Protest Movements That Work

I chatted recently with Fabio Rojas of Indiana University about how protest movements go from anger to concrete change.

The bottom line for Rojas is this: However justified violence might be, it doesn’t tend to produce the policy change that earnest protestors would want.

In my limited experience, it takes days or week for protestors to even begin thinking about transferring righteous anger into demands for policy change. As we continue to wait for the Supreme Court to decide if they’ll take a case involving “qualified immunity,” it seems fitting that protestors might demand a federal legislative fix to the court-invented doctrine.

Tonight in Louisville: More #BreonnaTaylor Protests

It’s gut-wrenching to see my hometown like this.

It’s pretty clear what protestors are asking for. They want to feel that justice for Breonna Taylor is done, and they have every right to demand it.

My fear right now is that protests last night have set the stage for a potentially very different and more violent engagement with police tonight. Here’s hoping that police decide that the best response isn’t heavy handed.

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.