The Public Policy

The Public Policy

Federal Grant Spent $300K Studying How to Ride a Bike

By 9.30.14

Welcome to today’s edition of “Where are my tax dollars going?” The government’s latest creative use of tax revenue is a $300,000 study on how to ride a bike.

Oh, you thought you already knew how to ride a bike? Allow the National Science Foundation to correct you: “(Almost) everybody knows how to ride a bike, but (almost) no one knows how we ride a bike.”

Isn’t that deep?

The National Science Foundation gave a three hundred thousand dollar grant to professors at the University of California-Davis to “improve the fundamental understanding of how humans interact with bicycles.”

It seems the ultimate goal was to get more people biking and less people driving, in order to save the environment. If we just understood the complex dynamics between rider and bicycle, we’d be more likely to use bikes. The dynamics of driving a motor vehicle must be more understandable; that’s why we drive so much.

There can be no other explanation.

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The Public Policy

Washington’s Unelected Regulation Factory

By 9.23.14

Republicans are rightly complaining about Obama’s abuse of power in the issuance of sweeping executive orders to trump their opposition in Congress on important policy issues.

But, as abusive as that use of power is, the danger it poses to our representative democracy is dwarfed by federal agencies’ continuing issuance of massive federal regulations. Over the decades the Code of Federal Regulations has dwarfed the United States Code (statutes written by Congress).

The Constitution dictates that Congress passes the laws that govern our nation. But in administrations (both Republican and Democrat) over several decades, Congress has blithely delegated that law-making power to a myriad of federal agencies. And the Supreme Court has readily endorsed that shift in power by ordering lower courts to defer to a federal agency’s interpretations of the law.

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The Public Policy

Raising the Minimum Wage Means Giving In To Mob Rule

By 9.11.14

While we talk about democracy and equal rights, we seem increasingly to let both private and government decisions be determined by mob rule. There is nothing democratic about mob rule. It means that some people’s votes are to be overruled by other people's disruptions, harassments, and threats.

The latest examples are the mobs in the streets in cities across the country, demanding that employers pay a minimum wage of $15 an hour, or else that the government make them do so by law. Some of the more gullible observers think the issue is whether what some people are making now is “a living wage.” This misconstrues the whole point of hiring someone to do work. Those who are being hired are paid for the value of the work they do.

If their work is really worth more than what their employer is paying them, all they have to do is quit and go work for some other employer, who will pay them what their work is really worth. If they can't find any other employer who will pay them more, then what makes them think their work is worth more?

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Cheap Politicians Turn Out to Be Very Expensive Politicians

By 9.10.14

The recent bribery convictions of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife are only the latest in a seemingly never-ending series of convictions of government officials.

A little item on the Internet featured government officials in prison, either currently or in recent times. Among them were a mayor of New Orleans, a mayor of Detroit, and a mayor of Washington; a governor of Connecticut, a governor of Louisiana, two governors of Illinois, and four members of Congress.

However much these and other government officials may have richly deserved being behind bars, the country does not deserve to have its confidence in government repeatedly undermined. A country with 100 percent cynicism about its government cannot be governed. And nobody wants anarchy.

In short, the damage done by government officials who betray the public’s trust goes far beyond the money stolen or misused, or whatever particular abuse of power landed them behind bars.

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The Public Policy

Facts vs. Visions

By 8.26.14

The political left has been campaigning against the use of force since at least the 18th century. So it is not surprising that they are now arguing that heavily armed or aggressive police forces only inflame protesters and thus provoke violence.

Statisticians have long warned that correlation is not causation, but they have apparently warned in vain.

There is no reason to doubt that heavily armed police in riot gear may be more likely to show up where outbreaks of violence are expected. But when violence then breaks out, does that prove that it was the appearance of the police that caused it?

I strongly suspect that people who travel with armed guards are more likely to be murdered than people who do not travel with armed guards. After all, they are not paying to have armed guards for no reason.

If so, should we conclude from a higher murder rate among people with armed guards that having armed guards increases your chances of getting murdered? Shall we also conclude from this that we the taxpayers should no longer pay to have Secret Service agents guarding our presidents?

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The Public Policy

Attacking Achievement

By 8.12.14

New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, like so many others who call themselves “progressive,” is gung-ho to solve social problems. In fact, he is currently on a crusade to solve an educational problem that doesn’t exist, even though there are plenty of other educational problems that definitely do exist.

The non-existent problem is the use of tests to determine who gets admitted to the city’s three most outstanding public high schools — Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech. These admissions tests have been used for generations, and the students in these schools have had spectacular achievements for generations.

These achievements include many Westinghouse Science awards, Intel Science awards, and — in later life — Pulitzer Prizes and multiple Nobel Prizes. Graduates of Bronx Science alone have gone on to win five Nobel Prizes in physics alone. There are Nobel Prize winners from Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech as well.

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The Public Policy

Is Thinking Obsolete?

By 8.5.14

Some have said that we are living in a post-industrial era, while others have said that we are living in a post-racial era. But growing evidence suggests that we are living in a post-thinking era.

Many people in Europe and the Western Hemisphere are staging angry protests against Israel’s military action in Gaza. One of the talking points against Israel is that far more Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli military attacks than the number of Israeli civilians killed by the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel that started this latest military conflict.

Are these protesters aware that vastly more German civilians were killed by American bombers attacking Nazi Germany during World War II than American civilians killed in the United States by Hitler’s forces?

Talk show host Geraldo Rivera says that there is no way Israel is winning the battle for world opinion. But Israel is trying to win the battle for survival, while surrounded by enemies. Might that not be more important?

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The Public Policy

Bordering on Madness

By 7.22.14

In a recent confrontation between protesters against the illegal flood of unaccompanied children into the United States and counter-protests by some Hispanic group, one man from the latter group said angrily, “We are as good as you are!”

One of the things that make the history of clashes over race or ethnicity such a history of tragedies around the world is that — regardless of whatever particular issue sets off these clashes — many people see the ultimate stakes as their worth as human beings. On that, there is no room for compromise, but only polarization. That is why playing “the race card” is such an irresponsible and dangerous political game.

The real issue when it comes to immigration is not simply what particular immigration policy America should have, but whether America can have any immigration policy at all.

A country that does not control its own borders does not have any immigration policy. There may be laws on the books, but such laws are just meaningless words if people from other countries can cross the borders whenever they choose.

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Australia Gives Credence to Organic-Food Nonsense

By 7.2.14

Organic activists are forever trying to convince American consumers that modern production agriculture is somehow unethical, that the food at the local grocery store is somehow unsafe. Now they'll likely take a new tactic, pioneered by a judge in Australia who is on his way to creating a legal environment that will spur countless lawsuits between farmers planting biotech crops and their neighbors using conventional seed. If these activists are successful Down Under, their counterparts in the United States will doubtless try to follow suit, dealing a blow to modern agriculture and American farmers in the process.

During the Australia’s fall harvest-season way back in 2010, an organic farmer by the name of Steven Marsh noticed some of his neighbor’s genetically-engineered canola had blown onto his fields. So he decided to sue his neighbor, Michael Baxter, a person with whom he had been friends until that fateful day, based on the global organic industry’s and his organic certifier’s “zero tolerance” for genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).

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The Public Policy

Exporting Solyndras?

By 6.11.14

The New York Times’ crusading columnist Joe Nocera is an unlikely supporter of crony capitalism. Yet this week he has come out unabashedly in favor of the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank, on the grounds that it is a “most useful government agency.” Yet a look at how it works suggests that that supposed usefulness is based on a outdated economic fallacy, and that what is useful to firm A is in fact harmful to firm B.

Think of it this way: What do Solyndra and the Ex-Im have in common? Solyndra was a politically connected company funded by taxpayers. The Ex-Im Bank provides loan guarantees for export projects that are considered too risky for private lenders, which most of that money going to politically connected businesses. In essence, they both embody cronyism at its worst. But there’s one difference: Ex-Im is still around and we’re still paying for it.

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