The Locker Room

November 29, 2010

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Taxpayer Campaign Financing Case

Posted by Daren Bakst at 3:08 PM

Today, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the Arizona taxpayer campaign financing case.

This development was expected, but until the Court actually decided to hear the case, you never knew what they were going to do.

The central question in the case is whether the matching funds that are a central component of "clean elections" is constitutional.  North Carolina has these types of taxpayer campaign financing systems for appellate judicial races and select Council of State races.

All indications suggest that these political welfare programs will officially be declared unconstitutional by May or June.

The NC legislature should take action immediately, regardless of what the Court does, because chilling free speech and forcing taxpayers to support speech they oppose is unethical and contrary to the First Amendment.

If you want to learn more about this issue, click here and here.


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Distance learning and local control

Posted by Joseph Coletti at 3:00 PM

The Economist newspaper looks at two ways to improve education for less. Both rely on personalizing teaching for each student.

Distance learning

distance matters little to today’s children, says Rebecca Stacey, assistant head at Ashmount Primary, a north London school which already uses BrightSpark to help both gifted and struggling ten and 11-year-olds. Many pupils have relatives on far-flung continents, and use Skype for family chats, she notes: for them, the world is already local.

Trusting teachers

For starters, McKinsey says, throwing money at education does not seem to do much good, at least in those countries that already send all their young people to school (see chart). America, for example, increased its spending on schools by 21% between 2000 and 2007, while Britain pumped in 37% more funds. Yet in this period, according to PISA, standards in both countries slipped.


At the very top of the global educational league table—where only a handful of countries or systems within them manage to attain really high standards—decentralisation is the name of the game.

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Apodaca to chair Senate Rules Committee

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 1:45 PM

From the office of Sen. Phil Berger, Republican nominee for president pro tem:

Berger Names Apodaca as Rules Chairman-Elect

Raleigh, N.C. – Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) has named Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson) as the Chairman-elect of the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate.

Senator Apodaca will lead efforts to revise and reform the Senate Rules ahead of the 2011-2012 session of the North Carolina General Assembly. When the Legislature convenes and organizes in January, Senator Berger plans to appoint Senator Apodaca Chairman of the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate.

The Rules Committee is traditionally one of the most powerful in the Senate since it determines the flow of legislation and governance of the chamber's operations. Senator Apodaca’s appointment ensures that Western North Carolina has a powerful and influential voice in the new Republican Senate leadership.

Senator Berger said, “Senator Apodaca is one of the most fair-minded, thoughtful, and committed public servants I’ve known during my time in the legislature. Senator Apodaca served as one of my most trusted advisors for the last six years; he brings a wealth of experience and a fresh perspective to the Rules Committee.”

Senator Apodaca will begin his fifth term in the Senate in January representing Buncombe, Henderson, and Polk counties in District 48. He said, “Our state is facing serious problems with a significant budget crisis and a crucial need for more jobs. It is critical that the Senate work effectively and efficiently and I am ready to do my part to ensure that happens.”

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Earmarks and other spending

Posted by Joseph Coletti at 12:46 AM

Veronique de Rugy ably summarizes the arguments against earmarks. Of special note is Brandon Arnold's analysis of earmark donors and recipients. He shows that North Carolinians pay $100 to get $53.60 in federal earmarks, which means that even if government spending were not ineffective, not corrupt, and did not crowd out private spending, North Carolina loses money on the deal.

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The Pilgrims, collectivism, and private property

Posted by George Leef at 11:51 AM

Once again, Don Boudreaux rebuts those who are eager to defend collectivism, in this case, people who maintain that we can't draw any lessons about the success the Pilgrims enjoyed after they abandoned socialism in favor of private property and free enterprise.

25 November 2010

Editor, Washington Post
1150 15th St., NW
Washington, DC 20071

Dear Editor:

E.J. Dionne believes that we free-market types mischaracterize the pilgrims'
experience when we point out that they enjoyed no abundance until after Plymouth colony abandoned communal ownership for individual private property ("On Thanksgiving, remembering our common bonds," Nov. 25). Mr. Dionne cites Rush Limbaugh as the chief spokesman for the free-market view, and he directs us to New York Times writer Kate Zernike's recent article for evidence against this free-market interpretation.

If Mr. Dionne is dissatisfied with Mr. Limbaugh's interpretation of the economy of early Plymouth colony, he can read Yale University law professor Robert Ellickson's account of the same in a celebrated article, "Property in Land," published in 1993 in the Yale Law Journal.*

As for Ms. Zernike, she argues that no lessons about collectivism versus
individualism can be drawn from Plymouth colony's experience because that
colony's initial arrangement wasn't really collectivist. She bases her claim on
the fact that collective ownership was demanded by the private investors who
funded the colony.

Ms. Zernike's fact, though, is beside the point - which is that collective
ownership and 'share-and-share alike' arrangements (outside of the immediate family) give individuals weak incentives to produce and strong incentives to free-ride on the efforts of others. The fact that Plymouth colony was a private joint venture between Plymouth colonists and London investors changes this point not one iota: collectivism is a turkey of an arrangement.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University

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Universities and economic revitalization

Posted by George Leef at 11:16 AM

In today's Pope Center piece, Jane Shaw writes about a conference she recently attended in northwestern North Carolina. The theme of the conference was the role that universities can play in the economic revitalization of a region that has fallen on rather hard times. All of the participants gave thumbs up to the notion that universities can play a role, but I remain unconvinced. Economic growth (including revitalization) depends first and foremost on entrepreneurship -- people with business acumen spotting what appear to be opportunities for profitable use of resources. Universities don't supply that. If entrepreneurs do see opportunities, they may need information and various consulting services to be able to take advantage of them. Some university personnel may be able to supply those things, but there is a large national market for information. Why suppose that universities in the area should necessarily be better at satisfying the informational needs of business than private firms or university professors located elsewhere?

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Facts get in the way: Morning edition

Posted by Dr. Terry Stoops at 10:17 AM

Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss wrote a rather amusing post titled "What Tom Friedman got wrong about schools and why it matters." It is the "why it matters" part that cracked me up.

Anyway, Strauss lauds the Finnish public school system for their "investments" in teachers and schools. Here are the OECD per-pupil expenditures (2007, all services; equivalent USD converted using PPPs for GDP):

Finland - Primary: $6,234
Finland - Secondary: $7,829

United States - Primary: $10,229
United States - Secondary: $11,301

OECD average - Primary: $6,752
OECD average - Secondary: $8,346
As a percentage of GDP, Finland spends less (5.6 percent) than the United States (7.6 percent). According to the OECD, teacher salaries are slightly lower in Finland than in the US.

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The Nation's smear of John Tyner gets blasted

Posted by George Leef at 09:54 AM

Last week, the hard-left magazine The Nation ran a smear on John Tyner (and other Americans who are fed up with the TSA), an odious piece that at least had one virtue -- showing that the hard-left is now so concerned about protecting Obama from criticism that all semblance of concern over traditional liberal concerns like the rights of citizens has been tossed out with the garbage. In Salon, Glenn Greenwald pens a blistering counter-attack on the piece, then further mangles the authors who have tried lamely to rehabilitate themselves.

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Barone assesses the likelihood of U.S. states going bankrupt

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 08:31 AM

After reading John Hood's column on the federal and state budget gaps, you might want to check out the latest Washington Examiner report from Michael Barone. He examines the possibility of bankruptcy for some state governments: 

We won't be able to say we weren't warned. Continued huge federal budget deficits will eventually mean huge increases in government borrowing costs, Erskine Bowles, co-chairman of President Obama's deficit reduction commission, predicted this month. "The markets will come. They will be swift and they will be severe and this country will never be the same."

Bowles is talking about what the business press calls bond market vigilantes. People with capital are currently willing to lend money to the federal government, by buying U.S. bonds, at low interest rates. That's because interest rates are generally low and because Treasury bonds are regarded as the safest investment in the world.

But what if they aren't? ...

The federal government still seems a long way from the disaster Bowles envisions. But some state governments aren't.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger came to Washington earlier this year to get $7 billion for his state government, which resorted to paying off vendors with scrip and delaying state income tax refunds. Illinois seems to be in even worse shape. A recent credit rating showed it to be weaker than Iceland and only slightly stronger than Iraq.

It's no mystery why these state governments -- and those of New York and New Jersey as well -- are in such bad fiscal shape. These are the parts of America where the public employee unions have been calling the shots, insisting on expanded payrolls, ever higher pay, hugely generous fringe benefits and utterly unsustainable pension promises.

The prospect is that the bond market will quit financing California and Illinois long before the federal government. It may already be happening.

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A pro-Obama column includes at least one item George Leef might endorse

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:49 AM

In the latest TIME, John McWhorter makes the case that President Obama has done much to benefit black Americans, even though he hasn’t followed a “black-specific agenda.”

Whether you endorse or reject McWhorter’s arguments in favor of the president’s accomplishments, you’ll likely find the following observation interesting:

Few black street myths are more disabling than the observation that a man without a college degree used to be able to support a family on a low-skill manufacturing job but that in today's economy, uneducated black men are unqualified for meaningful employment. This bleak vision of ghetto black men's prospects requires a certain blindness. It's vanishingly rare for the typical cable-TV installer, mechanic, sound technician or air-conditioning specialist to be a white guy with a degree from Duke.

Yet the sense persists that to not go to college, in the traditional sense of four years of liberal-arts study, is a glum disability. Many of us assume this because we've been taught to think of vocational training as a kind of consolation prize, a lower track. But not so long ago, one did not shudder at the notion of a person choosing a career working with his hands. Today, one pathway to a satisfying and even middle-class career is community college.

Stated another way, college has been oversold.

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Joe Klein on choice and markets

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:48 AM

Joe Klein’s latest TIME column has the requisite Bush-bashing (“a re-elected president whose policies seem misguided”), along with the complete absence of understanding of supply-side economics (which Klein labels “demonstrably foolish”), but there is at least one nugget of wisdom:

One possible answer to the problem of passivity was choice: if parents were given the choice of which school their child could attend, for example, they might bestir themselves to take a more active role in their kids' education. I first saw this principle at work in East Harlem in the early 1980s, where parents were offered an array of schools with different curriculums for their children. The results were mixed, but it was lovely to see beaten-down people taking action, taking control of at least one public aspect of their lives for the first time.

I became besotted with the notion of choice, which was another way of saying I became besotted with the idea of markets. If you gave people a choice, the best public products — schools, job-training programs, health care services and, yes, retirement plans — would rise to the top, and average folks would be empowered to become more active, and therefore better, citizens. I still think it's a pretty good principle.

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Bad news for global warming alarmists, good news for taxpayers and consumers

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:47 AM

The latest Bloomberg Businessweek documents the blow voters dealt in the recent election to those who want to pursue a harmful cap-and-trade policy:

[Sen. James Inhofe] has reason to crow: His party's sweep of the midterm elections will bring into office almost four dozen new lawmakers (11 senators and at least 36 House members) who share his skepticism about climate change, according to ThinkProgress, an arm of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a Washington research group allied with Democrats. They join a smaller group of Republican incumbents, some of whom will assume powerful committee positions in January, who also reject that global warming is an immediate threat.

Meanwhile, the number of Americans who agree the earth is warming because of man-made activity has been in free fall, dropping to 34 percent in October, from 50 percent in July 2006, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Now lawmakers who reject the notion that there is ironclad evidence of global warming are rising in seniority in the House. Representative Ralph M. Hall, a Texas Republican, is in line to chair the House Science and Technology Committee, which oversees numerous federal agencies conducting climate-change research. "Reasonable people have serious questions about our knowledge of the state of the science," Hall says.

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Lights, camera, counterproductive tax break?

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:46 AM

Before North Carolina’s General Assembly considers (it’s the second item here) expanding its targeted tax breaks for film and TV productions, perhaps lawmakers would benefit from reading an article from the latest Bloomberg Businessweek.

Tax analysts say it's about time Hollywood took a back seat to more pressing needs. "We are starting to stem the tide of state government pandering to the film industry," says Bill Ahern, policy director for the Tax Foundation, which advocates lower taxes.

The credits also have aroused criticism because some states make them refundable. That means a production owing little or no state taxes still gets a check for the portion of the tax breaks it didn't need. In Michigan and 13 other states the credits are also transferable and can be sold in a secondary market to companies looking to cut their own taxes. Often the transactions are secret. A Connecticut nonprofit's Freedom of Information Act request forced the state to reveal that Bank of America, Wachovia, Hershey, Comcast, Provident Life & Casualty Insurance, and Colonial Life & Accident Insurance had bought credits from filmmakers to lower their tax bills. Provident, Colonial, and Bank of America confirmed that they purchased the tax credits and declined to comment further. The other three declined to comment.

"Outrageous," says Robert Tannenwald, a former vice-president at the Boston Federal Reserve Bank and now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "There's no reason for a government to finance a financial institution in such a circuitous way."

Still not convinced film incentives are a bad idea? Perhaps Joe Coletti’s research on the topic will convince you.

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A sign of government growth

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:45 AM

The latest Bloomberg Businessweek uses Bureau of Labor Statistics data highlight the metropolitan areas with the largest job growth and largest job losses from September 2009 to September 2010.

Suburban Detroit (Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills) shed 2.6 percent of its jobs, the worst performance of any metro area in the country, thanks — no doubt — to its questionable economic policies.

Meanwhile, it shouldn’t be hard to guess which metro area fared best in the age of Obama. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria registered 2 percent job growth. No other metropolitan area topped 1 percent growth.

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In case you missed him …

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:44 AM

Terry Stoops made the case for boosting the number of public charter schools in North Carolina during a weekend appearance on News 14 Carolina’s “Political Connections.”

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New Carolina Journal Online features

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:35 AM

The latest Carolina Journal Online exclusive features Don Carrington's report on the role of media reports in leading investigators toward the truth about former Gov. Mike Easley's conduct in office. 

John Hood's Daily Journal suggests that government officials who finally see their fiscal hole should stop digging the hole deeper.

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