What Memorial Day Should Mean

MiltonFriedmanThis Memorial Day we remember and honor our fellow citizens who were willing to defend our American liberties to the death.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman was a leading proponent of ending military conscription, or the draft, because forced military service is incompatible with a free society. Thanks in no small part to his opposition, the United States ended the draft in the early 1970s.

But Friedman’s contributions don’t end with economic policy or ending the draft.

Friedman was also a leading proponent of parents’ right to choose their children’s schools, and an emerging policy that traces its origins to Friedman’s work is educational savings accounts, or ESAs.

The concept behind ESAs is simple. Parents who don’t prefer that their children attend government-run public schools have a portion of what their respective states would have sent to district public schools to enroll their child deposited into ESAs instead. With those funds parents can pay for private school tuition, tutoring, online courses, or advanced placement testing, among other options. Any leftover funds can also be used for future educational expenses such as college tuition.

As a military spouse myself one of the leading concerns I hear from military families is that those who served have earned education benefits through the GI Bill or Post 9-11 GI Bill, but they cannot pass on those benefits to their elementary or high-school aged children or grandchildren.

Recall, military benefits are not entitlements—they are EARNED benefits. Yet there’s a very strict use-it-or-lose-it policy applied to Service Members’ education benefits. The question I hear most from parents and grandparents who have served our country is, “Whatever happened to all the funds I earned but did not need because my spouse and/ or I have earned the college degrees we needed?” Why, they ask, can I not pass on my earned education benefits to my grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or other deserving children of my choice, through an education savings account?

Sadly, I have not been able to answer those questions. Earned funds that are not used as specified revert back from whence they came. Where those earned benefits go, is anybody’s guess.

ESAs would be a much better policy approach.

Members of our military should be able to deposit their earned education benefits into military ESAs. They should be free to direct those funds to whomever they wish: their spouses, college-age children, or school-age children, grandchildren, or any beneficiary of their choice. After all: it’s THEIR money.

A leading benefit of such a policy would be that no matter where military service members were stationed in the world their spouses and their children could use their earned education benefits as they saw fit. A key—and growing—concern within the military community is the fact that families are sorely constrained regarding where they can live.

Families are stationed throughout the country with little or no regard to the quality of the schools their children will be attending. What’s more, children of military parents have higher rates of special educational needs, making the choice of schools that much more pressing.

For all the talk we’ll be hearing over the coming days about honoring veterans, one of the greatest signs of appreciation we can offer is the gift of educational freedom for them and beneficiaries of their choice—and not just college-age children.

Education savings accounts programs are the latest innovation in parental choice in education. To those who’ve sacrificed so much for our liberty and rights as Americans, the least we can do is offer unfettered educational freedom—using the money that they’d earned.

Parental Choice Could Help Curb Willful Defiance in School

school-choice-300x199Students attending Oakland Unified public schools will no longer be suspended for willful defiance, a broad category of misbehaviors such as swearing at teachers, texting in class, or refusing to take off hats in the classroom. A number of other California schools districts, including those in San Francisco and Los Angeles, are also dropping willful defiance from their lists of suspendable offenses, according to published reports.

The decision is being hailed by some civil rights groups, who note that African-American students are disproportionately suspended from school for such offenses. These groups and others also note that alternative discipline policies that do not interrupt students’ learning time should be explored instead.

To be sure, discriminatory discipline policies should never be tolerated in school; however, the discipline struggles confronting government-run schools are largely a problem of their own making—particularly in California where parents’ choices over where their children attend school is sorely constrained.

Ideally, all parents—regardless of income or address—should be free to choose the education provider they believe is best for their child. Parents choose schools based on academics, an educational approach that reflects their beliefs, and safety, which includes school climate and discipline.

By artificially constraining parents’ choices over where their children attend school, assigned schools lose one of the leading supports to schools’ and students’ success: parental support.

We value what we choose more than what’s foisted upon us. When parents can’t (or don’t have to) actively choose their children’s schools, many of them may simply start believing that education—and the good behavior required for children to learn—is somebody else’s problem.

In a competitive education climate, schools feel powerful pressure to distinguish themselves. Not only does such pressure include promoting their particular curricula and teaching approaches, it also includes their disciplinary policies.

Some parents may prefer stricter disciplinary policies, which could include school uniforms and signed codes of conduct. Other parents may prefer a more relaxed disciplinary approach, which involves more meetings with counselors or school staff.

Regardless of the preferred approach, were parents freer to choose their children’s schools, if and when student behavioral issues arose, parents, teachers, and school officials would be more likely to be on the same side, all working together for the benefit of the student.

That scenario, far more than recurring drastic shifts between zero-tolerance and kumbaya, lets-alll-just-get-along approaches, would prevail—to the benefit of everyone involved, students first and foremost.

As public school districts struggle to adapt to shifting mores about appropriate student discipline policies, officials should be advocating for greater parental choice in their children’s education.

At a time when public school civil rights complaints are at an all-time high, it’s worth considering the contribution parental choice in education can make toward equitable, actionable, school disciplinary policies in California and nationwide.

“Rape Culture” and the Implications for Liberty on College Campuses

FSU_Seal_NewColors_0-230x230College campuses are placing a stronger emphasis on reducing sexual assault. Unfortunately, universities and colleges often adopt heavy-handed policies to punish alleged offenders based on abstractions or simplistic understandings of college student attitudes and behavior. One of the more problematic over generalizations is the concept of the “rape culture” and the pervasive use of the term interferes with our understanding of the nature of campus sexual assault and identifying practical solutions that are more consistent with individual liberty.

Rape culture” posits that our colleges and universities are dens for sexual predators that promote violence against women and, more importantly, is institutionally supported. Since the problem is cultural, rather than individual, the solution is institutional–categorical policies that provide little room for context or individual circumstance. Also, because the problem is systemic, extraordinary means can be justified to bring it under control, including abrogating due process, tilting adjudication in favor of the accuser rather than the accused, and implementing draconian measures despite a lack of evidence to support the allegations. Emily Yoffe at Slate.com does a nice job of laying out these dangers as does Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute.

But what if a rape culture doesn’t exist?


High U.S. Health Prices from Market Power?

a_better_choice_180x270The National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) recently published a consensus report on healthcare-provider consolidation. Basically, we have a growing problem in that hospitals are buying up each other and also physician practices, which leads to reduced competition and higher prices.

The report was promoted with an op-ed in The Hill by the esteemed Robert A. Berenson (Urban Institute) and G. William Hoagland (Bipartisan Policy Center):

The use of market power — or the ability to raise and keep prices higher than would prevail in a competitive market – is the key reason the United States spends so much more on healthcare than other countries.

For policymakers, tackling the lack of competition is like climbing a mountain. Even the initial steps — creating more competition — may be difficult, but they must be explored before more regulatory action further down the path is considered.

These are remarkable statements — and difficult to accept.


Progressivism: Rhetoric versus Reality

ProgressivismContemporary supporters of an expanded role for government are increasingly moving away from calling themselves liberals and toward referring to themselves Progressives, so it is worth considering what the ideology of Progressivism entails.

Progressivism began in the late 1800s as a political movement that advocated expanding the role of government. Before the Progressive era, Americans viewed the role of government as protecting individual rights. The Progressive ideology argued that the proper role of government should go beyond protecting individual rights to include looking out for people’s economic well-being.

Progressivism is explicitly designed to use the force of government to take from some to give to others. In its early days, Progressives envisioned the state reining in the economic power of people like Rockefeller and Vanderbilt to prevent them from exploiting those with less economic power. Even this vision makes clear that the goal of Progressivism is to impose costs on some for the benefit of others.


The Military’s “Heroes” and the Scourge of Nationalism

civilian_military_180x270At the airport, one observes an “interesting” composition of human behavior. A recent trip was no exception. Walking into the airport to checkin and check my bag, there was a clearly upset woman at one of the ticket kiosks. She barked at the woman behind the counter (who was assisting someone else) to come help her. When someone appeared, she started berating the airline representative. Then came the line,


Whenever the representative told her something she apparently didn’t like, it was her default response, “I’m military. I’m military.”

This woman clearly felt her membership in the government organization known as the United States Military meant she had the right to something more than the plumber, lawyer, or photographer who walked into the airport a few minutes later.


Did a Health Insurer Pay over Ten Times the Self-Pay Price for Outpatient Surgery?

priceless_180x270A story from Arizona is a cloud with a silver lining:

Teresa Anderson was pleasantly surprised how quick and hassle-free her eyelid-lift surgery was at Havasu Regional Medical Center’s outpatient-surgery facility in April 2014.

Weeks later, the bills arrived at her Lake Havasu City home. Her surgeon, anesthesiologist and X-ray provider submitted bills and were paid nearly $2,250.

Only one remained: Havasu Regional’s bill. When it finally arrived last May, what she saw shocked her. An explanation of benefits from her insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, showed she and Blue Cross had been billed $38,526 by Havasu Regional for prep work, surgery and recovery lasting less than three hours.

Anderson, who worked for a health-insurance company before her retirement, believes hospital charges like hers explain why the economics of health care are askew. And she isn’t alone. Consumer advocates say such experiences point to the need for more transparency in the pricing of medical procedures.

Before the surgery, Anderson had asked her surgeon’s staff to estimate all costs associated with the surgery. She was considering paying on her own if her insurer denied coverage. The surgeon’s staff quoted a price of $3,500 for the surgery, anesthesia and facility fee if she paid on her own without insurance.

The hospital’s insane bill is really a pretty run-of-the-mill story these days. I am actually not sure that the reporter or the patient have it quite right: The hospital charge is not usually what a health insurer pays. On the other hand, the charge is not usually more than ten times what the real price is.

However, that is not the point of the story I wish to emphasize: The silver lining is that the patient had actually been able to figure out what the cash price would be if she paid directly herself. It has previously been hard for cash-paying patients to avoid being gouged by hospitals unless they are Canadian medical tourists. Whether this story is idiosyncratic or symptomatic of a trend, I cannot say. I hope it is the latter.

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For the pivotal alternative to Obamacare, please see the Independent Institute’s new book: A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America, by John C. Goodman.

Patent Trolls Still Alive and Kicking

patent_trolls_180x270Over at Techdirt, there is a good story up on how a patent troll attacked a startup and the litigation costs so distressed the startup that it was forced to sell out to another patent troll.

Peter Braxton created Jump Rope Inc., and developed an app that allows users to pay a fee to skip a line. For example, rather than wait hours in line for a seat at a trendy restaurant, the app allows you to get in quicker.

Enter the patent troll Smart Options, which has a patent on a “method and system for reserving future purchases of goods or services.” In other words, a patent on electronic options buying. This is a great example of the junk patents that the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) puts a rubber stamp on and approves.

Braxton wins the fight in court, but in the face of the costs for an appeal and renewed threats by Smart Options to sue again on another patent, he sells out to another patent troll that was able to capitalize on Braxton’s distress.


Welcome, High School Freshman! Pee in This Cup!

High school is rough for a lot of kids. As the captain of my high school’s academic team (we took tests competitively and competed weekly with other students in academic competitions—yes, this is real thing), you can imagine I wasn’t on the ballot for “Ms. Popular.” Others undoubtedly experience worse. Between parents, puberty, and prom, it’s a wonder we don’t leave our high school years with PTSD in addition to our diplomas.

During a recent visit to my parents, I heard a news report regarding a local high school’s new drug policy. Trinity High School, located in Louisville, Kentucky, is to begin mandatory drug and alcohol testing during the 2015 school year. The school cited how early kids are experimenting with drugs as a major factor in their decision. Approximately 75 percent of the students will be tested in the 2015-2016 school year. Further down the road, all students will be tested randomly throughout the year.

In a press release on the policy, the school stated it wanted to empower students to resist drugs. When confronted with a situation in which drugs and alcohol are present, Trinity students can now say, “I can’t, my school tests.”

My first reaction to this story was one of sheer bafflement. Imagine walking around your high school as a 16-year-old sophomore. You’re headed to class when some guidance counselor, principal, or other staff member hands you a plastic cup. Nothing goes with a statistics test like calculating the probability a random school administrator will ask you to pee in a cup.


Health Jobs Grow Twice as Fast in April as Other Jobs

Of the 223,000 jobs added in April, 45,000 were in health services, according to the latest Employment Situation Summary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Health services employment rose by 0.30 percent monthly, while other nonfarm, civilian employment grew only 0.14 percent. This continues the trend seen in March. As shown in Table 1, jobs in ambulatory settings accounted for well over half of health jobs.

20150511 Health Workforce T1[1]

Longer-term jobs in ambulatory settings accounted for just under half of health jobs in the last year, as shown in Table 2. Obamacare seems to be juicing jobs in the health services sector, which continues to challenge repeal efforts. Hospitals, especially, are relentlessly lobbying for its survival and expansion.

20150511 Health Workforces T2[2]

  • MyGovCost.org
  • FDAReview.org
  • OnPower.org
  • elindependent.org