‘No Evidence’ That Gun Buyback Programs Reduce Gun Violence, New Economic Study Finds

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

The latest research dovetails with previous studies that found gun buyback programs were ineffective but popular with the public

Shortly before Christmas in 2018, a woman named Darlene voluntarily turned in a 9mm pistol to the Baltimore Police Department. It was just one of about 500 firearms the department collected that day as part of the city’s gun buyback program, which paid citizens somewhere between $25 and $500 in exchange for their firearms and high-capacity magazines.

Darlene, however, had a confession. She was turning in her 9mm, she told a local news reporter, so she could “upgrade to a better weapon.”

Like what? the reporter asked.

“I don’t know,” Darlene said. “I haven’t quite decided.

Do Gun Buybacks Work?

Supporters of gun buybacks, such as Baltimore’s mayor and police chief, say the program is an effective way to reduce violent crime.

“Our point here is, there are guns on the streets of our city,” said then Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh. “We are signaling folks out there, we don’t care if it’s grandpa’s gun or your gun, we want it.”

Darlene’s story, however, was used as ammunition by skeptics of gun buybacks to show the programs are ineffective and a waste of taxpayer resources. Skeptics of gun buybacks have long argued that stacks of rifles, pistols, and gun magazines “look impressive when they’re displayed at news conferences,” but argue they do little to reduce gun violence.

“Researchers who have evaluated gun control strategies say buybacks—despite their popularity—are among the least effective ways to reduce gun violence,” USA Today reported back in 2013.

A newly released academic study reinforces the claim that gun buybacks don’t reduce gun violence.

‘No Evidence’ Gun Buybacks Reduce Gun Crime

Last week the National Bureau of Economic Research published a paper titled “Have US Gun Buyback Programs Misfired?”

The paper, which was authored by economists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, San Diego State University, and Montana State University, differed from previous studies in that it didn’t study a single city’s Gun Buyback Program (GBP), but an array of them.

Researchers said they identified 339 GBPs across 277 cities, examining public records to determine the number of firearms sold in each. They concluded the data is clear: gun buybacks do not reduce gun crime.

“Using data from the National Incident Based Reporting System, we find no evidence that GBPs reduce gun crime,” the researchers said. “Using data from the National Vital Statistics System, we also find no evidence that GBPs reduce suicides or homicides where a firearm was involved.”

The NBER paper dovetails with other studies that focused specifically on Seattle, Buffalo, and Milwaukee, which found buyback programs were ineffective but popular with the public.

“I think the evidence still suggests that if the goal is to prevent intentional homicide, the gun buybacks are not likely to achieve that objective,” Michael S. Scott, director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing and a clinical professor at Arizona State University, told The Democrat and Chronicle in 2016.

The Cost of Gun Buybacks

Some may argue that there is little harm in gun buybacks even if they don’t work, since they are voluntary. Yet this ignores the fact that gun buybacks are quite costly.

The first ever US gun buyback occurred in Baltimore in 1974. Citizens were paid $50 ($259 in 2019 dollars) for any firearms they turned in, researchers said, and the city collected some 13,500 firearms. The cost? Some $660,000.

This is just one city. Costs are substantially larger at the national level. Australia’s massive 1996 gun buyback program, for example, collected 640,000 firearms, costing taxpayers some $230 million. A buyback on that scale in the US would involve the collection of about 78.6 million firearms, researchers said. The cost would likely be tens of billions of dollars.

In the US, however, gun buybacks tend to occur at the local level. Nevertheless, costs can run surprisingly high, since there is little incentive to control spending. The lack of spending oversight has at times manifested itself in comical ways.

In 2019, for example, YouTuber Royal Nonesuch was able to make $300 by selling several “pipe guns” he made out of scrap—he described them as “the crappiest guns” he ever made— to the state of Missouri. Officials at the event didn’t seem to care or even notice, evidenced by the fact that the individual who paid Nonesuch never bothered to inspect the firearms.

Economist Daniel Mitchell offered an anecdote that is perhaps even more amusing. During Baltimore’s 2018 gun buyback, Mitchell noticed the city was offering people $25 for every “high-capacity” magazine they turned in.

The problem?

A quick online search revealed that some magazines could be purchased for between $11-$13. This meant a clever entrepreneur could have purchased a car full of magazines and turned them into the city to make a quick, hefty profit at the expense of taxpayers (and to the benefit of gun manufacturers).

Buybacks: Great Politics, Bad Policy

If a preponderance of evidence shows gun buybacks are ineffective and costly, it invites an important question: why are they so popular with local governments?

The answer can be found in public choice theory, an economic concept pioneered by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Buchanan that essentially says government officials make decisions based on self-interest just like everyone else.

Gun buybacks may not be good policy, but it turns out they are great politics—especially in cities plagued by gun violence.

For starters, an abundance of research tends to agree that buybacks are relatively popular with the public. The policies have the appearance of being “voluntary” (except, of course, for the wealth that was taxed to make the purchase), and are easier to pass and less controversial than gun control laws. This allows politicians and bureaucrats to show they are “doing something” to reduce gun violence in cities. Meanwhile, the only real costs of gun buybacks—tax revenues essentially wasted—are widely dispersed, which, as F.A. Hayek once pointed out, makes them “difficult to see.”

The economist Milton Friedman famously stated that “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.” But people often do judge policies by their intentions (or their appearances)—which is no doubt why Friedman so often made this point.

The popularity of gun buybacks is yet another instance in the government arena of good intentions overshadowing dismal results.

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This article was published on May 14, 2021 and is reproduced with permission of FEE, Foundation for Economic Education

 

Regulatory Capture, Teacher Unions, and CDC Abuse

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

In his seminal article in 1971 on the economic theory of regulation, the Nobel Laureate George Stigler of the University of Chicago argued that government agencies were often “captured” by the industries they were designed to regulate. Before Stigler, the common view was that noble regulators worked assiduously to correct “market failures” with regulation, in order to promote the public interest. Stigler showed that if we assume that regulators have other goals in mind besides promoting the public interest (e.g., covering up their own government failure or enhancing their power, prestige, and budget) they will eventually represent the interests of the industry they are supposed to regulate. 

This is referred to as “regulatory capture.” Examples such as a “revolving door” between defense contractors and the Department of Defense and cozy relationships between pharmaceutical companies and the Food and Drug Administration and large energy firms and the Environmental Protection Agency come to mind. When there is regulatory capture, the interests of firms become more important than the public interest, which leads to a net loss to society.

Traditionally, capture theory applies mainly to private sector interests, i.e., firms and industries. However, thanks to several intrepid reporters at the New York Post, we now know that capture theory can also be applied to public sector unions. These reporters uncovered palpable evidence of explicit collusion between the American Federation of Teachers and the CDC. Similar types of explicit collusion between teachers unions and public health officials may also be occurring at the state and local levels. We know that it has also occurred in the U.K., where Boris Johnson appears to be defying trade union pressure to keep masks on secondary school children.

What motivates political appointees at the CDC to collude with teachers unions to prolong lockdowns and continue the confinement and deformity of our children? First, the Biden administration is beholden to teachers unions, who provide substantial financial support to Democrats and also constitute a major, reliable voting bloc. Second, CDC stands for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and thus, is responsible for the single greatest government failure of all time. Their ineptitude, inconsistency, and overall incompetence, both before and after the outbreak of the virus, has been staggering. Therefore, it is important that the CDC keeps its trade union friends for political cover. Third, public health police state officials, such as the CDC director, are basking in the limelight and flush with funds, power, and influence. For infectious disease experts, who have become our unelected rulers, these are the best of times. Pandering to teachers unions allows them to continue regulating all aspects of our family life. Note also that while the CDC is lionized by the media, they are also shielded by craven, cowardly politicians from any accountability for the damage they have inflicted on our economy, society, and physical and mental health, as a result of their misguided quarantines, lockdowns, and “reopenings.” 

A sad irony is that the agency responsible for the most massive government failure of all time is allowed to grow and prosper, while continuing its ongoing collective theft of private property, services, and economic, personal, and religious liberty. For example, thanks to the CDC, the entire cruise industry has been grounded for at least fifteen months. CDC guidelines have led to closures of public libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions for over fourteen months. The CDC Director’s recent message of “impending doom” is music to the ears of teachers union officials, who have a vested interest in maintaining maximal use of nonpharmaceutical interventions, such as school closures, physical distancing, and masks for children as young as four years old.

It is impossible to understate the dastardly actions of teachers unions in exerting undue influence on the federal agency charged with deciding how and when to “reopen” schools. Let’s start with the fact that teachers have already received more special treatment than any other type of worker. Recall that when our state-run Covid religion was established in March 2020, a totalitarian/Orwellian taxonomy of “essential” and “nonessential” workers and industries was developed. In most states, teachers are “essential” workers. Unlike many “nonessential” workers, teachers have received full pay during quarantines and lockdowns, with virtually no job losses in the sector. In some school districts, teachers have even received raises and additional benefits, while children remain at home to learn online, often with inferior Internet connections and overwhelmed parents to supervise them. Unlike almost all other “essential” workers, many teachers have not physically reported to work since March 2020. Also, in many states, teachers were vaccinated before many others in their age groups, since we were told that this step was necessary to reopen the schools. The forced masking of students as young as four years old for six hours a day is designed to protect teachers, not students. It has never been clearer that teachers unions aim to prolong the pandemic party for teachers while paying no heed to the physical and psychological damage to the nation’s students.

Now that the collusion between the teachers unions and the CDC has been exposed, we can no longer pretend that public health officials have the public interest in mind. Their claim to follow the “science” has been revealed as fallacious, since they are actually following “political science.” Since March 2020, we have all been human subjects in a grand social science experiment, which has been conducted without “informed consent.” As social scientists, when we conduct an experiment, we are required by law to obtain the informed consent of each of our human subjects. That is, we are required to explain to each subject, in great detail, precisely what we are trying to accomplish in our project, as well as its duration, cost, and risks. All of these protocols have not been followed. We also have to abide by an ethical code, which says that there should be no psychological or physical harm to the subject.

There is no doubt that this unprecedented and deviant child experiment has inflicted significant harm on its human subjects. Thus, while some might say that it is wrong to demonize public health officials, we say that their actions, especially as they relate to children, have been demonic. Regulatory capture of the CDC by teachers unions is a scandal of epic proportions.

For these reasons, we call on parents to reject CDC guidelines for schools and any semblance of the “new normal” at schools. We should no longer allow our children to be unwitting subjects in this deviant and unethical grand social experiment. CDC and teachers-union-enabled child abuse and its ongoing destruction of normal childhood development must end now. The next time your child is forced to wear a face mask for seven hours a day and prevented from interacting with her playmates, you should call child protective services on that teacher or school official. The CDC and the teacher’s unions are now officially guilty of child abuse.

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This article was published on May 12, 2021 and is reproduced with permission from the American Institute for Economic Research.

Dr. Donald Siegel is Foundation Professor of Public Policy and Management and Director of the School of Public Affairs (SPA) at Arizona State University.

Consumers Expect Surging Inflation to Crush the Purchasing Power of their Labor: Fed’s Survey

Estimated Reading Time: < 1 minute

Consumers are picking up on the rise of inflation, and the Fed, which has been trying to heat up inflation, is pleased. The Fed watches “inflation expectations” carefully. The minutes from the March FOMC meeting mention “inflation expectations” 12 times.

The New York Fed’s Survey of Consumer Expectations for April, released today, showed that median inflation expectations for one year from now rose to 3.4%, matching the prior highs in 2013 (the surveys began in June 2013).

But wait… the median earnings growth expectations 12 months from now was only 2.1%, and remains near the low end of the spectrum, a sign that consumers are grappling with consumer price inflation outrunning earnings growth. The whoppers were in the major specific categories.

So even as consumers expect their earnings to grow by only 2.1% over the next 12 months, and their total household income by only 2.4%, according to the survey, they expect to face these whoppers of price increases:

  • Home prices: +5.5%, a new high in the data series
  • Rent: +9.5%, fifth month in a row of increases and new high in the data series
  • Food prices: +5.8%
  • Gasoline prices: +9.2%
  • Healthcare costs: +9.1%
  • College education: +5.9%.

Sadly, the Fed doesn’t ask consumers about their expectations for new and used vehicle prices, which are now in the process of spiraling into the stratosphere. It would have been amusing to see what consumers expect those prices to do over the next 12 months.

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Continue reading this article at Wolf Street.

Let’s Make A Deal: The Bourgeois Deal Among Many Others

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Editors Note:  Deidre McCloskey has written a brilliant trilogy attempting to explain why, from almost the dawn of recorded history, mankind made little progress and lived on roughly a few dollars a day in today’s money.  But around 1750, something happened in society, and material progress began to change and has continued to advance to this day.  Today, socialists and progressives threaten the very foundation which made this advance possible.  If you don’t understand the foundation of our progress, then you can’t appreciate its destruction and what it will mean to you and to mankind. Please view this video along with this article.

 

In her trilogy of books on what she calls “the Bourgeois Era,” Deirdre McCloskey argues that we owe our prosperity to the Bourgeois Deal, a broad social consensus that embraces market-tested innovation. In our book Leave Me Alone and I’ll Make You Rich: How the Bourgeois Deal Enriched the World, Professor McCloskey and I condense, elaborate, and illustrate. The Bourgeois Deal—in brief, “Leave me alone to buy, sell, innovate, and test my ideas in markets, and I’ll make you rich”—has, in fact, led to a Great Enrichment of the world that started in northwestern Europe and that now threatens to actually make poverty history. In contrast, the non-Bourgeois Deals—the Blue Blood Deal, the Bismarckian Deal, the Bolshevik Deal, and finally the Bureaucratic Deal—have bound us, limited us, and made us, ultimately, poorer than we would otherwise be.

Hierarchy and inequality unite the non-Bourgeois Deals, which are only “deals” insofar as the term can be applied to an understanding among non-equals, one of whom has a gun under the table. Lest you think this gun is a metaphor, I assure you, the gun is very, very real. Try breaking the Blue Blood Deal in the calamitous fourteenth century (OK, fine–it might not have been a gun in the fourteenth century) or the Bolshevik Deal in Russia after the Revolution or the Bureaucratic Deal of a highly-credentialed American License Raj and see where it gets you. Here are the Deals and what they mean, in brief.

The Blue Blood Deal: In her Bourgeois Era trilogy, McCloskey calls this the Aristocratic Deal. We call it the Blue Blood Deal for alliterative purposes. It extols rank and distinction, blood and birth. It is the Deal of Arthur’s Round Table, where the good and gentle do feats of piety and condescending service because they are great. In its harsher version, it is the presumption of Queen Jadis in C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew entering 20th century England and commanding Uncle Andrew.

“Procure for me at once a chariot or a flying carpet or a well-trained dragon, or whatever is usual for royal and noble persons in your land. Then bring me to places where I get clothes and jewels and slaves fit for my rank. Tomorrow I will begin the conquest of the world.”

The knights and Queen Jadis are not made great by their actions: rather, their greatness creates for them a handful of noble obligations and prerogatives. The Blue Blood Deal rallies British soldiers at Agincourt to the side of Henry V not because winning the battle will better the lives of the average British man or woman but because it will bring glory to Henry and gentle the condition of the soldier who in years to come can show the scars from the wounds he took on St. Crispin’s Day. The Blue Blood Deal embraces and praises feats of arms on the battlefield but laughs in amusement or contempt at the idea of dignity for the executive exhausted from a day of making very big decisions for the sake of nameless, faceless shareholders.

The Bolshevik Deal: Honor The Party and those who wish to plan every aspect of your life. They might be bloodthirsty tyrants, but their bloodthirst and their tyranny serves the very noble vision expressed in John Lennon’s “Imagine” and in progressive Twitter feeds. It is a Deal beset by obligation: we have done for you (even though you didn’t ask, or agree to the social contract). In its milder forms it points to the infrastructure that supports small businesses and says with Barack Obama or Elizabeth Warren “You didn’t build that,” ignoring all the while that the super-rich pay taxes out of proportion to their income. It says “You have, and by assumption, your having causes others to have not. Therefore, you owe us. Shut up, obey, don’t ask the wrong questions, and maybe we won’t put a bullet in your head or send you to starve or freeze to death in a gulag.”

The Bismarckian Deal: The deal, obviously, gets its name from Germany’s Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, and the social insurance schemes he implemented in order to fend off the socialists. It tells us, in short, to forsake the imperfectly-operating institutions of civil society. Ignore what the historian David Beito and the economic historian John E. Murray have found, and embrace the state as your caretaker from cradle to grave. The state is a substitute god or parent that will feed you and educate you. The state will care for you in old age and in the event of an accident that leaves you unable to work. Never mind that the money they put in your right pocket comes out of your left pocket, or someone else’s pocket. See The State as your noble, wise, and sufficient caretaker, and all will go well with you—in particular, the Bismarckian state will defend you from the bolsheviks and the bourgeoisie.

The Bureaucratic Deal: This is the Deal of the administrative state. It says “Honor me and defer to me by virtue of my expertise (as indicated by my master’s degree or my Ed.D or my other credentials). Follow The Science (which I produce and interpret), and seek permission at every turn for the times when you want to open a new store or introduce a new product or come up with a new way to produce an old product. It is the Deal of the nudgers, the deal of permission for everything. It is the Deal of applied behavioral economics that says, to paraphrase the philosopher David Schmidtz, “We run our own lives poorly, but we will run others’ lives well.”

The Bourgeois Deal: Meanwhile, the Bourgeois Deal says “Physician, heal thyself.” The Bourgeois Deal, we argue, is the appropriate Deal for a society of masterless men and women: it says leave me, a fully-grown adult, alone to blaze my own trails and try new things. Especially don’t expect me to ask you or the American Consolidated Mousetrap Company for permission to produce, sell, and market what I think will be a much better mousetrap than anything they offer. I grudgingly admit that people will imitate my innovations or at least come up with innovations of their own that lead to better mouse-catching, and hence, I don’t expect my unusual profits to last very long before I’m grudgingly forced to accept a normal rate of return—though I’ll admit when looking at a lot of those other deals that they look pretty good once I’ve got mine. By the time I’m finished, I will have made you—my customers, my shareholders, my bondholders, and my business associates—rich.

The Nobel laureate James M. Buchanan and his acolytes in the Virginia School of political economy sought to develop a political-economic analysis for a society of natural equals. Only radical egalitarianism of the Bourgeois Deal really fits the bill. The non-bourgeois deals seem to mask thinly-veiled contempt for other human beings who, if not controlled, will make the wrong choices. As H.L. Mencken famously said, the urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the desire to rule it. We’ve paid the butcher’s bill for generations of guillotine-operating humanitarians and kindly inquisitors. Perhaps we should grow up a little and take a different path.

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This article was published on May 8, 2021 and is reprinted with permission from AIER, American Institute for Economic Research.

Swedish Hospital Bans Puberty Blockers, Cross-Sex Hormones for Gender Dysphoric Youths Under 16. We Should, Too.

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

Sweden, arguably one of the most politically and socially liberal countries in the world, has nonetheless taken a giant step toward protecting gender dysphoric minors and their mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

The Society for Evidence Based Gender Medicine reported on Wednesday that the Astrid Lindgren’s Children’s Hospital—an arm of the one of the most renowned hospitals in Sweden, the Karolinska University Hospital—recently released a policy statement that included new guidelines for the care of youths with gender dysphoria under the age of 16.

The guidelines, which took effect April 1, are profound: They contradict many of the assertions of the transgender lobby, which encourage parents and children to accept that cross-sex hormones and puberty blockers are normal, healthy treatments for minors with gender dysphoria and should be pursued with little hesitation.

In the unofficial English translation of the original Swedish text provided by the Society for Evidence Based Gender Medicine, the statement from the Children’s Hospital reads in part:

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In December 2019, the [Swedish Agency for Health Technology Assessment and Assessment of Social Services] published an overview of the knowledge base, which showed a lack of evidence for both the long-term consequences of the treatments, and the reasons for the large influx of patients in recent years.

These treatments are potentially fraught with extensive and irreversible adverse consequences, such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, infertility, increased cancer risk, and thrombosis.

This makes it challenging to assess the risk/benefit for the individual patient, and even more challenging for the minors and their guardians to be in a position of an informed stance regarding these treatments.

The guidelines appear to lean on the U.K. High Court’s Dec. 1 ruling in the Keira Bell case, saying it “established overarching problems associated with puberty-blocking treatment,” adding:

Further, the ruling specifically establishes that it is highly unlikely, if at all possible, for an individual under the age of 16 to give informed consent to this treatment.

Influenced by that ruling, the Children’s Hospital said that “it has been decided that hormonal treatments (i.e., puberty-blocking and cross-sex hormones) will not be initiated in gender dysphoric patients under the age of 16.”

Patients between the ages of 16 and 18 may only receive treatment within clinical trial settings approved by the Ethical Review Agency/Swedish Institutional Review Board. The Children’s Hospital said it would be doing a “careful individual assessment” of patients currently receiving puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones to determine whether those treatments should continue.

Those new guidelines mean the Children’s Hospital has stopped following what the Society for Evidence Based Gender Medicine called the “Dutch Protocol,” which it says “allows for administration of puberty blockers at age 12 (and increasingly, as young as 8-9, at the early stage of puberty known as Tanner 2), and cross-sex hormones at the age of 16.”

Even to liberal Sweden, that seemed astoundingly young.

The new protocol also makes Sweden the first country to officially deviate from World Professional Association for Transgender Health guidance, which continues to promote puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones on children under age 16.

It’s hard to fathom that left-wing ideology in American culture, dragging the medical community with it, has ceded so much ground to LGBTQ activists that puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones are even discussed as options—let alone healthy ones—for children.

For years, medical professionals didn’t even know what puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones would do to a child. Little research was available because it had rarely been tried, tested, and evaluated, yet now the medical community—bolstered by leftist ideologues—push them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics endorses a “gender-affirming” approach that includes supporting insurance plans that include coverage for, “when appropriate, surgical interventions.”

Caution seems far more prudent when it comes to a child’s growing body, especially through puberty, but when it comes to transgenderism, prudence, research, and facts have been actively cast aside. Patience, talk therapy, and time are rarely discussed as viable options within the LGBTQ community.

On this issue, much of the medical community, and culture with it, has surrendered to the pressure of the LGBTQ lobby, which usually suggests that the only “cure” to gender dysphoric symptoms a child has is a medical transition via cross-sex hormones and puberty blockers.

Unfortunately, often the end result is akin to that of someone like Bell, whose case the Children’s Hospital guidelines alluded to (but without mentioning her name). She began a transition at the behest of medical professionals, and now lives as a biological female without breasts and regrets her decision.

Lawmakers, concerned parents, and medical professionals who seek to err on the side of caution need to come together and push for statewide bans of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for children under 18 years of age.

As the new Swedish Children’s Hospital guidelines stated, the medical evidence against utilizing these treatments is compelling. They are drastic treatments that deliver irreversible, life-altering results.

In April, Arkansas became the first state to ban cross-sex hormones and puberty blockers for minors. Other states should follow suit. Children’s minds and bodies must be protected before it’s too late.

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This article was published on May 7, 2021 and is reproduced with permission from The Daily Signal.

F.A. Hayek on ‘the Supreme Rule’ That Separates Collectivism From Individualism

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

The principle that ends justify means is one where the ethics of individualists and collectivists collide, F.A. Hayek saw.

Born in Vienna on this date (May 8) in 1899, Austrian economist and political philosopher Friedrich August von Hayek lived to see almost the entirety of the 20th Century. He won a Nobel Prize for Economics in 1974 and died in 1992 at the age of 92.

The 20th was perhaps the most collectivist century since the Incan Empire of the 16th—a tragic irony since Hayek offered the world some of the most trenchant criticisms of the collectivist poison.

Hayek’s insights on collectivism are sprinkled throughout his many works and are expressed particularly well in his classic 1944 book, The Road to Serfdom. Excerpts are offered here as a tribute to him on this 122nd anniversary of his birth. (Additionally, I urge readers who have a special interest in this existential matter to consult the selection of readings I provide at the bottom of this essay.)

Collectivism is a perspective on human life and action. It views people as a blob requiring unified (if not unanimous) direction. Individualism is its opposite because it sees “humanity” as an abstract, composed of unique individuals, each one with a mind and rights of his own. While a collectivist would readily subsume the individual to such notions as majority vote or “the general will,” an individualist is wary of any person or group claiming to speak for others without their consent.

Hayek pointed out what ought to be obvious but is often glossed over, namely, that the “plans” of collectivist authority are bullied into place at the expense of the plans of individuals. That means that all forms of socialism are, essentially, collectivist and that all criticisms of collectivism apply to socialism in one form or another. Socialism invariably utilizes collectivist rhetoric and, most importantly, it attempts to achieve its ends by collectivist methods. Taken together, the contributions of Hayek and his mentor Ludwig von Mises constitute such a complete and powerful dismantling of the socialist vision that socialists’ only effective response has been to ignore them.

“Nearly all the points which are disputed between socialists and [classical, free market] liberals,” Hayek writes, “concern the methods common to all forms of collectivism and not the particular ends for which socialists want to use them…”

For example, almost everyone favors education in the abstract. An individualist would encourage a multiplicity of methods and institutions to acquire it through personal choice and private entrepreneurship. A socialist supports a collective approach—state schools, state curriculum, mandates from authority, one-size-fits-all. An individualist would never homogenize education by command. He might even quote Mao and really mean it: “Let a hundred flowers bloom!” A collectivist like the socialist Mao would see no purpose in a hundred flowers blooming except to cut them down to common, obedient stumps.

To a collectivist, leaving the flowers alone or permitting endless varieties of them is tantamount, Hayek notes, to no plan at all. The plans of individuals are chaos by definition, whereas the plans of centralized authority are somehow inherently rational. “What our planners demand,” says Hayek, “is a central direction of all economic activity according to a single plan, laying down how the resources of society should be ‘consciously directed’ to serve particular ends in a definite way.”

This distinction reduces to this: Shall there be competition or not? The individualist would answer that question with an enthusiastic “YES!” because competition implies individual choice, accountability, and a tendency toward efficiency. It implies experimentation, with consumers by their free selections ultimately deciding whose plans produce the best results. The collectivist is instinctively anti-competition because the plan he wants might not be the one that other people choose in a competitive arena. A free and individualist society, explains Hayek,

…regards competition as superior not only because it is in most circumstances the most efficient method known but even more because it is the only method by which our activities can be adjusted to each other without coercive or arbitrary intervention of authority. Indeed, one of the main arguments in favor of competition is that it dispenses with the need for ‘conscious social control’ and that it gives the individuals a chance to decide whether the prospects of a particular occupation are sufficient to compensate for the disadvantages and risks connected to it.

Collectivist policymaking is inescapably the summit of arrogance. It is not the wise undertaking of an omniscient, benevolent Wizard of Oz. As in the movie, the “wizard” turns out to be just another mortal (or his lackeys) behind the collectivist curtain, pretending to be smarter and bigger than the rest of us. Why should his plans take precedence over those of other humans? You can claim, as collectivists do, that he represents the majority plus one, or that he possesses superior intentions, or whatever, but you cannot explain away the fact that such claims are nothing more than arrogant presumptions. “Might makes right” is what collectivist planning is all about.

Students today are often taught that on the imaginary “political spectrum,” socialism and communism are “left of center” and capitalism and fascism are “right of center.” As I wrote in a recent essay, The Only Spectrum That Makes Sense,” this is frightfully misleading. Socialism, communism and fascism are all peas in the same collectivist pod. Hayek held that they all despised both competition and the individual, and he was precisely right.

“The idea of complete centralization of the direction of economic activity still appalls most people,” wrote Hayek, “not only because of the stupendous difficulty of the task, but even more because of the horror inspired by the idea of everything being directed from a single center.”

In Chapter Ten of The Road to Serfdom (“Why the Worst Get to the Top”), Hayek lands a blow from which collectivists will never recover. Why? Because it is rooted fundamentally in a moral argument:

The principle that the end justifies the means is in individualist ethics regarded as the denial of all morals. In collectivist ethics it becomes necessarily the supreme rule; there is literally nothing which the consistent collectivist must not be prepared to do if it serves ‘the good of the whole,’ because ‘the good of the whole’ is to him the only criterion of what ought to be done. The raison d’etat, in which collectivist ethics has found its most explicit formulation, knows no other limit than that set by expediency—the suitability of the particular act for the end in view…There can be no limit to what [the collectivist state’s] citizen must be prepared to do, no act which his conscience must prevent him from committing, if it is necessary for an end which the community has set itself or which his superiors order him to achieve.

Friedrich August von Hayek was a giant of an intellectual. One need not be himself an intellectual to appreciate him. You simply must be an individual who appreciates the fact that we are all individuals, and that only God himself is fit to plan the lives or economies of others.

Happy Birthday, F. A. Hayek!

*****

This article was published on May 8, 2021 and is reprinted with permission from FEE, Foundation for Economic Education

 

 

Biden’s Universal Preschool Plan

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

There are four primary reasons that free, universal preschool should be vigorously opposed.

Last week, President Biden unveiled his “American Families Plan” that would dramatically expand the federal government’s role in education and family life. In addition to paid leave, subsidized child care, and two years of “free” community college for all Americans, the $1.8 trillion plan aims to provide taxpayer-funded universal preschool programs for all three- and four-year-olds.

Paid for by tax hikes on high-income earners and accumulated wealth, Biden’s proposed plan would actually cost closer to $2.5 trillion while increasing government debt and decreasing GDP, according to a new study released Wednesday by the Wharton School of Business. The Biden administration calculates that the “free” universal preschool proposal alone will cost $200 billion, although the Wharton model suggests that is a low estimate.

Here are four primary reasons that free, universal preschool–long a goal of progressive activists and politicians–should be vigorously opposed:

Championing his “American Families Plan” in last week’s speech to Congress, President Biden now “guarantees four additional years of public education for every person in America, starting as early as we can,” with two years of preschool and two years of community college. “Twelve years is no longer enough today, to compete with the rest of the world in the 21st century,” he said. Biden made the point that this is “school–not daycare,” which the teacher’s unions will fully embrace.

The president also added that our “nation made 12 years of public education universal in the last century. It made us the best-educated, best-prepared nation in the world.” Yet, the data don’t support this assertion. In fact, US academic performance is rather mediocre compared to other developed countries. According to the results of the most recent international PISA exam for 15-year-olds that assesses academic performance in 79 countries, 30 countries outperformed the US in math, and reading scores have remained flat for years. These lackluster results occur even as the US spends more on education than other countries.

Within the US, academic performance in the nation’s government schools is similarly bleak. The 2019 results of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), which is often referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, revealed that math and reading scores dropped for fourth- and eighth-graders since 2017. For 12th graders, 2019 math scores were flat overall and reading scores declined since the test was previously administered to seniors in 2015. Among the lowest-performing students, both math and reading scores dropped.

If the government can’t even ensure strong academic outcomes for the K-12 students currently within its purview, then why should its role be expanded to younger and older students, with taxpayers footing the bill?

I’ve written previously that there is no constitutional role for the federal government in education. As James Madison (known as “the father of the Constitution”) wrote in The Federalist Papers, no. 45: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”

Expanding the federal government’s involvement in early childhood and higher education through Biden’s proposed plan will create long-lasting tentacles at the state and local levels that can be manipulated depending on who is in power in Washington, DC.

Education policy decisions should be made by individual states and communities, without federal meddling. Our country’s system of federalism allows for more localized decision-making, and facilitates mobility and choice. If someone doesn’t like a state policy or regulation, she can move elsewhere. This empowers tax paying parents to “vote with their feet” against bad policies and for good ones.

If states like California or cities like New York City want to adopt universal preschool programs, that is up to their citizens. If they achieve positive educational outcomes, they can serve as models of success to other states and locales. If not, they can offer cautionary lessons. But if the federal government imposes universal preschool across the nation, there will be less experimentation, less accountability, fewer options, and no escape.

We’ve had government preschool programs in place for decades and they have failed to produce sustained, positive outcomes for students while costing taxpayers billions of dollars. Some studies show positive results of public preschool programs for low-income children, but these results are often fleeting. And for most middle- and upper-income children, the long-term benefits of preschool programs are negligible.

The Brookings Institution explained back in 2017 that oft-cited studies showing positive gains from state pre-K programs are inadequate and that more in-depth studies of the lasting impact of public pre-K programs, including the Head Start Impact Study and the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K study, reveal that any short-term benefits were gone by the end of kindergarten.

More alarming, by third grade the academic performance of children in the Tennessee pre-k program actually lagged behind the control group of children who did not participate in the program. Similarly troubling, by third grade, the children in the Head Start program were found by teachers to have more behavioral and emotional issues than the control group of children who did not attend the program.

The Vanderbilt University researchers who conducted the Tennessee pre-k program analysis provide wise warnings for public preschool policy. They explain that “the inauspicious findings of the current study offer a cautionary tale about expecting too much from state pre-k programs.”

They continue: “The fact that the Head Start Impact study – the only other randomized study of a contemporary publicly funded pre-k program– also found few positive effects after the pre-k year adds further cautions (Puma et al., 2012). State-funded pre-k is a popular idea, but for the sake of the children and the promise of pre-k, credible evidence that a rather typical state pre-k program is not accomplishing its goals should provoke some reassessment.”

The “American Families Plan” is being touted as a program to strengthen families, but more government involvement in education will only weaken them. Parents who choose not to send their children to preschool, or individuals who choose not to have children, will bear the burden of subsidizing preschool for others. Universal preschool programs unnecessarily raise the cost of stay-at-home parenthood and impose additional costs on those who choose to remain childless. Only about half of three- and four-year-olds are currently enrolled in prekindergarten programs, but a government push for universal preschool may pressure more families to enroll their children in these programs even if they would prefer to delay school entry.

Moreover, government preschool programs will limit early childhood programming choices for parents and drive up costs. The government preschool programs will be required to pay their teachers a $15 minimum wage, use a state-approved curriculum, and conform to various “high-quality” standards, including set student-teacher ratios. Many parents might have a different definition of “high-quality” than the government does, but find that their early childhood options become narrower as the government assumes greater control of the education sector.

Government schooling already consumes more of childhood and adolescence than ever before, and it is failing many children. Now, it is poised to be expanded to ever-earlier ages and remain well into adulthood, buttressing a massive extension of the “cradle-to-grave” welfare state.

“The issue,” wrote economist and political philosopher Murray Rothbard, “which has been joined in the past and in the present is: shall there be a free society with parental control, or a despotism with State control?”

Rothbard continued:

“We shall see the logical development of the idea of State encroachment and control. America, for example, began, for the most part, with a system of either completely private or with philanthropic schools. Then, in the nineteenth century, the concept of public education changed subtly, until everybody was urged to go to the public school, and private schools were accused of being divisive. Finally, the State imposed compulsory education on the people, either forcing children to go to public schools or else setting up arbitrary standards for private schools. Parental instruction was frowned on. Thus, the State has been warring with parents for control over their children.” (Emphasis added.)

Biden’s “American Families Plan” is only the latest incursion in that war. No matter what taxpayer-funded freebies the government may offer as bait, parents must not yield another inch to the State when it comes to their sacred responsibilities to their children. To truly strengthen families and help children flourish, we should get the government out of our lives and our learning.

*****

This article was published on May 6, 2021 and is reproduced with permission from FEE, Foundation for Economic Education.

Thanks To Covid Stimulus, Employers Can’t Find Workers. Montana’s Governor Is Having None Of It

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

Montana governor Greg Gianforte has had enough of President Joe Biden’s covid relief bills. Instead of paying people to stay unemployed, he’s giving them a bonus for finding work.

After scrapping what he called the “impractical government mandates” imposed by former governor Steve Bullock in 2020, businesses in his state were still struggling.

We got rid of hours of operation, capacity limits. We got rid of our statewide mask mandate. We put lawsuit protection in place for businesses and nonprofits. And now, as we have opened up, employers can’t find workers. It’s across all industries. Restaurants are having to shut down for days because they can’t find cooks or wait staff.

Addressing the media, Gianforte said that because the federal government extended unemployment benefits due to the pandemic, people have incentives to stay home. In order to change that scenario and get Montanans back to work, he drew out a new plan.

We made the decision to opt out of the federal supplemental unemployment benefits, and replace it with a back-to-work bonus.

Now, he is offering anyone who gets off unemployment benefits and finds a job a $1,200 bonus.

This is going to help employers. And, honestly, there’s dignity in the work. And there’s also satisfaction in being self-sufficient. We made that decision yesterday. And we’re just getting a phenomenal response from our business community.

Isn’t that something! Who would have thought that forcefully locking down the country’s economy and then showering the unemployed with taxpayer-backed “free” money would produce anything but chaos?

While Gianforte’s plan isn’t ideal considering that government-backed incentives to get people back to work are unnecessary in a truly free market, his reasoning is correct. When you subsidize something, you always get more of it.

They Never Learn Their Lesson

In 2013, well into President Barack Obama’s second term, Congress extended long-term unemployment benefits. But the extension ended as 2014 rolled in. What we saw happen was a significant drop in the unemployment rate.

As Mises associate scholar Randall G. Holcombe explains in this article, when the government pays people to remain unemployed, what we get in return is more unemployment.

The long-term unemployment rate skyrocketed during the recession because we paid people to be unemployed longer.

Needless to say, this lesson was lost on our overlords. Thankfully for the people of Montana, their governor isn’t waiting for a total economic collapse to revert course.

*****

This article was published on May 7, 2021, and is reproduced with permission from the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Confessions of a Privileged White Guy

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

A shameful story that begins at an exclusive country club

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was the epitome of white privilege as a kid, a privilege that carried over to adulthood.

When I was fifteen and sixteen, for example, summer days were spent at an exclusive country club in a leafy suburb of St. Louis, where blacks and Jews were denied membership—and where the kids of members would spend the day golfing, playing tennis, and sunning at the pool.

Italians and Catholics were also denied membership, which is why this Italian (aka papist, wop, dago, swart, greaser) hitchhiked to the club to work, not to play, or took a bus if I couldn’t hitch a ride.

Not permitted to work as a caddy or greenskeeper, I worked at the large clubhouse as a janitor and porter, on the lowest rung of an otherwise all-black staff. 

At the highest rung was African-American clubhouse manager Bill Williams. Wearing tailored suits and starched white shirts with cufflinks, he was the best-dressed and best-mannered man I’d ever seen. No man in my working-class hood wore a suit and probably didn’t own one, including my dad, who worked as a non-union tile setter. His dad, who worked as a coal miner upon emigrating from Italy, certainly didn’t wear one.

One step down from Bill Williams was head waiter Henry, who, like the waiters below him, was a former waiter on Pullman railroad cars. He and the rest of the wait-staff were also impeccably dressed and groomed, befitting the formality of the dining room.

Bill and Henry would drop off their big Pontiac Bonnevilles at my family’s tiny house during my off-hours so that I could wash and wax them for extra money. They and their cars were the talk of the neighborhood because black men and cars with power windows were rarely seen on our street. (My family’s car was an old Dodge with roll-down windows, a stick shift, and a large hole in the rusted-out floorboard.)

Next in the pecking order was the master chef, followed by the pastry chef and the cooks. Then came Jewel, who supervised me and the other janitors and porters, all of whom were on the same bottom rung as the dishwasher, an ex-prize fighter who had a long scar on his face, a drinking problem, and a disposition to match.

The employee break room, restroom, and locker room were in the dingy, dark basement of the clubhouse.

On my first day on the job, Jewel told me to clean the employee restroom, which looked as if it hadn’t been cleaned in years. Though young, I knew what this was about.  It was to show the white kid his place in the formal and informal hierarchy.

I happily dove into the task, figuratively speaking, and soon had the restroom sparkling. As I was finishing the job, the dishwasher walked in, and, clearly inebriated, peed on the floor. With a snarl, he said, “Clean it up, whitey.”

Seeing the incident unfold from the locker room, a strapping coworker leaped into the restroom quick as a panther, grabbed the dishwasher by his shirt, threw him against the wall, and said, “You clean it up, you black motherf****r!”

Not wanting the volatile dishwasher as an enemy, I said, “Thanks, but I’ll get it.”

The lesson I learned that day has stayed with me through the years:  that good and bad people come in all colors.

The lesson would prove invaluable in my adult career at the leading edge of equal opportunity, affirmative action, racial sensitivity training, and what came to be known in 1990 as diversity before it was corrupted by the grievance industry, race mongers, Marxist academics, the echo media, and virtue-signaling CEOs.

Another valuable lesson was learned, but it would become too politically incorrect to express publicly. It was a lesson about the importance of boys growing up with their father in the household.

I learned that lesson in getting to know the families of my coworkers at social events, such as picnics in St. Louis’ beautiful main park, Forest Park.

At the time, in the mid-1960s, in spite of all of the hardships faced by blacks in St. Louis and the nation, 70% of African-American children at least had the benefit of growing up in two-parent households.  With few exceptions, my black coworkers were good family men. They were not, in today’s parlance of the underclass, baby daddies, whose male obligations after insemination have been largely assumed by the government—a consequence of welfare that also affects poor whites.

In 1965, in his famous report on black families, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a sociologist with the U.S. Department of Labor who would later become a U.S. Senator, warned what would happen as a result of poorly designed welfare programs: that fathers would become superfluous in the raising of children.

He was prescient.  Today, 70% of black children (and 30% of white children) grow up in households where dad is missing. This is a major cause of crime, difficulties in school, and other social pathologies.

The pathologies don’t magically disappear when families without dads move to better houses and school districts in the suburbs.

The staggering increase in welfare and entitlements proposed by the Biden administration will make the problem of missing dads even more intractable.

The woke mob of miseducated whites with college degrees and little wisdom or historical perspective might try to cancel me for the foregoing.  They should cancel themselves.

Many of them are phonies who claim to value diversity, but what they mean is racial/ethnic diversity within their own socioeconomic class, in hip cities and gentrified neighborhoods, and in professional occupations in group-think workplaces, such as those in tech companies, newsrooms, financial firms, and academia.  They don’t mean the racial/ethnic diversity of the lower classes that clean their restrooms.

I say to them, Clean it up, whitey!

The Fed and Congress: Two Drunks Holding Each Other Up

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Federal Reserve Board is one of the most difficult institutions to understand, yet it has an outsized influence on the way we live and conduct our politics.

It is nominally a private institution owned by the banks it supervises whose governors are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate, which is supposed to make it independent, but it is completely wired into the needs of the Treasury Department and the political parties in power.

The Board itself, representing some of the 12 Federal Reserve districts, is supposed to be in theory a heterodox group of economists and bankers, yet often they vote in unison. Between the limited terms they serve, presidential appointments, district representation and congressional oversight the Fed has all the appearance of an institution with a separation of powers but with none of the actual substance.

Whew! Like we said.  It is very difficult to understand. Moreover, the embedded conflicts of interest are multiple and obvious.

To confuse matters more, its chairman and governors often speak in riddles like the oracle of Delphi in cryptic language, which has created a cottage industry in FedSpeak, a financial language intended to mislead as well as inform. Needed translators are then hired by cable television stations to intuit the meaning of the FED’S arcane pronouncements.

When called before congressional committees, the testimony of the FED Chairman is often even more abstruse. During one such appearance, Alan Greenspan famously said, “I guess I should warn you, if I turn out to be particularly clear, you’ve probably misunderstood what I said.”

FED pronouncements can often be used to move markets, so-called jawboning. The risk is a misspoken phrase that can cause billions of dollars to be lost by some and gained by others. Knowledge of what the FED might say has to be closely held, of course. No one would dare use such power for personal financial or political gain, would they?

The internal conflicts of interest are significant and worrisome.  But probably most important is the potential for the abuse of power. The very notion of a central planning agency dictating the amount of money and its cost is a monstrous amount of power to put into the hands of unelected bureaucrats, who often exercise more actual power that carry more consequences than the decisions made by the elected representatives of the people. How can the people of this great republic get accountability?

A free people, ruled by unelected potentates, not only seems like a contradiction in terms, it is a contradiction in terms.

A central planning agency that destroys the price discovery mechanism of a free market, dictating results different than those rendered by real supply and demand, is not a market system. If this too seems like a contradiction, it is. What we basically have is a powerful central planning board, essentially accountable to no one, that cancels out the free market it is supposed to conserve.

Then, there just is the basic problem of all central planning, what  Hayek called, “the fatal conceit.” How can the FED know exactly the amount of money to put in the system, what interest rates should be, when they should rise and when they should fall? In fact, they don’t and they can’t.  There is considerable evidence that economic cycles are more violent, severe, and more frequent with the FED at the wheel than when the market did the driving.

The risk of abuse of power gets even greater when we see “mission creep.”  Clearly, the FED is headed in that direction with statements that inflation, employment, and financial safety are no longer its sole responsibility, but now they want to get into race relations (promote equity) and climate change.  Having failed on its primary responsibilities, it now wants to regulate the temperature of the earth!

The FED is supposed to regulate the banks, which technically own them. But we move from one financial crisis to the other, requiring multiple bailouts with taxpayer money creating continual moral hazard, which seems to result in even worse behavior from the banks. So much for their vaunted regulation, it would seem.

The FED is supposed to protect the value of money. As John Maynard Keynes wrote in 1919, “Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the Capitalist System was to debauch its currency…Lenin was certainly right.  There is no subtler, nor surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.”

So, on that front too, the FED has not done a great job. Debauch is an interesting word in this regard. Starting with 100 cents on the dollar in the year of the FED’s founding in 1914, the current dollar is worth a tad under 4 cents.  That averages about 3.09% inflation per year or 2,575.53 %, which uses dubious government measures of inflation. It has been a slow slide in value interrupted on occasion with a rapid slide in value. But here we are today with prices over 26 times higher since they began to scientifically manage things.

Now all of these failures could be addressed by Congress. But the Congress itself is now absolutely beholden to the FED. When Congress spends more than it takes in, the FED through complex maneuvers, essentially prints the money (it creates money to buy government bonds), allowing Congress to spend its head off.

Even more frightening, we now seem to be in a cycle where what was once emergency measures are now the norm. It is stimulus in war, stimulus in peace, stimulus everywhere and always.

Any hint, statement, or policy move, that suggests an end to zero rates and liquidity up the wazoo, results in a “taper tantrum” that causes markets to collapse. Like the fellow who painted himself into a corner, it is not clear how we get out of this fix the Fed and Congress have put us in.

The market you say will increase interest rates to discipline the wayward spending, the so-called bond vigilantes. But by buying huge quantities of government debt, the FED holds interest rates down, thus removing any marketplace discipline imposed on Congress. So, Congress does not need to balance the budget. Hell, they don’t even need to have a budget. They simply float from one continuing resolution to the next. Deficits grow and grow. Congress gets to spend and spend and the FED monetizes and monetizes.

Congress you might argue, with political leadership, will discipline itself at some point, even in the face of all this free money that removes both marketplace discipline and budgetary discipline from the equation. And the evidence for that proposition? In just the last 100 days, Democrats are proposing $6 trillion in new spending. This clearly seems to be considerable evidence to the contrary.

Congress knows deep down, that if they spend more than received in tax revenues, the FED will be there to either buy the debt with money created out of nothing or the Treasury will print the money to see that government checks don’t bounce.

The FED and the Treasury are joined at the hip. Where is the independence of the central bank? Between the two of them, fiscal and monetary discipline goes out the window.

The FED has removed both political and market discipline from Congress. And Congress, needing the FED to finance its ridiculous excesses, is not about to discipline the FED.  They are like two spending drunks holding each other up under the street light. They need each other and protect each other. Who is protecting us?