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Volume 16, Issue 35: September 3, 2014

  1. Schools Need Competition, Not Common Core
  2. Medicare Advantage and the Future of Privatization
  3. Let Markets Regulate Smoking
  4. Why Bill on Campus Violence Won’t Pass
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. Selected News Alerts

1) Schools Need Competition, Not Common Core

Ever since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act crossed President Lyndon Johnson’s desk in 1965, school reformers have touted the power of federal goal-setting in education. The report card, however, tells a story not of government efficacy, but of impotence: American kids have fallen behind their peers in the industrialized world in math and science; high-school graduation rates have dropped well below the goal of 90 percent; and illiteracy still has not been eradicated. Supporters of the latest government-led reform effort—Common Core—say it will succeed where others have failed, but Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki Alger offers reasons for skepticism.

Even when it fails in practice, educational reform often looks good on paper. Not Common Core. According to Alger and other experts, we needn’t wait to implement it in order to see that Common Core encourages a watered-down and politicized curriculum, and that its data-reporting systems often violate privacy norms. Moreover, as a nod to the controversial nature of federal involvement in education, Common Core is billed as “state driven,” but in reality, the feds have threatened to pull funding from states that fail to adopt it. (There goes any independence from Washington, DC.) Nevertheless, four states formerly on board with Common Core (Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Carolina) have decided that even with fewer federal dollars, their school children are better off without the program. Yes, American students deserve a better education than they currently get, but Common Core is not the answer.

So what is the answer? Alger makes the case for expanding the menu of educational options, through more charter schools, homeschooling, online education, and school vouchers. More choice means more competition among educational providers, which in turn strengthens incentives to improve academic performance. “Parental choice programs educate students to high standards, without limiting education options,” Alger writes. “And, unlike accountability initiatives involving rigid federal mandates, all chosen education providers face immediate rewards for success or consequences for failure, because parents are empowered to enroll or transfer their children as they see fit.”

American Education Needs Competition, Not Common Core, by Vicki E. Alger (The San Francisco Chronicle, 9/2/14)

Private Schools for the Poor, by James N. Tooley (Education Next, Fall 2005)

Can Teachers Own Their Own Schools? New Strategies for Educational Excellence, by Richard K. Vedder

School Choices: True and False, by John D. Merrifield


2) Medicare Advantage and the Future of Privatization

The success of Medicare Advantage must be an embarrassment for the president. During the 2008 election season, Senator Obama called for ending the extra federal subsidies that go to the private health plans that participate in this program, currently about 6 percent higher than the reimbursement rates for traditional Medicare. Better senior healthcare at a lower cost could be had, Obama argued, by “investing” tens of millions of dollars in demonstration programs and pilot projects across the country to see what works and what doesn’t. But Medicare Advantage is popular with the nearly one-third of seniors who are enrolled in it. And no wonder: A new paper in Health Affairs finds that Medicare Advantage raises the quality of care for its enrollees, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman.

But that’s not the only good news that recent research has revealed. Here’s more: “In markets where Medicare Advantage plans have a significant presence, cost goes down and quality goes up for other patients as well—including traditional Medicare patients,” Goodman writes.

And what about those demonstration projects in which President Obama has invested so much hope and taxpayer funding? “Many of the ideas that aren’t working in the pilot programs both here and in other countries actually are working in some of our best Medicare Advantage plans—especially in ones that are contracting with doctor associations,” Goodman continues. Ironically, one reason for their success is that the medical loss provisions of Obamacare have prompted insurers “to shift the management of care to doctor organizations and thus increased the sphere of opportunity for entrepreneurial medicine,” Goodman continues. This trend should be encouraged and enhanced by the privatization of Medicare for future retirees, he concludes.

Let’s Privatize Medicare, by John C. Goodman (Townhall, 8/25/2014)

Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis, by John C. Goodman


3) Let Markets Regulate Smoking

Activists around the country have lobbied politicians to ban smoking in public spaces, including parks, plazas, theaters, restaurants, and the workplace. In his latest op-ed at the Huffington Post, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Benjamin Powell takes issue with anti-tobacco ordinances, and argues that market forces alone should determine what to do about second-hand smoke.

Lubbock, Texas, home to the university where Powell teaches economics, has approximately 236,000 residents and 500 restaurants and bars—relatively few of which still permit smoking. Nevertheless, a group called the West Texas Smoke-Free Coalition is pushing hard to ban smoking in them, citing health risks that second-hand smoke poses for workers. But like anti-smoking activists around the country, the coalition’s leaders fail to realize that allowing the market, rather than the government, to set smoking policies is tantamount to allowing customers and workers to set the policies.

“When property owners are left free to determine how to regulate smoking, consumers and workers vote with their dollars to best regulate smoking,” Powell writes. “When regulation is delegated to politicians, our freedom shrinks while the authoritarian desires of ‘those who know best’ are indulged. Lubbock should choose freedom.”

Market Forces Should Regulate Smoking, by Benjamin Powell (The Huffington Post, 8/26/14)

Pierre Lemieux Reviews Jacob Sullum’s For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health (The Independent Review, Winter 1999)


4) Why Bill on Campus Violence Won’t Pass

Sexual assault on the nation’s college campuses has attracted much attention of late, and members of Congress are weighing their legislative options. One such option, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA), would require publicly funded universities to publish annual student surveys about sexual assault. However, the bill’s penalties for non-compliance are so high that it has almost zero chance of passage, as Independent Institute Research Fellow Wendy McElroy explains in her latest piece for The Hill.

Although CASA enjoys bipartisan support, America’s colleges and universities are likely to lobby hard to defeat it, according to McElroy. Here’s why. If a school fails to publish the required survey—and one can think of many reasons why it might not want to do so—it would face an initial fine of up to one percent of its operating budget—and up to $150,00 for each additional violation. Moreover, any waivers or exemptions would be only at the discretion of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights—which would get to keep any fines. Then there’s the legal question of whether the penalties would violate constitutional protections of due process. In addition, CASA would also necessitate the hiring of more college staff, including people to coordinate with local law-enforcement departments. So what sounds like a reasonable goal—improving security on campus—would be accompanied by the imposition of a host of extra costs on the schools.

What can be done to promote security and reduce incidents of sexual assault? McElroy suggests that this matter be left to local law enforcement. Unlike campus administrators, police officers already have training and experience in investigating crimes. Expanding the role for school personnel into this area would ultimately set back the cause of justice.

Devil’s in the Details of Campus Accountability and Safety Act, by Wendy McElroy (The Hill, 8/13/14)

Another Federal Mandate—Or, How I Misspent My Summer Vacation, by Robert Whaples (The Beacon, 7/31/14)

Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the Twenty-First Century, by Wendy McElroy


5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

Highway Safety Fail
Craig Eyermann (9/1/14)

Labor Day Recalls Ruling Class Rip-offs
K. Lloyd Billingsley (9/1/14)

The Doubling of the National Debt
Craig Eyermann (8/27/14)

Federal Clunker Program Cost Lots of Cash
K. Lloyd Billingsley (8/27/14)

You can find the Independent Institute’s Spanish-language website here and blog here.


6) Selected News Alerts


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless