Attention Econ Profs

This might make for a helpful test question at the end of this semester:

Jobs are essential for Americans to access health care and feed their families. And no rational employee would risk their job and career because their workplace culture is disadvantaging their ability to parent — especially in a precarious labor market. Today, the unemployment rate is about 3.2 percent — suggesting that jobs are far and few to come by and, should someone get laid off, another person would be able to take the job with ease. Tie that with the fact that wages are flattened and costs of living are rising, and the masculine structures that surround work are able to persist — and have implications wider than the workplace itself.

“When So-Called Work Ethic Replaces Productivity, American Families Suffer”

Let me know if you use it.

Six Degrees of Brett Kavanaugh

In 2010, Ryan Young and I had an op-ed in IBD detailing how a recent regulation would empower the IRS to license tax preparers. We argued that it was a bad idea for several reasons. To my knowledge, we were the first people to write about this particular illegal IRS scheme.

At the time I was dating a girl who later became my wife. Her grandfather, as luck would have it, is a tax preparer. He would have been put out of business immediately if that regulation had persisted.

My girlfriend, now wife, worked at the Institute for Justice. Her grandfather soon became one of three clients in a case handed by IJ challenging that regulation. The case was Loving (et al) v. IRS.

Now I’m searching for interesting opinions from Brett Kavanaugh since he’s been nominated to the Supreme Court and I have to have some idea of what he’s done as a judge, and wouldn’t you know it …

Legacy of Smoot-Hawley

This video (from 2011) held up just fine …

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act was a grave error for U.S. trade policy. As the United States slid into depression, the act represented a desperation move by Congress and President Hoover. Since then, presidents have regarded free trade as the rule rather than the exception. Economist Douglas A. Irwin discusses the Smoot-Hawley Act and its legacy.

Related: Here’s a brief history of U.S. trade policy with Irwin I recorded earlier this year:

What Drives the Anger of Kentucky’s Education Establishment?

I submitted a brief commentary to several of Kentucky’s public radio stations on the teacher protests and subsequent political activity. So far, no takers. The audio is here. The text is below. Please forgive textual errors. This was written to be read aloud. You radio people know what I’m saying, right? Enjoy.

Teachers are angry at state government. So many teachers feigned illness in order to protest that many districts had to close on multiple days. Many teachers are now running for office. But why are they so angry? And more importantly, how justified is that anger? “A pension is a promise,” is the slogan so visible at teacher protests. The slogan is, at the very least, seriously misplaced. After all, lawmakers left pensions for current teachers and retirees virtually untouched. It’s safe to say that the crude rhetoric aimed at the governor and lawmakers is NOT over a nonexistent change.

So what’s driving it? Teachers seem to be angry about three things: Reforms to Kentucky pensions adopted by the General Assembly and Governor Bevin, cuts to public sector spending, and a third thing that I’ll get to later.

First, pensions …

Teachers say they’re upset about two things with regard to pensions. The first is the way lawmakers did reform. I agree almost entirely. Late-night legislating included using another bill as a vehicle for some substantial, but let’s face it, overdue, pension changes. The tactics, separate from the substance, should strike everyone as a bit underhanded. The lack of transparency in the reform is the most reasonable source of outrage among teachers.

But I suspect transparency isn’t what this is about …

Teachers also say they’re upset about the reform as applied to future pension beneficiaries. They say the changes will make it harder for Kentucky’s public schools to attract and keep good teachers.

That claim is silly.

Data adjusted for cost of living and reported by National Public Radio in March shows that the average Kentucky school teacher earns more than the average teacher in 42 of the other 49 states. That same average teacher also earns more than the average Kentucky household. If you’re going to be a teacher, Kentucky is one of the best places to do it.

But I doubt that concern about future teachers is the real source of anger among Kentucky’s education establishment.

So, how about spending cuts …

Yes, K-12 education spending as a share of Kentucky’s GDP has been in decline since 2009, but that’s also true for the rest of the country. According to the National Science Foundation, in 2014 Kentucky devoted 7% more of its available resources to K-12 education than the nation as a whole. That’s a big difference.

But I suspect the real reason Kentucky teachers are so apprehensive about change … is a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could be handed down at any time: Janus v. AFSCME.

Janus is Mark Janus, a child-support specialist working for the government in Illinois. AFSCME is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Janus’s labor union.

Mr. Janus wants nothing to do with the union. He wants to opt out of the chunk of his paycheck he must fork over for union activities, political or otherwise.

If the Supreme Court goes for Mr. Janus’s claims, public sector unions might never be able to compel contributions from government workers ever again.

It’s a basic First Amendment issue of free association, and being able to decide what causes your money supports.

So this anger, these protests, the teachers running for office, may just be the last hurrah for public sector unions and their waning political power. For Kentucky taxpayers who will pay for the past mismanagement of pensions, and Kentucky parents, who have been languishing in an education system that has consistently opposed even a little educational freedom, this change is overdue, as well.

‘Nation’s Top Teachers’ Air Grievances with EdSec DeVos

Some of the “Nation’s Top Teachers” met with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and aired some of their concerns.

Jon Hazell, Oklahoma’s teacher of the year, told DeVos that school choice policies are draining traditional public schools of resources in his state. He specifically referenced charter schools and private schools in voucher programs, Hazell told HuffPost. His comment received support from other teachers in the room.

But Hazell, a Republican who voted for President Donald Trump, said he found DeVos’ responses to his concerns unsatisfactory.

DeVos told Hazell that students might be choosing these schools to get out of low-performing public schools, he said.

“I said, ‘You’re the one creating the ‘bad’ schools by taking all the kids that can afford to get out and leaving the kids who can’t behind,’” Hazell said he told DeVos in response. (Hazell said he was not referring to DeVos specifically as creating the “bad” schools but to school choice policies generally.)

Emphasis mine. Let’s take this complaint seriously: By allowing wealthy (or merely resourceful) parents to take their children out of certain schools to pursue a better education, public schools can become bad. This comes from the loss of funds when parents remove their children. That’s average daily attendance money and funding tied to individual students. In states where school choice is more prevalent, it may also mean money that follows the student to the school that parents choose, and thus draining the “common schools” of some additional fraction of funding. These reductions will reduce resources available for instructional staff and materials.

But Mr. Hazell may also be implicitly arguing that by exercising a choice, parents are “taking” better students to schools of choice. The argument here seems to be this: Test scores look bad because all the choosy parents chose a different school, and that sorting process makes some schools look better than others on paper. Regulators and state lawmakers will inevitably look to the poor-performing schools and say, “Why can’t you be more like this school that the wealthy parents chose?” It’s just an unfair comparison.

If I’ve presented an accurate picture of Mr. Hazell’s concerns, the argument has intuitive appeal, but it holds some pretty troubling implications for what to do about the perceived problems: the draining of resources and allowing some students to leave (the ones who “can afford to get out”) while others must languish.

If this represents the opinion of teachers generally, and not just Oklahoma’s teacher of the year, what would they propose as the fix?

As a legal matter, it could necessarily mean overturning a case known as Pierce. The Supreme Court in that case threw out an Oregon law that required all young people to attend public schools. The decision in the case upheld the basic civil liberty of parents to play a decisive role in how their own children become educated.

I can’t imagine that teachers want to overturn a landmark civil liberties case just so they can more effectively protect public schools from parents who just want their kids to get a more robust education. And if you view every parent as a potential threat to your preferred status quo, what does that say about your desire as an educator to serve their needs?

Thankfully, this is simply not where the debate sits with respect to school choice. Public school teachers, however well-intentioned, know in their hearts that the ability of parents to choose a better school for their kids is a fundamental decision and one that no parent wants taken away. Any political move to rein in every parent who would otherwise exercise school choice will be met with outrage. Such a move would end the image of schoolteachers as lovable/underpaid/devoted public servants.

In Kentucky, the animosity aimed at any form of school choice has become palpable, especially after teachers in Jefferson County appear to view the possible takeover of the school district by the state as a shadowy conspiracy to impose charter schools from Frankfort. Whether or not that’s a fair characterization, there’s no question that Kentucky’s largest school district has a long history of disappointing performance, most especially for the low-income and minority students who reside there. A state takeover might well be a starting point to provide those parents a more-than-passively-helpless role in ensuring a quality education for their children.

(Story via Walter Olson)

RIP Patrick F. McManus

My freshman year in high school, I joined the school’s speech team, reputed to be one of the best in the state. My family and I had just moved from Tennessee to Kentucky and I didn’t know a soul. Speech team offered me an opportunity to express my inner buffoon (with tested, scripted material) and possibly make a friend or impress a girl and win a trophy or two in the process.
 
Storytelling was one of my categories. The first story I did was “Muldoon in Love” from Patrick F. McManus’s They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They?
 
I can’t remember exactly how I got the book. I suspect my dad bought it for me since he seemed to be a McManus fan from various short stories in Field and Stream and other magazines.
 
“Muldoon in Love” is a story about a young idiot observing his friend (also a young idiot) trying to impress a teacher with various gifts. The teacher was obviously unfamiliar with the ways in which country boys expressed their undying devotion to a teacher. She was eventually driven mad by the process of receiving such unorthodox and disgusting gifts.
 
The story killed in competition. It destroyed. I cleaned up.
 
If you want to read to your kids and have any kind of knack for voices and gestures, the short stories of Patrick F. McManus make a great place to start. The stories are unerringly vivid and hilarious. RIP.