 years ago. It has become so weak it almost seems misleading to call this conflict a war. The Baghdad of 2003 isn't the Tokyo of 1945, notwithstanding the effect that thinking otherwise would have on CNN's ratings next month.

In fact, as far as wars go, this one may be as exciting as the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama to oust Manuel Noriega, a wretched creep who, in hindsight, looks much like today's Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Both were dictators, although for some reason Manuel outscored Saddam in the strongman category. Both were supported for several years by millions of dollars, courtesy of hapless U.S. taxpayers. (We are certain that Saddam has the dreaded weapons of mass destruction because many of them arrived in pre-1991 Iraq on U.S. transport planes.)

Both men also lived to see their suitors in Washington turn on them when geopolitical realities changed. I hope that toppling Saddam will prove to be as easy as toppling Noriega, if only because such a scenario would be in line with conservative estimates for U.S. military and Iraqi civilian casualties.

But I also hope that this conflict can still be averted. Its full costs have yet to be considered. This is by design, because their serious consideration would result in much less popular support for the war.

The money costs of this war will be great. Larry Lindsay, President Bush's former economic adviser, low-balled an estimate of $200 billion. (Exactly one twenty-millionth of this amount would pay off my student loan.) For this, Lindsay was told to resign for having the political idiocy of stating such an astounding figure publicly, as though a healthy democracy does not need to know such confusing data. If truth isn't one of the first casualties of war, then Lindsay's superfluous job surely qualifies.

At least when Lindsay was on the government payroll, his salary was included in the White House budget. Next month's Iraqi Follies, whatever billions they end up costing, are off budget. After all, budgeting the war would hinder the ability of the political class to target new spending programs to areas of electoral importance, which is why the Bush budget allows the state to grow at an even faster clip than former President Lyndon Johnson dared.

This decision is not exactly a profile in courage, especially for a president who, in his inaugural, humbly spoke of "confronting problems instead of passing them on to future generations." Since off-budget spending is most often financed by revving up the dollar's printing press, it is likely that another cost of this war will be a general increase in the price level in years hence, furthering the downward slide of real incomes that has been occurring over the last three decades.

Got milk? Years from now, you will pay for this war in the form of higher grocery bills.

I say: If the war is so popular with the present generation, then make it foot the bill now. Such an economic reality, stated firmly by our leadership, may have forced a more realistic assessment of the Iraqi threat and a more serious consideration of less costly alternatives to the present buildup of forces. Surely it is possible that the constitutional provisions for "letters of Marque and Reprisal" may have been equally effective at effecting regime change, but at a fraction of the final cost.

But this cost, at least in an accounting sense, can never be as devastating as others that do not fit in the official statistics. These costs are the unmeasurables. For instance, resources that your local factory might otherwise use for business expansion can easily be appropriated to support military empire, and result in layoffs and reduced output. The irony is that many of those who are laid off or who otherwise cannot find work will be forced to join the military in order to continue to support their families. Since politicians on the left and the right are seriously considering military conscription, some may have no choice.

There will be other immeasurables. The Constitution is further weakened whenever the president aggressively uses troops against countries that have not threatened us and whose greatest sin is the inability to disprove a negative. One billion Muslims will become even more angry and alienated, while the likelihood of future Sept. 11's in response to this latest effort at regime change increases exponentially.

How many more liberties will a shaken public trade for security in future years? Essential rights are already shaky ground. Is getting Saddam worth it? Such costs more accurately reflect the full cost of the war in Iraq, and because they are hard to measure, they are more often ignored. But they have been predicted.

"War," said Ludwig von Mises "is harmful, not only to the conquered but to the conqueror. Society has arisen out of the works of peace; the essence of society is peacemaking. Peace and not war is the father of all things. Only economic action has created the wealth around us; labor, not the profession of arms, brings happiness. Peace builds, war destroys."

(Christopher Westley, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of economics at Jacksonville State University.)

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