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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 18, Issue 51: December 20, 2016

  1. Transforming K-12 Education
  2. Trump Orders Up a Fast-Food CEO for Labor Secretary
  3. The Road to Better Infrastructure
  4. Obama’s Green Power Grab
  5. Independent Updates


1) Transforming K-12 Education

Whatever direction the Trump administration takes K-12 education policy, one thing is certain: American schoolchildren won’t become the best in math and science without a major shake-up of the educational status quo. Two leading measures of educational achievement—the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Program for International Student Assessment—offer concrete evidence that recent large-scale efforts, including the introduction of Common Core, have fallen short of their goals, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki E. Alger, author of Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.

“In 2015, compared to 35 developed countries, the U.S. ranked 19th in science, 20th in reading, and 31st in math,” Alger writes in The Beacon. Educational outcomes remain mediocre despite a huge increase in federal funding—more than $17 billion—for K-12 education since 2000.

To achieve world-class performance, the American educational system must learn the essential lesson of top-performers around the globe—namely, that “schools improve when they compete for students and their associated funding,” Alger writes. “If we’re serious about competing globally when it comes to academic performance, then we need to replace our top-down, one-size-fits all system with universal parental choice in education.”

Try Parental Choice to Reverse Poor Global Rankings, by Vicki E. Alger (The Beacon, 12/12/16)

Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children, by Vicki E. Alger

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2) Trump Orders Up a Fast-Food CEO for Labor Secretary

One of Donald Trump’s controversial picks for a cabinet post (but which one isn’t controversial?) is restaurant executive Andrew Puzder for Secretary of Labor. One virtue he can bring to the table—one sorely absent from most Labor secretaries—is a first-hand understanding of how federal regulations affect employment in fast food and other highly competitive industries.

“Puzder has the unconventional idea that government intervention in the labor market usually prevents labor and management from doing things that would be good for both,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman.

Head of the company that owns Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s (whose combined workforce is about 75,000 employees), Puzder is a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act. In three op-eds written for the Wall Street Journal, he has taken aim at Obamacare, including related statutes enforced by the Labor Department. “As a CEO, Mr. Puzder knows how harmful these rules are,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow John R. Graham. “As Labor Secretary, he can relieve many of them, even without full repeal of Obamacare.”

When Pro-Business Is Pro-Labor, by John C. Goodman (Townhall.com, 12/11/16)

Trump’s Pick for Labor Secretary Another Win for Health Reform, by John R. Graham (The Beacon, 12/13/16)

A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America, by John C. Goodman

The Sessions-Cassidy Health Plan, by John C. Goodman (8/25/16)

Out of Work: Unemployment and Government in 20th Century America, by Richard K. Vedder and Lowell E. Gallaway

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3) The Road to Better Infrastructure

Donald Trump’s promise to increase federal spending on infrastructure—an extra $1 trillion over ten years—may quickly set the tone for the incoming president’s relationship with Congress. Will it come to blows? Who will prevail: big spending “National Greatness” advocates or fiscal conservatives? Independent Institute Research Fellow Gabriel Roth argues there needn’t be a showdown, because infrastructure improvements don’t require tapping the federal till. Road improvements, for instance, could be funded via electronically collected tolls. In addition, the federal and state governments could rely on private financing, as Canada has done successfully for air traffic control.

Regarding surface roads, the case for greater reliance on the private sector is stronger than skeptics are willing to admit. If full privatization isn’t viable, then public roads could be operated by private firms that maintain government-set standards, “with compensation proportional to the volume of traffic, at rates to be determined by open bidding,” Roth writes. At rates of 2 or 3 cents per vehicle mile, this policy be an easier sell than policymakers had imagined. Roth also makes a case for adopting the “user pays” principle for funding transportation infrastructure.

“Those who feel that transportation users merit special treatment could campaign for ‘transportation stamps’—analogous to food stamps—so that service providers are not forced to pay,” he writes. In conclusion: “Trump could help deliver more effective, efficient infrastructure by enabling private and public providers to supply facilities for which beneficiaries choose to pay. It’s time for federal subsidies to reach the end of the road.”

The Road Trump Should Take to Better Infrastructure, by Gabriel Roth (Washington Examiner, 12/14/16)

Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads, edited by Gabriel Roth

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4) Obama’s Green Power Grab

Donald Trump’s pick to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt—has his work cut out for him. If the task of reversing the Obama administration’s environmental power grab sounds herculean, it’s because the agency has been particularly aggressive in asserting its power at the expense of the rule of law—often in the cause of raising electricity rates, a Barack Obama campaign pledge.

Evidence of the EPA’s power grab is easy to come by, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart, Jr., and his frequent co-author Michael Jensen. Exhibit A: The agency has refused requests to provide estimates of job losses resulting from its rules (resistance that earned the EPA a reprimand from a District Court judge). Exhibit B: The agency has engaged in creative accounting to justify the exorbitant cost of its rule on mercury and acid gas emissions, in effect setting a standard for power plants higher than its lawful mandate. (The number of evidentiary clues of EPA malfeasance could easily have been extended to Exhibit Z.)

“Let’s hope that Trump’s pick to head his administration’s EPA is able to refocus and restrain the agency’s overreaches because all Americans are affected by the decisions made by a small group of bureaucrats in Washington,” Shughart and Jensen conclude.

Is This the End of Obama’s EPA Legacy?, by William F. Shughart II and Michael Jensen (The Detroit News, 12/13/16)

Nature Unbound: Bureaucracy vs. the Environment, by Randy T Simmons, Ryan M. Yonk, and Kenneth J. Sim

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5) Independent Updates


The Beacon: New Blog Posts
MyGovCost: New Blog Posts
Featured Video
News Alert

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