Column: Is American society ready for the coronavirus pandemic?
A few months after September 11, 2001, David Brooks went back and looked at coverage of Pearl Harbor for an article in the Weekly Standard (“After Pearl Harbor,” December 10, 2001). What he saw intrigued him. A sense of unity and patriotism followed both surprise attacks. But media after Pearl Harbor had none of the sorrow, sensitivity, and angst that filled the news, with reason, after 9/11. Recognizing the inevitable costs of war, Americans on the home front at the outset of World War II were nonetheless eager to carry on as usual. They did not apologize or second-guess. They soldiered on. “When you step back and contemplate the range of post-Pearl Harbor media,” Brooks wrote, “you are struck by how extraordinarily proud of itself America then was.”
I revisited Brooks’s article this week while thinking about the differences between America during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 and America during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic today. Some of the distinctions are self-evident. America is far more wealthy, free, and technologically advanced than it was then. We enjoy the benefits of incorporating half the population into our economy and society, of ending de jure anti-black racism, of attracting the best and most ambitious talent from across the globe. We are no longer a rising power but a reluctant hegemon. A raw deal awaits any American who trades places with a doppelgänger from midway through Woodrow Wilson’s second term.
What changed is the American ethos. Expressive individualism replaced self-restraint. Narcissism and the therapeutic sensibility triumphed over the reticence and sense of tragedy that comes from living in places and times where there is no safety net and death is a constant presence. The culture of debunking, revisionism, and repudiation informs education, entertainment, art, and occasionally sport.
The size, scope, and ambition of the federal government and its managers is far greater now than it was then. So are the public’s expectations of government capabilities and performance. The institutions that stand between the individual and state have weakened where they have not crumbled. Family, community, religion, and voluntary association attenuate as modernity deprives them of their traditional functions.
The United States is beginning to shut down and self-isolate. Its G7 partners range from states of quarantine (Italy) to lockdown (France) to closed borders (Germany). Countries do not make such decisions on a lark. Nor is the reason for these extraordinary measures a secret. What terrifies the authorities is the prospect of surges in infection that would push public health systems beyond capacity and result in mass death. To prevent a medical catastrophe, the authorities guarantee an economic one.
The social capacity of America has received less attention. The worst-case scenarios anticipate an epidemic that lasts until a vaccine can be mass produced 18 months from now. Do we believe that American society could withstand until then the additional pressures that have been put on it over the past week?
The typical discussion of how coronavirus will change your life focuses on a specific practice or sector of industry. You hear a lot about telework, home schooling, vote by mail, or movies released on Video on Demand rather than in theaters. This piecemeal approach is understandable. Perhaps the problem is so complex, the potential extent of the disruption so massive, that the way to approach it is to study one aspect at a time.
But an extended lockdown will affect more than activities. It will warp institutions. There is a debate over how Congress might operate under social distancing. What about churches, synagogues, and mosques? Church attendance was falling before the virus. Even if the pandemic were to revive the religious impulse, would-be prodigal sons won’t be able to attend services. Church finances—nonprofits in general—will be harmed. In some cases, the damage will be irreparable.
The family enters this crisis beleaguered. My American Enterprise Institute colleague Nicholas Eberstadt writes in National Affairs of “the collapse of work for adult men, and the retreat from the world of work of growing numbers of men of conventional working age.” The recent improvements in the overall labor force participation rate will disappear if the economic fallout of the pandemic is large and enduring. Long-term joblessness and lack of prospects are barriers to marriage and to family formation. And the two-parent family is the seedbed for the character formation of young people. The social costs are enormous. And they are mounting.
Bill de Blasio’s indecision over whether to close New York City schools revealed that these institutions perform parental functions as much as educational ones. The school has become much more than a place of instruction. It is the site of feeding, caring, and supervision (if not disciplining) of children. Deprived of the shelter of the local school, children and young adults will have to look to parents for meals, instruction, and surveillance. Are parents ready to fulfill the responsibilities assumed by the state? What will happen when parents return to work or look for new employment? Will teenagers obey a guidance or curfew that is not enforced under penalty of law?
Large pools of nonworking or truant males are not associated with social or political stability. But they loom large in our future. The economic self-isolation of America can continue only for so long as American society permits. And if Americans, as they have tended to do, revolt against strictures from above, how will authorities respond? None of the answers are comforting. If the coronavirus overwhelms America’s social capacity, our government won’t be in a position to choose between an economic crisis or a pandemic. It will have both.
Apparently, the majority of Democratic presidential contenders want to parade student debt sob stories around. These stories don't show the full picture.
Of all the pandering showcased during Democrats’ attempts to win back the presidency, wiping out student debt ranked at or near the top.
“I believe that education is the future for this country,” socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders barked during the first round of Democratic primary debates, explaining that’s why we must “eliminate student debt and we do that by placing a tax on Wall Street.” Sen. Amy Klobuchar spoke similarly. “I can tell you this,” the Minnesota senator demagogued, “if billionaires can pay off their yachts, students should be able to pay off their student loans.”
There can be no serious discussion of this issue, however, in 60-second sound bites. So, beyond the soak-the-rich shtick that shades every Democratic economic debate point, the candidates resorted to two tactics: shock and sob stories.
The size of student debt provides the jolt necessary to peddle their plans to the American populace. “I got $100,000 in student loan debt myself,” California Rep. Eric Swalwell bemoaned. “College affordability is personal for us,” South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg shared, noting that his household has “six-figure student debt.” So, sure, “I believe in reducing student debt,” Buttigieg announced.
Next came the sob stories. Those student loans are suffocating a generation, the candidates suggested. After all, “40 million of us who can’t start a family,” the diaper-changing daddy Swalwell contradictorily proclaimed, adding that they “Can’t take a good idea and start a business and can’t buy our first home.”
“We can’t put people in a position where they aren’t able to go on and move on,” frontrunner Joe Biden agreed.
Tellingly, when not constrained by the debate format, these same politicians push the same narrative to garner support for bailing out student loans, all while the media provides the Democrats a free assist.
“With loans totaling more than $130,000,” Buttigieg’s household is “among the 43 million people in the United States who owe federal student loan debt,” the Associated Press reported last month, before highlighting the myriad plans to bail out student debt pushed by a cadre of presidential candidates. The AP then furthered the narrative by using statistics to shock the public into socialism:
The debtors are so numerous and the total debt so high—more than $1.447 trillion, according to federal statistics—that several of the Democratic candidates have made major policy proposals to address the crisis. Their ideas include wiping away debt, lowering interest rates, expanding programs that tie repayment terms to income and making college free or debt-free. Student loan debt is often discussed as an issue that mostly affects millennials, but it cuts across age groups. Federal statistics show that about 7.8 million people age 50 and older owe a combined $291.9 billion in student loans. People age 35 to 49, a group that covers older millennials such as Buttigieg as well as Generation X, owe $548.4 billion. That group includes more than 14 million people.
Then the sad tales continue the sales pitch for a government solution to student debt—a ploy that began well before the 2016 elections. Here’s one of myriad media examples.
“Shayna Pilnick, 28, would like to buy an apartment but can’t afford a mortgage. Jacqueline Mannino, 23, and her boyfriend, Benjamin Prowse, 26, want to get married. Jacob Childerson, 24, and his wife, Jennifer, 25, wish they could start a family, but they live with Jennifer’s parents,” is how USA Today opened its 2013 profile of millennials unable to obtain their dream life because they are “tethered” to “tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.”
There are many ways to counter these arguments, based on both economics and equity. But it’s hard to counter soundbites with sense, so instead, here are my inquiries for these politicians, the press, and all the students demanding relief from the burdens of their debt: Tell me your sob stories from age 12 on, not what you can’t do now, but what you couldn’t do then. Tell what you had to do then and through college to avoid what is now, to you, crushing student debt.
What time did you get up to deliver papers in junior high? How many hours a week did you work since 14 to save for college? How many toilets did you scrub? How many high school football games did you miss because you were working? What dream college did you forgo to avoid taking out student loans?
Which 8 a.m. class did you take so you could complete your major’s requirements and still work in the afternoon? Which bus line did you take to get to your job because you didn’t borrow to buy a car? What job did you work full-time while completing your MBA at night?
What did you do to afford college? What didn’t you do because of the cost of college? Were you getting tattoos and traveling your way through college? Were you pledging and partying? Did you go to your top-choice university? Maybe an out-of-state public university with higher tuition rates? Which spring break and study abroad destinations did you visit along the way?
Did you splurge on your fairytale wedding instead of paying down your student loans? What cars did you buy or lease? Where did you live? What electronics did you own? What clothing and other personal expenditures did you have? In short, show me the money and how you spent it!
None of my business? You’re right. Nor is your student debt my business or my problem.
Garden State Equality claims its curriculum is for the good and safety of vulnerable children. Its teachings, however, result in the exact opposite.
A little more than a year ago, the New Jersey Legislature passed, and Gov. Phil Murphy signed, a law mandating the teaching of LGBT subject matter in public school curriculum, beginning in 2020-21.
In response to the law, the activist group Garden State Equality has prepared a curriculum, currently piloted in 12 New Jersey schools and planned to be employed statewide in the fall. This is consistent with Murphy’s vision. At Garden State Equality’s 2019 Ball, he said, “I applaud Garden State Equality for not only leading this effort, but for your continued work in helping to craft this curriculum.”
Garden State Equality (GSE) is an LGBT advocacy organization devoted to instilling its vision of “justice” through an “LGBT lens” in society. Consistent with its vision, GSE’s self-described “LGBT-inclusive” curriculum spans all subjects — math, English, social studies, health, science, visual and performing arts, and world languages — beginning in fifth grade. Having New Jersey’s 1.4 million public school students see the world through a LGBT lens is the goal in every class and, thus, now the goal of public education. This is well in excess of the curriculum law’s vague requirements.
In the way it is being implemented, the law is simply an instrument empowering GSE to accomplish its mission and vision, embedding sexual and gender ideology throughout curriculum. GSE envisions its curriculum “as a model that we can bring to every other state in the nation.”
A number of grassroots parent coalitions from across New Jersey, representing the state’s diversity, are raising awareness about and opposing the co-opting of public school curriculum for such ideological purposes. Historically, public schools have been the gateway to American society for immigrant families. But now, immigrant families all over New Jersey are deeply troubled and perplexed regarding the apparent goals of public education and the interests it serves.
New Jersey’s more than 600 school districts are not technically required to adopt GSE’s curriculum, although they are required to comply with the new state LGBT curriculum law. GSE is also substantially involved in drafting the New Jersey Department of Education’s “guidance” to schools about implementing the LGBT curriculum law. However, New Jersey school districts are not required to accept such state “guidance,” allowing districts to take a careful and educated approach to the curriculum law’s implementation.
The sexual and gender ideology advanced through GSE’s curriculum, and through its direct involvement in the state’s guidance to public schools, should be rejected by the boards of education of all New Jersey school districts for at least the following reasons.
The stated goal of sexual and gender ideology is to “get rid of the gender binary.” At public hearings concerning the school curriculum, advocates consistently characterize such a goal as a “must.”
We cannot get rid of the gender binary, however, as humans are a sexually dimorphic species. This reality can be denied, silenced, threatened, and punished. But it cannot be “rid of.” The existence of every person is proof of the union of what is uniquely male and uniquely female. While GSE may reject this most basic truth of humanity, it cannot eradicate it. And New Jersey public schools should not partner with its futile efforts to do so.
Beyond denying the gender binary, GSE insists a biological male who calls himself a woman is, in fact, a woman. If that’s the case, what is a woman? “Woman” becomes a word without meaning — as is the case when a biological female claims she’s a man. GSE’s ideology commands students to use such words. This does not educate, enlighten, or advance understanding. It mandates irrationality within school curriculum.
GSE claims its teachings are for the good and safety of vulnerable children. Those teachings, however, result in the exact opposite. GSE demands giving puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to children, impeding the development of their bodies’ more than 37 trillion cells. It even demands the removal of healthy body parts, which is profoundly evil. These practices are the sexual, physical, mental, and emotional abuse of children, manipulating their bodies to conform to an ideology.
Teaching and endorsing such practices doesn’t educate, but makes students vulnerable to abuse. I don’t use the words “abuse” and “evil” to be inflammatory, but because they fit the described practices. GSE doesn’t accept the right of anyone to impede the imposition of its will on children’s minds and bodies, preventing even parents from taking actions to protect their own children from abusive measures.
The sexual and gender ideology of GSE and like-minded advocates addresses the most basic questions of life and meaning concerning our humanity. It even has its own language and vocabulary, which it expects everyone to adopt. It is a totalizing and comprehensive belief system, which functions as a religion. Instituting compulsory teaching within public schools effectively establishes such ideology as a state religion.
One of its core convictions is intolerance for any dissent. It mars those who disagree with epithets, such as “haters” and “bigots,” applying these labels to many families and students within every school district in New Jersey who would dare express disagreement. These accusations even include parents who object to giving their own child the harmful drugs commanded by sexual and gender activists.
The ideology insists that every new word or idea must be affirmed. Acceptance of sexual and gender ideology renders a person defenseless to its demands. None of this carries educational value.
The Kelsey Coalition, formed in 2019 by “a group of concerned parents whose children have been harmed by transgender healthcare practices,” can serve as a resource to school districts, allowing them to make informed decisions for educating and protecting New Jersey students. As its website indicates, its membership now includes:
Surely, it would be highly immoral, unethical, and contrary to the educational and health interests of students not to inform them of the severe and irreparable harms that result from transgender physical interventions. Sexual and gender ideology pathologizes puberty, teaching that its suppression is a “treatment.” This article from an endocrinologist would educate students regarding life-altering effects on brain development, bone density, and sexual function, among other harms.
Regarding sex and gender, we are often warned against being on the “wrong side of history.” One day, the story will be told, and a chapter will cover what was done to children’s minds and bodies in the latter half of the 2010s into the 2020s. It will be included among the atrocities in the story of humanity’s inhumanity. It will be regarded with special horror because children will have been victimized in an impossible attempt to vindicate false adult beliefs and behaviors.
This historical moment provides an opportunity for every board of education member of every school district in New Jersey to be on the side of the story in which people courageously took a stand to protect children from such harms and horrors.
The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights 'will investigate whether the University expresses an unlawful preference for women in its employment and hiring practices.'
The U.S. Department of Education recently opened an unusual Title IX inquiry against Georgetown University: The DOE’s Office of Civil Rights “will investigate whether the University expresses an unlawful preference for women in its employment and hiring practices.”
In today’s America, diversity bureaucrats control academia (even though they are anything but diverse in politics and sex). Millennial, antinomian hate against the legacy of “dead white men” in the Western canon has become the norm. The political monoculture of American academia is a synthesis of communism and feminism, taught across the nation in temples of nihilism called Women’s Studies.
Women make up the majority of undergraduate students, graduate students, and the college-educated labor force today. Women also constitute the majority of STEM students, medical students, and law students. Yet rampant discrimination against the male minority was the norm under the Obama administration. According to research published at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, the Department of Education was 2,400 percent more likely to side with female parties than male parties in adversarial proceedings (2011-19).
Elite colleges such as Cornell offer numerous support and advocacy programs for women but nothing equivalent for men, who are the minority. The lack of due process in college sexual harassment tribunals has received widespread and bipartisan criticism over the years from legal and academic experts. Critics include The Federalist Society, Heritage Foundation, Edmund Jr. Brown, NCHERM, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, American College of Trial Lawyers, and the Reason Foundation.
Advocates have been struggling against this problem for years, often citing the very law that caused it: Title IX. Seminal rulings include an opinion from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which prohibits discrimination against men even in the absence of malice and even for a short time; an opinion from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which mandates cross-examination in sexual harassment disputes; an opinion from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which says Title IX tribunals fall short of what “even a high school must provide to a student facing a days-long suspension” in terms of due process; and an opinion from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which dismisses the idea that past discrimination against women can justify discrimination against the male minority in today’s America.
There has also been progress in administrative precedent. The Department of Education accepted a class-action complaint on behalf of males during 2016. The department also published a widely quoted decision against Wesley College, which affirmed due process rights for the accused under Title IX. Likewise, a Title IX precedent against the University of Southern California (which challenged female-only scholarships) triggered many similar complaints across the nation.
A different precedent against Tulane University declared the illegality of various female-only programs. And now comes a new ruling that expands the purview of these civil rights investigations: a Title IX inquiry against Georgetown University. (Disclosure: The investigation was opened in response to a complaint I submitted.)
The Georgetown precedent is a significant milestone. The Department of Education has declared its intent to outlaw employment and recruitment preferences which favor the female majority. This means STEM departments which favor hiring women will be in legal trouble, for example.
The ruling also declares that women’s centers are legally suspect, since no institution to date has ever offered anything equivalent for the unfair sex. (Women’s centers are political advocacy units, funded at the expense of taxpayers. They should not be mistaken for programs that offer vital health services to women.) The Trump administration deserves credit for this ruling, a significant accomplishment in terms of curbing Title IX and restoring the law unto its original simplicity. Yet the USDOE Georgetown letter includes two main problems.
The ruling exempts Women’s Studies from Title IX based on the argument that “curricular materials” are exempt from civil rights inquiry. This argument is weak, inconsistent, and incorrect. The argument is weak because it relies upon a single subclause of Title IX in the legislative text: 34 C.F.R. §106.42. Other subclauses of Title IX, such as 34 CFR §106.36(c), prohibit “appraisal and counseling materials” that cause disproportionate enrollment. Women’s Studies programs overwhelmingly employ female professors for the benefit of overwhelmingly female students.
The argument is also inconsistent because the Department of Education is monitoring curricular materials under Title VI (a similar civil rights law) while refusing to do so under Title IX. This capricious distinction is against legislative intent, since Congress made little meaningful distinction between sexual discrimination and racial discrimination in qualifying the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (117 CONG. Rec. 30,156 (1971).
Last but not least, the argument is incorrect. The department has used Title IX to micromanage curricular and training materials before. Indeed, even Obama appointees once issued a resolution letter, dissolving female-only STEM programs for using language that excluded male students.
There is another problem with the ruling. I wrote the complaint in part as a response to the statements of Christine Fair, a Georgetown professor who received nationwide condemnation for her irrational vitriol. Fair’s statements called for violence and desecration against a class of human beings routinely demonized in American academia: men of Caucasian descent. “Castrate their corpses and feed them to pigs” is the kind of hate we have come to expect from hyperpartisan professors.
Negative generalizations against any other class of people warrant swift retribution in American academe, even when they are much more temperate in tone. The Department of Education once opined that the phrase “angry black woman” is adequate to constitute a racially hostile environment (2016). The department is also expanding the scope of Title VI to apply a novel and broad definition of antisemitism, a move which the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has criticized. Yet the letter notifying of the Georgetown investigation is silent about Fair.
The Supreme Court has condemned discrimination against men and people of Caucasian descent before. This is common sense, consistent with the spirit of the Equal Protection Clause. The Department of Education’s unfortunate record raises some interesting questions: Can we now conclude this federal agency is violating Title IX and Title VI? No reasonable person can argue that “angry black woman” is more offensive than “castrate their corpses and feed them to pigs.” Why should the former statement constitute a racial and sexual offense, while the latter remains unpunished? This is an unlawful paradox with no simple explanation.
Plato maintained simplicity is the best evidence of eternity. St. Augustine classified simplicity as an attribute of God. Laws must be consistent, rational, and as simple as possible, lest they fail to inspire fealty and suasion. There is now an originalist and textualist majority in the Supreme Court of the United States, and we can only wonder what they will think about the paradoxes of the Georgetown letter.
This is the opposite of what we were told would happen with trillions of taxpayer dollars and an entire generation of children who deserve not to have been guinea pigs in a failed national experiment.
For the third time in a row since Common Core was fully phased in nationwide, U.S. student test scores on the nation’s broadest and most respected test have dropped, a reversal of an upward trend between 1990 and 2015. Further, the class of 2019, the first to experience all four high school years under Common Core, is the worst-prepared for college in 15 years, according to a new report.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress is a federally mandated test given every other year in reading and mathematics to students in grades four and eight. (Periodically it also tests other subjects and grade levels.) In the latest results, released Wednesday, American students slid yet again on nearly every measure.
Reading was the worst hit, with both fourth and eighth graders losing ground compared to the last year tested, 2017. Eighth graders also slid in math, although fourth graders improved by one point in math overall. Thanks to Neal McCluskey at the Cato Institute, here’s a graph showing the score changes since NAEP was instituted in the 1990s.
“Students in the U.S. made significant progress in math and reading achievement on NAEP from 1990 until 2015, when the first major dip in achievement scores occurred,” reported U.S. News and World Report. Perhaps not coincidentally, 2015 is the year states were required by the Obama administration to have fully phased in Common Core.
Common Core is a set of national instruction and testing mandates implemented starting in 2010 without approval from nearly any legislative body and over waves of bipartisan citizen protests. President Obama, his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Bill Gates, and myriad other self-described education reformers promised Common Core would do exactly the opposite of what has happened: improve U.S. student achievement. As Common Core was moving into schools, 69 percent of school principals said they also thought it would improve student achievement. All of these “experts” were wrong, wrong, wrong.
“The results are, frankly, devastating,” said U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement about the 2019 NAEP results. “This country is in a student achievement crisis, and over the past decade it has continued to worsen, especially for our most vulnerable students. Two out of three of our nation’s children aren’t proficient readers. In fact, fourth grade reading declined in 17 states and eighth grade reading declined in 31.”
On the same day the NAEP results were released, the college testing organization ACT released a report showing that the high school class of 2019’s college preparedness in English and math is at seniors’ lowest levels in 15 years. These students are the first to have completed all four high school years under Common Core.
“Readiness levels in English, reading, math, and science have all decreased since 2015, with English and math seeing the largest decline,” the report noted. Student achievement declined on ACT’s measures among U.S. students of all races except for Asian-Americans, whose achievement increased.
ACT was one of the myriad organizations that profited from supporting Common Core despite its lack of success for children and taxpayers. Its employees helped develop Common Core and the organization has received millions in taxpayer dollars to help create Common Core tests.
“ACT is one of the best barometers of student progress, and our college-bound kids are doing worse than they have in the ACT’s history,” said Center for Education Reform CEO Jeanne Allen in a statement.
These recent results are not anomalies, but the latest in a repeated series of achievement declines on various measuring sticks since Common Core was enacted. This is the opposite of what we were told would happen with trillions of taxpayer dollars and an entire generation of children who deserve not to have been guinea pigs in a failed national experiment.
Perhaps the top stated goal of Common Core was to increase American kids’ “college and career readiness.” The phrase is so central to Common Core’s branding that it is part of the mandates’ formal title for its English “anchor standards” and appears 60 times in the English requirements alone. Yet all the evidence since Common Core was shoved into schools, just as critics argued, shows that it has at best done nothing to improve students’ “college and career readiness,” and at worst has damaged it.
While of course many factors go into student achievement, it’s very clear from the available information that U.S. teachers and schools worked hard to do what Common Core demanded and that, regardless, their efforts have not yielded good results. A 2016 survey, for example, found “more than three quarters of teachers (76%) reported having changed at least half of their classroom instruction as a result of [Common Core]; almost one fifth (19%) reported having changed almost all of it.”
An October poll of registered voters across the country found 52 percent think their local public schools are “excellent” or “good,” although 55 percent thought the U.S. public school system as a whole is either just “fair” or “poor.” Things are a lot worse on both fronts than most Americans are willing to realize.
Compared to the rest of the world, even the United States’ top school districts only generate average student achievement, according to the Global Report Card. Common Core was touted as the solution to several decades of lackluster student performance like this that have deprived our economy of trillions in economic growth and would lift millions of Americans out of poverty. That was when U.S. test scores, while mediocre and reflecting huge levels of functional illiteracy, were better than they are now.
It is thus still the case, as it was when the Coleman Report was released 53 years ago, that U.S. public schools do not lift children above the conditions of their home lives. They add nothing to what children already do or do not get from at home, when we know from the track record of the distressingly few excellent schools that this is absolutely possible and therefore should be non-negotiably required. But because the people in charge of U.S. education not only neither lose power nor credibility but actually profit when American kids fail, we can only expect things to get worse.
'Over 86% of all households would lose' from free tuition policies
The “free” college plans touted by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and other Democratic presidential hopefuls will require radical tax hikes and leave 86 percent of American households worse off, a recent study found.
Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) often promise tuition-free higher education and student debt cancellation on the campaign trail. However, a National Bureau of Economic Research study conducted by University of Wisconsin researchers found that free college translates to a hollowed-out higher education system that leaves many Americans worse off.
Researchers simulated two scenarios: one in which the federal government forces states to adopt tuition-free public colleges and another in which it provides subsidies to encourage states to do so. They calculated how each plan would affect the welfare of American households. The welfare function was derived from, among other things, the positive and negative impacts of higher tax rates and lower education costs.
“Over 86% of all households would lose while about 60% of the lowest income quintile would gain from such policies,” the study found.
In both scenarios, the free tuition policy benefited a group of the poorest Americans at the expense of everyone else. For the vast majority of U.S. households, any benefit derived from a free college plan was outweighed by its negative consequences.
Sens. Warren and Sanders, as well as former Obama official Julián Castro, want to make public college free for all Americans. Other presidential candidates, including South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D., Hawaii), backed a less ambitious plan that removed tuition costs only for middle- and low-income families.
Such proposals could end up hurting students before they get to college. For example, Warren said she would pay for her free-tuition plan by levying an up to 2 percent wealth tax on “ultra-millionaires.” She claims in her policy plan that states will split the cost of college tuition with the federal government but still “maintain their current levels of funding” for academic instruction even after her plan is implemented.
Warren’s plan would force state governments to withdraw resources from public K-12 education to fund the free college program, worsening the overall quality of education students receive before college. The lower education quality, along with higher tax rates, would contribute to a decline in welfare for U.S. households, according to researchers.
“The idea of ‘free’ public colleges is politically seductive. But of course a college education can’t actually be free—someone must pay for it,” the study said. “Allocating additional resources to the college stage may be self-defeating if this entails a reduction of public expenditure in the earlier stages.”
Some scholars, however, argue that lower per-pupil costs do not necessarily lead to lower education quality, but may reflect a more efficient school system. Analysts at the Heritage Foundation found that D.C. public school students drastically underperformed despite the district spending nearly double the national average per pupil.
Other academics have found flaws in existing free college programs. A Harvard University study found that a Massachusetts tuition-free college program for high-performing students actually lowered the students’ college completion rate, complicating claims from 2020 Democrats that their education plans would allow more students to graduate.
Column: The political contradictions of progressivism
“The fact is there is no more money. Period,” says Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot.
She’s talking about the teachers’ strike that has paralyzed her city’s public schools—enrollment 360,000—for the past week. The public employee union is demanding more: more money for salaries (only eight states pay teachers more than Illinois), more support staff (Illinois ranks first in spending on administrators), more teachers per student. Their cause has attracted national attention. Elizabeth Warren joined the picket line.
Which is ironic. Lightfoot is not some stingy Republican. Nor is she a centrist Democrat like her predecessor Rahm Emanuel. She’s as progressive as you can get. But she now finds herself in the same position as many of her political brethren: facing criticism for failing to reconcile the contradictions in the left’s agenda.
Lightfoot has discovered that there is no limit to the appetite of the constituencies generated by government spending. She has learned that the special interests bargaining for higher benefits also desire policies that make such benefits unattainable. I hope she’s taking notes.
Chicago Public Schools has run a deficit for the past seven years. Why? Pensions granted to earlier generations of teachers are expensive. And the cost is growing. A quarter of the school budget is devoted to benefits—money that can’t be spent on classrooms, facilities, and instruction. Expect that number to rise as America goes gray and the bill comes due for the promises we made to ourselves.
The federal government can put Social Security and Medicare on the credit card for as long as demand for U.S. Treasuries is high. States and municipalities don’t have that luxury. There is an upper bound to what even the most progressive mayors and governors can grant the lobbies that mobilize voters for their campaigns. But it’s a glass ceiling. Public sector unions are eager to break it.
Nor does being woke protect you. It’s impossible to appease fully the groups fighting to claim resources and honor. They often won’t take yes for an answer. GM might tout to investors the fact that it is “leading in gender equality.” That didn’t stop the UAW from striking.
Public policy inspired by the ethic of social justice inflames the tension between progressive leaders and the voting public. Andrew Cuomo might sympathize with Mayor Lightfoot. His fealty to environmental groups has backed him into a corner. Banning fracking and canceling pipelines hasn’t just denied New York revenues, jobs, and lower energy bills. It also led energy supplier National Grid to cancel gas hookups in Long Island. Cuomo had to retaliate before the company restored service. Want to be a progressive? Claim credit for resolving a crisis of your own making after threatening to unleash state power on private actors responding to price signals. Cuomo makes it look easy.
Gavin Newsom also has been struggling to reduce the conflict between the imperatives of the new progressivism and the quality of life of everyday people. He has his hands full. Rising numbers of homeless have led to a breakdown of public order in areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Land-use regulations have restricted the supply of housing, leading to high prices and shortages, and Newsom’s answer is statewide rent control that will make things worse. California’s budget depends so heavily on revenues from the wealthy that it might not recover from another out-migration like the one the state experienced after a 2012 tax hike.
Pacific Gas & Electric is a case study in the progressive self-own. The state-regulated utility spent years deferring maintenance while it invested in renewable energy and promoted the ideology of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Among the consequences of its neglect were terrible wildfires that devastated communities. The ensuing legal bills drove PG&E into bankruptcy. It says it’s been forced to engage in “de-energization”: purposeful mass blackouts to prevent further damage and legal action. In early October more than two million people were left in the dark. No house, no power, no prospects—welcome to the California Republic.
The contradictions of progressivism generate crises of affordability and governance. But the political class suffers few consequences. Chicago, New York, and California remain Democratic strongholds. What scattered opposition exists is internal to the political machine. On rare occasions parts of the coalition splinter from the whole and are able to defeat radical measures. Think of Bill de Blasio’s stalled plans to cancel entrance exams for New York City’s magnet schools. For the most part, though, the Democrats’ hold on power continues. It’s one monopoly progressives don’t seem to mind.
Are the voters in these communities merely complacent? Are they so content with the patchwork of benefits and status the jerry-rigged welfare state provides that they tolerate dysfunction? Or is the partisan alternative so appalling they won’t even consider it?
Questions worth pondering as progressives prepare to scale up their model nationwide. Who knows? One day, President Warren might be on the other side of that picket line.
The day when universities are forced to rediscover their historic role as guardians of open inquiry and debate is coming, whether they like it or not.
There was a time, in the recent past, when universities were in the grip of a kind of speech-code fever. Even as recently ten years ago, after a wave of litigation striking down campus speech regulations, the vast majority of American colleges and universities still kept clearly unconstitutional speech codes on the books. They kept losing in court, yet they still couldn’t quit their codes.
Fast-forward a decade and that’s changed. Between 2009 and 2019, the portion of surveyed American universities with what the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education classifies as “red light” speech codes has shrunk from 74.2 percent to a mere 28.5 percent, and a total of 17 states have enacted some form of campus free-speech legislation. But the impulse to censor dies hard, and some schools have been nothing if not creative in their efforts to control speech without explicitly and clearly running afoul of the law. Witness, for example, the phenomenon of the “bias-response team.”
While the system varies from university to university, in general a bias-response team represents an institutional effort to identify alleged student bias and bigotry and eliminate it through some form of reeducation. Students report speech they find discriminatory or otherwise problematic, a university team investigates the “incident” — including sometimes meeting with the alleged offender — and then often creates a report describing the events. Sometimes bias-response teams can and will refer conduct to university disciplinary officials or university police if they feel more substantial punishment is warranted.
Last year, a group called Speech First filed an important lawsuit against the University of Michigan, challenging the content of the university’s bullying and harassment policy and its bias-response team’s procedures. The district court denied Speech First’s request for an injunction, holding in part that the group lacked standing to challenge the policy. Under the law, a court will not grant standing to a plaintiff in the absence of what’s called an “injury in fact,” and the question was whether the members of Speech First had suffered an “objective chill” to their free-speech rights or a mere “subjective chill.” For the chill to be objective, there must be proof that a “concrete harm” (enforcement of a statute or regulation) “occurred or is imminent.” If the plaintiff is concerned merely with the defendant’s “data-gathering activity,” and can’t meet the “concrete harm” standard, then the chill is subjective.
Make sense? To put it as plainly as possible, Michigan argued that the courts should move along — that there was nothing to see here because the bias-response team itself couldn’t punish anyone. Speech First said that actually, there was a problem, because the bias-response process itself could act as a form of punishment, and the team could still refer incidents to those with power to explicitly punish students.
Yesterday, in a decision with national implications, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Speech First, reversed the district court and ordered it to reconsider the group’s request for an injunction. Its ruling recognized the obvious power of the bias-response team:
The Response Team’s ability to make referrals — i.e., to inform OSCR or the police about reported conduct — is a real consequence that objectively chills speech. The referral itself does not punish a student — the referral is not, for example, a criminal conviction or expulsion. But the referral subjects students to processes which could lead to those punishments. The referral initiates the formal investigative process, which itself is chilling even if it does not result in a finding of responsibility or criminality.
This is quite right: There isn’t a student alive who wouldn’t find the bias-response team’s investigative process intimidating. But the problem extends beyond the team’s ability to refer students for punishment; it reaches to the team’s power to request a meeting with an accused student, as the court went on to explain:
Additionally, the invitation from the Response Team to meet could carry an implicit threat of consequence should a student decline the invitation. Although there is no indication that the invitation to meet contains overt threats, the referral power lurks in the background of the invitation. It is possible that, for example, a student who knows that reported conduct might be referred to police or OSCR could understand the invitation to carry the threat: “meet or we will refer your case.” Additionally, the very name “Bias Response Team” suggests that the accused student’s actions have been prejudged to be biased. The name is not the “Alleged Bias Response Team” or “Possible Bias Investigatory Team.” It is the “Bias Response Team.”
The dissent argues that Speech First did not present any evidence of actual or imminent interaction with the bias response team, but — as the majority notes — that’s the entire point of the chilling-effect analysis. When the spectral threat of government action looms, private actors will refuse to engage in any speech that could even potentially result in state investigation.
The university will now be required to defend its response team on the merits, and it is highly likely to lose. But even this standing ruling alone is likely to spawn additional litigation, including in different federal circuits. Once again, universities will find themselves on the defense — at least until the day comes when they at long last rediscover their true historical purpose, to serve, in the court’s words, as “guardians of intellectual debate and free speech.”
Leftists love to spend other people’s money to advance their visions for a transformed society. One of the many places where they manage to do that is on college campuses where there are lots of friendly administrators and not much accountability.
In today’s Martin Center article, UNC graduate Magdalene Horzempa writes about Chapel Hill’s “Campus Y.” It has a long history (founded in 1860) and over the last few decades it has become, she writes, “a hub for social justice.”
Although a substantial portion of its revenues come from gifts and the University Foundation, the Campus Y benefits from its status as an official part of the university as well as generous university funding. Its primary purpose is to push progressive politics to all students on campus, from freshman orientation through graduation.
UNC’s Campus Y is basically a training ground for “progressive” activists. It starts right off the bat, importuning new students with “Carolina Kickoff” which introduces them to social-justice activism.
The existence of the Campus Y, as a publicly funded and official university institution, is a clear violation of UNC-Chapel Hill’s legal responsibility to uphold institutional neutrality. It’s a misuse of public funds and an insult to students who pay tuition to pursue truth, not politics.
By Vicki Alger • The Federalist
A new report raises questions about how the U.S. Department of Education monitors the performance of its wide-ranging elementary and secondary education programs.
The department currently receives $38 billion for its major K-12 education programs. Yet the assessment says those programs are plagued by “complex and persistent” challenges, many of which have been identified previously, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the official “congressional watchdog” charged with ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently.
Specifically, the GAO identified four key shortcomings in the department: oversight and monitoring, data quality, capacity, and evaluation methodologies. As the GAO makes clear, it is not the only oversight agency raising concerns about the department’s program management. What’s more, such problems have plagued our federal education departments since the first one took form back in 1867. Continue reading
By Christian Barnard • Reason
“Do School Vouchers Only Benefit the Wealthy?” asks an article this month in Governing. Like too many headlines, the implication is that school choice is a scam that disproportionately benefits wealthy students who already live in high-performing districts. The Governing story suggests that Arizona’s education savings accounts (ESAs)––publicly-funded savings accounts that parents can use to pay for private school tuition or other education services for their children––rarely help out those who authentically need assistance, favoring already-privileged children instead.
The article cites a 2017 report from The Arizona Republic which found that 75 percent of the ESA money went to students leaving districts that had an “A” or “B” ranking, and only 4 percent of the money followed students opting out of districts rated “D” or lower.
But these numbers hardly even hint at the full story. Arizona’s ESA program can only be used by specific groups of disadvantaged students. In fact, Arizona Department of Education data from 2017 reveals that 82 percent of ESA recipients were students with special needs, from military families, or students from D/F rated schools. Continue reading
By Ilya Feoktistov • The Federalist
Shortly after President Trump’s inauguration, a group of public school history teachers in the posh Boston suburb of Newton pledged to reject the “call for objectivity” in the classroom, bully conservative students for their beliefs, and serve as “liberal propagandist[s]” for the cause of social justice.
This informal pact was made in an exchange of emails among history teachers at Newton North High School, part of a very rich but academically mediocre public school district with an annual budget of $200 million, a median home price of almost half a million, and a median household income of more than $120,000. Read the entire email exchange here.
I obtained the emails under a Massachusetts public records law after one of those teachers arranged, earlier this year, for an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel organization to show Palestinian propaganda films at Newton North. This stunt earned the Newton Public Schools district a rebuke from the New England branch of the Anti-Defamation League and from Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council. But, as the teachers’ emails reveal, Jew-hatred is not the only specter haunting the history department at Newton North.
The Teachers Conspire to Hide Extreme Prejudice Continue reading
By Joy Pullman • The Federalist
Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME that people cannot be forced to pay unions they don’t want to join, the country has gone from 28 right-to-work states to 50 right-to-work states overnight. That includes several high-population, heavily Democratic states with strong unions: New York, Illinois, and California.
Over the last century, union membership has gone from a common thing for people in many industries to in recent decades essentially a creature of government employment.
The vast majority of unionized U.S. employees work in government-dominated industries. So, far from the old image of unions representing the working man who needed extra protections because of dangerous conditions, today unions represent mostly white-collar people, largely an army of Continue reading
By William A. Estes • The Federalist
To set foot on an American college campus, as anyone who’s spent a picosecond thereabout lately can tell you, is to step through a left-wing looking glass. But a jaw-dropping new study from the National Association of Scholars (NAS) reveals just how deep the rabbit hole goes: among tenure-track college professors at the nation’s top-ranked liberal arts schools, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by more than 10 to 1.
Rather than culling data from some voluntary survey, the report uncovers the political leanings of 8,688 elite academics by cross-referencing publicly available voter registration information with faculty lists from 51 colleges. At these schools, “78.2 percent of departments do not employ a single Republican.” And that’s just the topline.
The numbers below the fold, broken down by college and field of study, are even more alarming. Over at Wellesley College, perhaps best known for fostering pantsuited diplomats and disdain for the late Barbara Bush, there are 136 Continue reading