The Public Policy

The Public Policy

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).

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 Yet a look at how it works suggests that that supposed usefulness is based on a outdated economic fallacy, and that what is useful to firm A is in fact harmful to firm B.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.

The Public Policy

The Ambassador and the Post Office

By 6.3.14

At one time, people in India had to get on a waiting list to buy Hindustan Motors’ Ambassador automobile, even though it was an obvious copy of Britain’s Morris Oxford of some decades earlier. The reason was simple: the Indian government would not allow cars to be imported to compete with it.

The fact that the Ambassador was a copy is hardly an automatic reason for condemnation. The first Nikon camera was an obvious copy of a German camera called the Contax, and the first Canon was an obvious copy of the Leica. The difference is that, over the years, Nikons and Canons rose to become state of the art, during both the era of film and in the new digital age.

Not so the Ambassador car. It was notorious for poor finish and poor handling. But, since it was the only game in town — and “town” was all of India, people were on waiting lists for it for months, and sometimes even years.

By contrast, Nikon and Canons were good cameras from day one and they just got better as the companies that produced them gained more experience. With a highly competitive international market for cameras, they had no choice if they wanted to survive.

The Public Policy

Random Thoughts

By 5.27.14

Random thoughts on the passing scene:

Will the Veterans Administration scandal wake up those people who have been blithely saying that what we need is a “single payer” system for medical care? Delays in getting to see a doctor have been a common denominator in government-run medical systems in England, Canada and Australia, among other places.

Class warfare rhetoric would have us resenting “the top ten percent” in income. But that would be a farce, because most of us would be resenting ourselves, since more than half of all Americans — 54 percent — are in the top ten percent at some stage of their lives.

Some people act as if the answer to every problem is to put more money and power in the hands of politicians.

Freedom means nothing if it does not mean the freedom to do what other people don't like. Everyone was free to be a Communist under the Stalin dictatorship, and everyone is free to be a Muslim in Saudi Arabia. Yet whole generations are coming out of our colleges where only those who are politically correct are free to speak their minds. What kind of America will they create?

The Public Policy

Meet Feddie Mic

By 5.14.14

A corollary to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet adage, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” is that “garbage by any other name would smell as awful.”

The latter seems apropos to the “reform” of the government-sponsored housing enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac introduced by the Senators Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee. The bill was set to be marked up April 29, but was delayed after opposition garnered from many quarters. Now after completely ignoring conservative concerns and pandering to lefties like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Crapo and Johnson will likely try again this Thursday to get a bare majority to vote the bill out of committee.

The Public Policy

The Height of Utopianism

By 5.14.14

A political battle that is shaping up in San Francisco has implications for other communities across the country.

The issue that will be on the June ballot is whether voter approval shall be required to change the height restrictions on buildings along the San Francisco waterfront. Like so many other political issues, this one is being debated in runaway rhetoric bearing no resemblance to reality.

Former San Francisco City Attorney Louise Renne, for example, says that “the people” own the waterfront and therefore should be “consulted.” Really? Can one of “the people,” who supposedly own the waterfront, decide that he wants to sell his share of it and pocket the money?

As for being “consulted,” how many of “the people” — who have lives to lead, careers to pursue, and families to take care of — are going to study the economic and other complexities created by height restrictions?

The Public Policy

Crony Capitalism Critics Claim the Moral High Ground

By 5.9.14

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century moved the policy conversation onto a battleground that has traditionally favored the Left—inequality. Advocates of free enterprise were expected to object to Piketty’s premises and prescriptions, and they have: Why focus on relative outcomes rather than actual increases in living conditions for society’s less fortunate? 

But perhaps the Left didn’t expect that Utah Senator Mike Lee and others would seize on the same populist impulse that’s fueled interest in Piketty and take aim at the privileged and the powerful from a different direction. Instead of Piketty’s redistributionist agenda, these reformers are calling for an end to crony capitalism and more limits on a spendthrift government. 

The Public Policy

Politics Versus Education

By 5.1.14

Of all the cynical frauds of the Obama administration, few are so despicable as sacrificing the education of poor and minority children to the interests of the teachers’ unions.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s attempt to suppress the spread of charter schools in Louisiana was just one of the signs of that cynicism. His nationwide threats of legal action against schools that discipline more black students than he thinks they should are at least as damaging.

Charter schools are hated by teachers’ unions and by much of the educational establishment in general. They seem to be especially hated when they succeed in educating minority children whom the educational establishment says cannot be educated.

Apparently it can be done when you don’t have to hire unionized teachers with iron-clad tenure, and when you don’t have to follow the dogmas in vogue in the educational establishment.

The Public Policy

Demonizing the Helpers

By 4.30.14

It is not easy to demonize people who have spent hundreds of millions of dollars of their own money to help educate poor children. But some members of the education establishment are taking a shot at it.

The Walton Family Foundation — created by the people who created Walmart — has given more than $300 million to charter schools, voucher programs and other educational enterprises concerned with the education of poor and minority students across the country.

The Walton Family Foundation gave more than $58 million to the KIPP schools, which have had spectacular success in raising the test scores of children in ghettoes where the other children are far behind in academic performance.

The Public Policy

Will Dunbar Rise Again?

By 4.29.14

Dunbar High School in Washington is becoming a controversial issue again — and the controversy that is beginning to develop has implications for American education well beyond the District of Columbia.

There has not been much controversy about Dunbar High School for a long time. Since sometime in the late 1950s, it has been just one more ghetto school with an abysmal academic record — and that has been too common to be controversial.

What is different about the history of Dunbar is that, from its founding in 1870 as the first public high school in the country for black students, until the mid 1950s, it was an outstanding academic success.

As far back as 1899, when tests were given in Washington’s four academic high schools at that time, the black high school scored higher than two of the three white high schools. That was the M Street School that was renamed Dunbar High School in 1916.