$13 Billion in the School Supplies “Poorhouse”

This summer Tulsa Public Schools third-grade teacher Teresa Danks made national headlines when she decided to panhandle for school supplies. Sick of spending as much as $2,000 of her $35,000 salary each year on the school supplies her classes needed, Danks decided to beg for supplies instead.

Dubbed the “Panhandling Teacher,” Danks received over $50 in mere minutes begging on the street corner. Danks’ Go Fund Me page has since raised close to $30,000 while donations continue to pour into her school. The response has been so overwhelming that Danks is now helping teachers from other schools fundraise.

But Danks isn’t the only teacher who’s taken extraordinary steps to get ordinary classroom items. According to ABC News’ Katie Kindelan:

Teachers at 76 percent of public schools in America have posted projects on [DonorsChoose.org], and requests worth up to $50 million have been fulfilled in 2017 alone...Of the 900,000 requests from teachers, more than half are for books and basic classroom supplies, according to the website.

Of course, as almost any parent can tell you, school supplies lists these days are anything but “basic.”

Transcending Government — Consensual Governance and New Technology

“Any useful statement about the future should at first seem ridiculous.” –Jim Dator

Humans are three-dimensional animals. They require physical space to live, work, and play. Over thousands of years, humans built physical communities of different shapes, sizes, and compositions to accommodate their three-dimensional existence.

But increasingly, humans are also building virtual communities that rival, and sometimes exceed, the scale of physical communities. These social networks are becoming more complex, connected, and useful to humans, consuming more of our time and energy.

Hurricane Haikus

Price gouging sounds bad

Stupid laws make it a crime

Shortage continues


Houses at high risk

Subsidized flood insurance

What would you expect?


Storm’s victims galore

Government to the rescue

Mixed blessing at best

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Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute. His most recent book is Taking a Stand: Reflections on Life, Liberty, and the Economy.

How NYU Can Learn from China

When I studied in London last year as part of my university’s exchange program, I experienced first-hand the inefficiencies of monopolies propped up by central authorities. The “central authority” I speak of is not, perhaps, what you are thinking of: the UK government, or worse, the ‘notorious’ European Union. Rather, I use the term to describe my own university, which in many ways operates like a state. I was inspired to write this blog post after reading China’s Great Migration, by Bradley M. Gardner, because of the parallels I saw between the Chinese government’s control over its economy and my university’s control over housing.

I go to New York University, which is known in New York for being egregiously expensive. At NYU’s London campus, the story is the same. In particular, housing costs turn a high tuition bill into a monumental cost of attendance. But it doesn’t have to be this way. NYU is much smaller than a state, but its housing woes reflect the problems caused by governments that limit economic competition and enforce state-run monopolies; it can learn from these experiences.

Sanctuary Cities and Recreational Marijuana

Sanctuary cities deliberately refer to themselves using this confrontational terminology, indicating that they provide a sanctuary for those who are in the country illegally. They do so by refusing to aid the federal government in enforcing federal immigration law.

Sanctuary cities could be less confrontational if they dropped the terminology and simply said they enforce their own laws, but they do not enforce the laws of other governments. Sanctuary cities are not shielding immigrants from federal enforcement, they just are not cooperating with the federal government to enforce federal law.

My reaction to this less confrontational view of sanctuary cities is to think that local law enforcement agencies enforce local laws, and it is up to the federal government to enforce federal laws. Why should local governments be required to enforce the laws of the federal government? What’s next? Should local governments also be looking for people who cheat on their income taxes?

Readers can surely see the relationship between sanctuary cities and the consumption of recreational marijuana, which is legal in several states but violates federal law. There is an uneasy tension here between state and federal law, but so far the federal government has not asked state and local governments to enforce its laws against the consumption of marijuana.

To be consistent on the two issues, either the federal government would leave sanctuary cities alone and enforce its own laws without local government assistance, or would require that local governments aid in the apprehension of recreational marijuana users and sellers even in states where state laws allow it.

I will end with a question for readers: Should local governments be responsible for enforcing federal laws?

Progressive Democracy Works for the 1%

The Occupy Wall Street movement that began in 2011 protested government policies that favored the 1%, the elite, over the 99%, the masses. Their protests were justified. The Wall Street fat cats who owned mortgage-backed securities were bailed out, but homeowners who had lost their jobs and couldn’t pay their mortgages were foreclosed. But that’s the way Progressive Democracy works.

We can look at those two ideas of Progressivism and Democracy to see why.

Democracy can be thought of in several ways. One is that it is a method of peacefully choosing and replacing those who hold government power. But that view of democracy has been replaced by a broader one. People view democracy as a type of government that carries out the will of the people, as determined by the outcomes of democratic elections.

This view of democracy, widely accepted today, legitimizes anything the government does, because a democratic government is just implementing the policies chosen by the voters.

Progressivism is an ideology that views the role of government as not only protecting individual rights but also looking out for people’s economic well-being. Often, this means imposing costs on some for the benefit of others.

Illinois Passes Its First, Country’s 18th, Tax-Credit Scholarship Program

This week the Illinois legislature passed legislation creating the country’s 18th tax-credit scholarship program, and the bill is on its way to Gov. Bruce Rauner, who’s said he’ll sign it. UPDATE: Gov. Rauner signed the bill (see here).

Officially called the Invest in Kids Act, Illinois’ flagship tax-credit scholarship program was passed as part of a compromise school funding bill. (See SB 1947. On the lengthy legislative battles, see here and here.)

Unlike voucher scholarships, which are funded by government appropriations, tax-credit scholarships are privately financed through donations to non-profit scholarship organizations.

The Invest in Kids Act makes students from low- and moderate-income families eligible for scholarships, which are scaled based on family income. When awarding scholarships, non-profits must give priority to low-income students, students in districts with poorly performing public schools, called “focus districts,” and siblings of scholarship recipients.

Scholarship amounts cannot exceed the lesser of necessary private school costs and fees, or the statewide average public school operational expense per student, which averages just under $13,000. Scholarship limits are higher for special needs, English learner, and gifted/talented students.

Want a Happier, Healthier, and More Prosperous Society? Try Freedom, Innovation and Incentives

“I will promote freedom at all costs,” is the first line of the Draper University pledge. Draper University of Heroes is a school I created to encourage people with ideas and energy to pursue their visions through entrepreneurship and risktaking. For an entrepreneur, freedom matters most. The ability to try new things without government interference is paramount to the success of an innovative community.

Because freedom is so important to me, I appreciate all the great work the Independent Institute is doing. They understand freedom. Freedom leads to prosperity, to economic growth, and to innovation. While regulation and government control make us feel safer (although at some point they become less safe), they lead to stagnation, fear, and loss of human spirit.

History and studies have shown that a lighter-touch government leads to more innovation, higher economic growth, and a happier, harder working population. A heavy-handed government slows economic growth and stifles creativity. As governments spend more of their people’s wealth, they tend to add more rules and regulations and their innovation and GDP growth decline.

For the past 50 years, Silicon Valley has been perhaps the greatest engine of freedom in the United States, with entrepreneurs and innovators driving great change. It is comforting for innovators to know that Washington, DC, is 3,000 miles away, so they will be relatively unimpeded by the rules and regulations that stymie an innovation economy.

When there is a new innovation, there is almost always a sociological change. That change may affect the customers, competitors, and suppliers of the business, but it also affects the status quo. Fearmongers will spread fear about the new innovation. Once the new innovation starts to spread, these complainers go after the law, the press, and the government to try to keep things the way they were. Lawyers prepare for battle. Competitors fill the press with concerns, and try to make the government take notice and take action. Fortunately, our government generally allows innovation to continue for some time without intervention, but there are some departments that stop innovation in its tracks.

The FDA makes getting a new drug on the market a time-consuming and hugely expensive process, and they often get it wrong. The SEC took a perfectly good law that the JOBS Act provided and plucked it clean of wings so that few entrepreneurs try to raise money that way. The DOD continues to create so many barriers to sell to them that innovators avoid them and we end up with antiquated technologies defending us.

A Plea for Do-Nothing Government

Nothing promotes bad public policy as much as disaster. An economic depression gives rise to demands for Keynesian “economic stimulus” spending; elevated rates of unemployment among low-skilled workers give rise to demands for increases in the legal minimum wage; shortages of goods and services caused by floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other such acts of God give rise to demands for legal prosecution of “price gougers”; and so on and on.
Probably the single most beneficial amendment to the U.S. and state constitutions would be an amendment to forbid the government from “doing something” beyond its normal actions in response to national or local emergencies. Nearly everything the government does on such occasions makes matters worse, ultimately if not immediately. If only the people understood that the government waits for emergencies with saliva flowing, knowing that it can then get away with extensions of its power and the enrichment of its cronies to an extent that would be impossible in normal circumstances.
Today’s phrase is “crisis and leviathan.” Can you say “crisis and leviathan,” boys and girls?

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Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute and the author of the Independent book, Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government (25th Anniversary Edition) and other books.

Wonder Woman Schools James Cameron on Strength in Character

The dust up prompted by iconic filmmaker James Cameron’s critical comments of Wonder Woman, and by implication, director Patty Jenkins, may have triggered a long overdue discussion over the validity of gender stereotypes in Hollywood.

Cameron called Wonder Woman, the summer blockbuster, “a step backwards” for strong female characters in an interview with The Guardian. Wonder Woman is “an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same old thing!” He offered up Sarah Connor, his heroine in the Terminator movies, as the alternative. Sarah Connor, he said, “was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit.”

Jenkins, not surprisingly, hit back hard, writing in part, “But if women have to always be hard, tough, and troubled to be strong, and we aren’t free to be multidimensional or celebrate an icon of women everywhere because she is attractive and loving, then we haven’t come very far have we.”

Jenkins is right. Kudos to her for standing up to the iconic director of Titanic, AliensThe Abyss, TerminatorAvatar, and schooling him on what writing strong characters is all about, female or male. Just a little reflection on character development shows that Cameron’s superficial take on female characters is far more typical of Hollywood than Jenkins’ more grounded and polished artistic approach.

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