‘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.


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


Biden’s Radical 30 X 30 Plan Will Ensure That This Land Will No Longer Be Your Land

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Moving rapidly to transition the United States away from fossil fuels in the name of combatting climate change, the Biden administration is employing a mix of executive authority and legislative action to force the transformation.

While much attention is focused on which climate-related provisions ultimately make it into the administration’s massive infrastructure bill, a little-noticed White House initiative launched a few days after the Biden Inauguration seeks to restrict the use of lands and waters—both public and private—to activities that serve the administration’s green objectives.

The “30 x 30 Plan” is contained in Executive Order (EO) 14008, “Tackle the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, Create Jobs, and Restore Scientific Integrity Across the Federal Government,” which was issued on Jan. 27. Section 216 of the EO calls on the United States to “achieve the goal of conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.”

In a Department of Interior fact sheet, the administration says “only 12 percent of lands are permanently protected,” adding that the same holds true for 23 percent of the nation’s waters. Exactly how these shares are to be expanded to 30 percent remains a mystery, because the White House has provided scant details.

The EO instructed a slew of federal agencies to develop implementation strategies within 90 days, but when their 22-page report, “America the Beautiful,” was released on May 6, it was largely limited to generalities about restoring biodiversity and tackling climate change.

Some of the language in the Biden plan appears to be taken from a 2019 report by the left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP). CAP’s report, “How Much Nature Should America Keep?,” outlines how the United States can “thoughtfully, equitably, and justly protect 30 percent of its land and water.” According to CAP (and now the Biden administration), 12 percent of the land is “currently protected in its natural state,” which includes wilderness areas, National Parks, wildlife refuges, and private land conservation easements.

With the federal government, mostly through the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, owning about 27 percent of the nation’s land, this leaves a lot of federal land “unprotected,” not to mention the remaining over 70 percent of land in private ownership or managed by state, local, and Tribal governments.

A Radical Vision

The origins of the 30 x 30 plan can be traced to the creation of the Wildlands Project in 1991. Dave Foreman, formerly with the Wilderness Society and founder of EarthFirst!, guided the project’s fortunes in its early years, together with conservation biologists Michael Soule and Reed Noss. The Wildlands Project aimed to return 50 percent of the continental United States to a “natural” state.

Rooted in a school of thought known as Deep Ecology, which rejects the idea that some living things have greater value than others, the Wildlands Project called for establishing a system of core wilderness areas where human activity would be prohibited. Biological “corridors” would link the “core areas,” serving as highways allowing nonhumans to pass from one to another. “Our goal is to create new political realities based on the needs of other species,” Foreman told Science News in 1993.

Since renamed the Wildlands Network, the group has remained faithful to its founding agenda. On its website, the Wildlands Network says it seeks to “reconnect, restore, and rewild North America so that life—in all its diversity—can thrive.” As an example of the kind of rewilding it would like to see, the Wildlands Network touts a recent report identifying a large swath of potential habitat for jaguar in the central mountains of Arizona and New Mexico.

What began three decades ago as musings on the outermost fringes of the environmental movement, now serves as a template for federal climate policies contained in a White House executive order. And true to Foreman’s Wildlands vision, Biden’s 30 x 30 would “create new political realities.”

This has not escaped the attention of congressional representatives from districts and governors of states that would bear the brunt of what they fear is a massive federal land grab in the making.

In a March 16 letter to Biden, 64 members of the House Western Caucus expressed their concerns with the initiative. They pointed out that the federal government already manages 640 million acres of land (one million square miles), 90 percent of which is west of the Mississippi River.

“Western states will be disproportionately impacted by policies set in place to achieve the 30 by 30 goal, which we fear will impact revenues-derived and jobs that depend on multiple-use public lands,” they wrote.

“Our lands and our waters must remain open to activities that support our rural economies and help us achieve our agriculture, timber, recreation, energy, and mineral needs,” the lawmakers added.

Lest anyone have any doubts about the land-grabbing character of what the White House is undertaking, on Feb. 11, Scott de la Vega, Biden’s then-acting secretary of the interior, revoked a Trump-era order requiring state and local governments to have a voice in federal land acquisitions within their jurisdictions.

With the consent of state and local officials eliminated, Washington bureaucrats, using money from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, can add to the already enormous federal estate.

Constitutional or Statutory Authority

Alarmed by what they fear is Washington’s interference in state land-use decisions, governors from 15 states stretching from Alabama to Alaska have signed a letter of protest to the White House.

“[We] are not aware of any constitutional or statutory authority for the President, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or any other federal agency to set aside and permanently preserve 30 percent of all land and water in the United States,” they wrote. “Nowhere in the laws of our nation is the authority delegated by Congress to the President or executive branch agencies to unilaterally change the policies governing land use in America.”

“Obtaining the 30 percent goal would require your Administration to condemn or otherwise severely limit the current productive uses of such lands, infringing on the private property rights of our citizens and significantly harming our economies,” they added.

Elsewhere in the executive order, the White House makes it clear that oil and gas development on federal land will be severely restricted. But, as the governors’ letter points out, private lands containing farms, ranches, orchards, and out-of-favor natural resources, are also in the crosshairs, albeit in ways Biden officials have yet to lay out.

Of further concern are the words “at least” in the EO’s goal of “conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.” The goalposts can always be moved, and there is nothing to keep the next goal from being 50 by 50.

“As a Wyomingite, I watched with horror the ‘War on the West’ by Carter, Clinton, and Obama, but Biden is outdoing them all with his plans that will destroy the ability of Wyoming, the other 11 western states, and Alaska to survive economically,” says William Perry Pendley, who ran the Bureau of Land Management for President Trump. “But because Biden cannot reach his goal without private property elsewhere, we are all westerners now.”


This article was published on May 8, 2021 and is reproduced with permission from CFACT, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. 

A Saintly Conspiracy to Save Democracy?

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

Molly Ball’s extraordinary admission in Time magazine that the Left hatched a scheme to jigger the 2020 election in their favor is instructive on not only how the leftist machine operates, but also why conservatives keep losing to often obvious political machinations from that side of the aisle.

Ball’s bizarre, behind-the-scenes report “The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election” showcases myriad ways the 2020 election was “fortified,” but not “rigged,” by the leftist activists she admits formed a “conspiracy” and a “cabal” aimed at shaping the election.

See CRC’s [Capital Research Center’s] annotated list of the groups and person’s mentioned in Time’s “Shadow Campaign” article.

Buried among the self-aggrandizing rhetoric and tales of meetings with tech titans to demand they censor conservatives, Ball quotes an extraordinary claim by Tom Lopach, CEO of the Voter Participation Center: “All the work we have done for 17 years was built for this moment of bringing democracy to people’s doorsteps.”

Who knew America has lacked “democracy” for decades? That dubious premise underlies Ball’s breathless narrative.

Gupta Confirmation Hearing

One would think when conservative legislators had the opportunity to confront one of the players in Ball’s piece—in this case Joe Biden’s Justice Department nominee Vanita Gupta, who bragged about convincing those tech titans that election reform was needed—they would make the most of it.

However, in Gupta’s March confirmation hearing—over a month after the Time article dropped—only GOP Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) brought up the dinner meeting with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other tech representatives that Gupta patted herself on the back for in Ball’s article. And Cruz wasn’t even focused on the election reform part of the dinner conversation, instead of asking Gupta about censorship on tech platforms. The Senate has since confirmed Gupta.

Playing Catch-Up to the Left

But here’s what Ball wrote in February for Time:

In November 2019, Mark Zuckerberg invited nine civil rights leaders to dinner at his home, where they warned him about the danger of the election-related falsehoods that were already spreading unchecked. “It took pushing, urging, conversations, brainstorming, all of that to get to a place where we ended up with more rigorous rules and enforcement,” says Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, who attended the dinner and also met with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and others. . . . “It was a struggle, but we got to the point where they understood the problem. Was it enough? Probably not. Was it later than we wanted? Yes. But it was really important, given the level of official disinformation, that they had those rules in place and were tagging things and taking them down.”

If conservative voters feel like they’re always playing catch-up to the Left’s successful schemes, this is an example of why. One of the own, Ball—best-known for a “cloyingly adulatory” biography of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—spills the beans and conservative leadership still can’t be counted on to challenge the tactic, even with one of the proponents literally sitting in front of them taking hard questions.

Ball also spends several thousand words assuring her readers that her conspirators weren’t trying to change the “balky” election infrastructure to ensure a Biden win. That is, they weren’t changing election rules at the last minute to help their Democratic turnout efforts. No, they were just selflessly shoring up Democracy, never giving a thought to who might win the election.

A Conspiracy for Democrats

She pretends her conspiracy includes Republicans, but almost the only examples she gives are the Chamber of Commerce and Zach Wamp. Yet the Chamber, which has backed lots of Democrats lately, only reached out to her Democratic conspirators days before the election to suggest a joint declaration opposing mob violence. Perhaps the Chamber hoped to constrain not only right-wing mobs but also the left-wing mobs that Ball makes clear her conspirators control like a faucet.

So much for the conspiracy’s bipartisanship. The truth Ball is hiding appears when you examine Lopach’s group. Sasha Issenberg, a liberal journalist like Ball but a straightshooter, explained how the Voter Participation Center operates in his 2012 book, The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns: “Even though the group was officially nonpartisan, for tax purposes, there was no secret that the goal of all its efforts was to generate new votes for Democrats” (p. 305).

Lopach’s Center then operated as Women’s Voices Women Vote, but it’s a 501(c)(3) nonprofit under strict legal obligation to be nonpartisan. Further belying its alleged “nonpartisanship,” Voter Participation Center receives major grants from Democratic “dark money” giants like Majority Forward, the Tides Foundation, and Arabella Advisors’ New Venture Fund and Hopewell Fund.

The center was accused by NPR of suppressing black voters to help Hillary in a 2008 primary against Barack Obama. This cycle, its sister group Center for Voter Information received criticism from ProPublica and the Washington Post for messing up voters’ mail-in ballotsLike Ball, ProPublica reported these groups were massively influential in the election through their millions of voter mailings. Unlike Ball, ProPublica also reported that the groups’ electioneering was “extremely disruptive,” criticized by “election officials from both parties,” and documented the groups’ leaders’ “deep ties to Democratic politics.”

ProPublica’s headline “A Nonprofit with Ties to Democrats Is Sending Out Millions of Ballot Applications. Election Officials Wish It Would Stop” makes laughable Ball’s claims the “conspiracy” consisted only of saintly nonpartisans saving Democracy.

The Architect

Likewise, Issenberg’s book paints a much more honest portrait of the man Ball calls the “architect” of her conspiracy, longtime AFL-CIO political director Michael Podhorzer. Issenberg reports that Podhorzer has for years coordinated with dozens of left-of-center groups that focus relentlessly on electing Democrats via ever-more-sophisticated turnout techniques.

In the pre-Zoom era, he hosted other political operatives for regular lunches at the AFL-CIO  that became so large they morphed into the Analyst Institute, a think tank that hosts the Democratic turnout brain trust. Simultaneously, Podhorzer helped launch Catalist, the Democratic data warehouse accused of conspiring, so to speak, with unions, nonprofits, and political groups across the Left to evade the campaign finance laws their preferred political party claims to hold dear.

Podhorzer’s lunches are the seedbed of Ball’s “conspiracy,” and unlike hers, Issenberg’s history frankly reports Podhorzer’s aim: to build “a Manhattan Project for developing electioneering superweapons.” Issenberg also quotes Podhorzer’s motivation: not saving Democracy but “winning elections” for Democrats.

A Shadow Campaign of Decades

So the “shadow campaign” Ball claims popped up in 2020 actually predates Trump by decades. The mainstream media hasn’t reported on this sophisticated, highly coordinated effort across the Left to find ever stronger tools to turn out Democratic voters. But don’t blame the media for not knowing about it; most Republicans didn’t either.

Perhaps that’s why, when given the chance to ask about it in March as Biden’s DOJ nominee sat in front of them after having gladly given herself credit for helping the plan succeed, they sat there, apparently stricken deaf and dumb.


This article was published on May 11, 2021 and reprinted with permission from Capital Research Center.

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.


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.

Climate Science Is ‘Unsettled’, Says Obama Science Director

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

As I write, in just over 12 hours since its official launch on May 4, Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What it Doesn’t, and Why It Matters, by physicist Steven E. Koonin, Ph.D., is number 15 on Amazon’s list of top-selling nonfiction books, the top-selling book on Amazon Kindle in Weather and Climatology, and the second-bestselling book in 21st Century World History. By the time this review reaches readers, Unsettled might well be the bestselling book in all three subcategories, crack the top 10 in the nonfiction category, and be among the top 100 in sales across all categories.

Of the multiple books and documentaries poking holes in the apocalyptic climate alarm narrative released in the past year, Unsettled may be the most critical of all, because of who its author is.

Koonin was involved in the development of the early computer models used in science and wrote one of the first books describing how computer models were developed, how they function, and their strengths and limits when used in science. The book is still widely used in college classrooms today. Koonin has written more than 200 academic papers and articles, which have been cited more than 14,000 times, according to Google Scholar.

Koonin’s research and writings on climate science and energy led former President Barack Obama to appoint him Undersecretary for Science in the U.S. Department of Energy. Koonin’s portfolio included the government’s climate research program, and Koonin was the lead author of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Strategic Plan (2011).

Koonin is the ultimate climate insider. Climate hypers cannot plausibly portray him as fringe scientist working outside the mainstream or legitimately label him a “climate denier.”

Koonin’s research indicates the climate is changing and humans have influenced some of that change. Almost everything else people have been led to believe about climate change is unsettled, reports Koonin.

The author begins by describing what he refers to as “The Science”—you know, the thing everyone is supposed to be following:

‘The Science,’ we’re told, is settled. How many times have you heard it?

Humans have already broken the earth’s climate. Temperatures are rising, sea level is surging, ice is disappearing, and heat waves, storms, droughts, floods, and wildfires are an ever-worsening scourge on the world. Greenhouse gas emissions are causing all of this. And unless they’re eliminated promptly by radical changes to society and its energy systems, “The Science” says Earth is doomed. [Emphasis in original.]

Well . . . not quite. Yes, it’s true that the globe is warming, and that humans are exerting a warming influence upon it. But beyond that—to paraphrase the classic movie The Princess Bride: “I do not think ‘The Science’ says what you think it says.”

Unsettled is presented in two parts: “The Science” and “The Response.”

“The Science” comprises eleven chapters. The first two discuss what we know about how the climate works (hint: its less than you’ve been led to believe), and the extent to which humans are contributing to climate change (also less than you might think). The third chapter discusses how climate models have been developed and the ways in which their results are “muddled,” in Koonin’s words, instead of being definitive and trustworthy. Koonin shows models often contradict one another and fail to match observed changes in temperature and climate. This chapter also begins the book’s examination of how various interested parties suppress and misrepresent good climate research in order to persuade the public we face a climate crisis. This latter point is a running theme Koonin highlights by citing specific examples throughout the book.

Chapters Five through Nine examine various negative effects purportedly being caused or exacerbated by human-caused climate change. This set of chapters is fairly summed up by the title of Chapter Nine: “Apocalypses That Ain’t.” Among the findings Koonin discloses are:

  • The late[st] generation of models is actually more uncertain than the earlier one[s].
  • Heat waves in the US are now no more common than they were in 1900 and the warmest temperatures in the US have not risen in the past fifty years.
  • Humans have had no detectable impact on hurricanes over the past century.
  • Greenland’s ice sheet isn’t shrinking any more rapidly today than it was eighty years ago.
  • The net economic impact of human-induced climate change will be minimal through at least the end of this century.

Regular readers of Climate Change Weekly are likely aware of these facts already, but they will be real eye-openers for most readers of Koonin’s book.

The last two chapters of section one examine who “broke” climate science, and how and why, and then discuss how the science, along with how it is represented and reported, can be improved.

For me personally, these chapters are in many ways the most disturbing and interesting of the book, because they detail the ways by which the scientific enterprise itself is being perverted, to the detriment of both science and political decision making.

Science is a process, a method of discovering new truths and explaining currently unexplained or poorly understood phenomena. As Koonin’s book shows in detail, many of those involved in climate research and reporting have abandoned science—the process of discovering data and evidence and assembling facts—for “The Science,” a massive effort to persuade people to believe something that is not true, for normative or political reasons.

Koonin’s suggestion that the federal government institute a “Red Team/Blue Team” exercise to examine and discuss the weak spots in various government climate reports before they are published has been met with hostility by many politically connected scientists and powerful government leaders.

Prominent Democrat senators such as Edward Markey (MA), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Cory Booker (NJ), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Amy Klobuchar (MN), and Diane Feinstein (CA) have supported legislation to outlaw scientific debate about what is known and unknown about climate change by “prohibit[ing] the use of funds to Federal agencies to establish a panel, task force, advisory committee, or other effort to challenge the scientific consensus on climate change, and for other purposes.”

You read that right. Politicians who regularly demand people “follow the science” on climate change have tried to ban the use of the scientific method to discover what climate science tells us.

Of this, Koonin writes,

I confess to being shocked. … [E]nshrining a certain scientific viewpoint as an inviolable consensus is hardly the role of government (at least in a democracy). And as a student of history, I found the bill uncomfortably reminiscent of a 1546 decree by the Council of Trent that attempted to suppress challenges to Church doctrine.

In section two of Unsettled, “The Response,” Koonin explores why political diktats to curtail fossil fuel use sharply are likely to fail and produce outcomes as bad as or worse than the harms they are meant to prevent. Koonin suggests the wisest response to climate change, the response most likely to mitigate any harms while generating beneficial outcomes, is something societies have historically embraced in response to changing climate and sociopolitical conditions: flexible adaptation.

Koonin definitively shows that much more is unsettled than is settled in climate science, economics, and policy. Koonin’s book deserves the praise it is receiving, and it merits a wide readership. If it gets the audience it deserves, there will be one more thing unsettled: the narrative that we face a climate crisis so certain and so dire that only a radical government-controlled reshaping of the economy, people’s personal lives, and consumption patterns can solve it.


This article was published on May 4, 2021 and is reproduced with permission from the Heartland Institute.

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.


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

The New York Times Argues With Itself About Biden and Taxes

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

Last Thursday the New York Times reported what should be obvious, but that eludes most in our midst: the rich pay the vast majority of taxes collected. By far.

This is a statement of the obvious simply because the “vital few” drive all progress in all walks of life. Think the NBA before Bird, Magic and Jordan, think the PGA before Tiger Woods, think how the rare blockbuster film pays for all manner of small movies without guns, car crashes, and explosions.

Stated simply, what’s great is a consequence of the giants on whose shoulders we stand. The very talented few pull us forward. Politicians ignore this truth at their peril, and to our detriment.

The Times reported that “almost half of the personal income tax that California collects comes from the top 1 percent of the state’s earners.” Yes. What’s true there is also true nationally. See above.

So while it’s true that the rich foot the majority of government bills, this isn’t a happy reality. And it’s logically least happy for those with the least. California shows why. Please read on.

As the Times went on to report, thanks to a surge in tax revenues for the Golden State related to IPOs and a rising stock market more broadly, California has a major budget “surplus.” Translated for those who need it, Gavin Newsom and others in the state will have more dollars with which to plan California’s economy; the latter the world’s fifth largest if it were a country. It’s a reminder that while economic progress and wealth creation are good things, the subsequent increase in tax revenues is not. That which empowers politicians, and that which enables more borrowing by those same politicians, generally isn’t. But that’s not the main point of this piece.

The main point is what’s happening such that California’s richest are largely shouldering the state’s tax burden. They are because they’re either founding tomorrow’s innovative companies; that or their savings are making tomorrow’s companies possible. These are the very companies that continue to push down the cost of communication (who anymore worries about the cost of long-distance calls?), the cost of accessing information (everywhere you look someone is tapping on a supercomputer that fits in their pocket), the cost of market goods (cheap global communications mean we can access the world’s plenty with a click of a mouse or a tap of a phone), not to mention the feverish push by left coast technologists to erase all manner of life-ending disease.

In short, California’s 1 percenters are relentlessly rushing the future into the present, all the while pushing down the cost of everything. They do this all the while elongating our lives. They have enormous amounts of “money” precisely because they’re so skilled at expanding what the dollars (along with euros, yen, yuan, pounds, etc.) in our pockets can be exchanged for.

This rates mention in consideration of Times reporter Jim Tankersley’s rather reverential review of President Biden’s televised speech on the same day. To say that Tankersley was taken by Biden’s promises made with the money of others brings new meaning to understatement.

Tankerley wrote with great enthusiasm about the “centerpiece” of Biden’s first address, which was, is, and always will be handouts for everyone care of government. That government has nothing to give out absent the rich producing enormous wealth (see California, see where the U.S. Treasury gets its funding) doesn’t seem to trouble Tankersley. Maybe he doesn’t read his employer’s business section. Since he perhaps doesn’t, sections A and B were arguing with each other.

In Tankersley’s case, he writes without any irony or skepticism that Biden’s myriad promises “would be paid for by raising $4 trillion in tax revenue from high earners and corporations.” Where does one begin?

Oh well, for the purposes of this piece it’s worth reminding readers why America’s “high earners and corporations” have so much taxable wealth in the first place. They do so because they’re routinely producing goods and services for individuals of all income categories that were previously out of reach. Wealth creation is most often a consequence of mass production, as is corporate prosperity.

Which raises an obvious question:  including minorities? Think about it.

As the California revenue surge yet again attests, the state’s top 1 percent got that way by making life better, healthier, longer, and much cheaper for beyond the immorality of politicians using the tax code to penalize a tiny minority in the U.S. (all this time politicians and their media enablers claimed to loathe discrimination…), don’t they understand the sheer impracticality of it? Better yet, don’t they see how cruel their ill treatment of a tiny U.S. economic minority is to Americans more broadly, i.e 99 percent. How awful then, for California to so heavily tax it’s most prosperous citizens. How awful for the rest of us for Biden to try and rally Congress to back more confiscatory tax rates on “high earners and corporations.” The 1 percent will lose for sure, but the 99% reliant on the fruits of their intrepid investment and creativity will really lose.

Really, how backwards and confused it is to take from the productive in order to hand it to politicians constrained by the known; people who, by virtue of their desire to desperately prop up the economic present, do so by restraining a much better future. Politicians protect the now, investors and entrepreneurs bring us later. Biden wants to suffocate the arrival of what’s presently unimaginable. Not so, accordingly to Tankersley. As he naively puts it, “What the president is promising from the government in the years to come is a long list of tangible improvements in Americans’ daily lives.” No, that’s just not true.

Money’s worth is what it can be exchanged for. Government spending by its very name is the politicized allocation of precious wealth first created in the private sector. In other words, government spending delays the mass production of yesterday’s luxuries and tomorrow’s must-haves by limiting investment. Page B1 in the April 29th New York Times shows us why this is true.


This article was published on May 6, 2021, and is reproduced with permission from AIER,  American Institute for Economic Research.

University of Utah: ‘Systemic Anti-Black Racism Is A Public Health Crisis’

Estimated Reading Time: < 1 minute

The University of Utah has committed to “becoming ardent anti-racists” and declared “systemic anti-Black racism” as a “public health crisis,” according to a tip obtained through YAF’s Campus Bias Tip Line.

An interview with Associate Vice President for Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion José E. Rodríguez published on the school’s website details their “commitment to health equity.”

“In health care, anti-racism work forces clinicians to examine their practices and recognize that health disparities are caused by systemic anti-Black racism,” Rodriguez says. He also says the school will prioritize hiring Black clinicians.

Rodriguez even goes so far as to suggest that the Disney movie classic, The Lion King, has examples of “implicit bias” against black people. “In The Lion King, the bad lion has a black mane but the good one has a reddish mane. Disney may not have done that intentionally, but it is a clear example of how deep the roots of anti-Black racism run,” he stated.

It’s apparent that this administrator, hired to promote “equity, diversity, and inclusion,” has become so focused on seeing everything through a racial lens that he can’t think critically. Suggesting prioritizing hiring based on race and absurdly claiming that racism is a public health crisis (during a pandemic, nonetheless!) is irrational and dangerous rhetoric for someone in the health care field.

It’s a sad day when Critical Race Theory has infiltrated even health care–one of the most important parts of society–that should be off-limits to hate and politicization.


This article was published on May 6, 2021 and is reproduced with permission of YAF, Young America’s Foundation.

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.