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Some Legislators Don’t Understand: Open Government Is Good Government

As government has become bigger and more complex, it has become increasingly difficult for individual citizens to monitor its activities and finances. Cities used to provide law enforcement, firefighting, and basic infrastructure. Now they do detailed planning and provide all sorts of social services. States have seen their roles grow to include social services and environmental issues as well. School districts’ services have been pushed so far beyond education, understandably, they often seem to have forgotten their original mission – to educate children. Meanwhile, citizens are busy people. It would be a herculean, and more than a full-time task, for any one person to monitor in any detail every government that reigns over a single address. These include city, county, and state governments as well as school boards, planning commissions, zoning commissions, the federal government with its plethora of agencies, various special districts, and any number of other regulatory agencies - some elected like the corporation commission, others appointed like the federal EPA. This is why transparency in government is so important. It shouldn’t take extraordinary measures like hiring a...

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Price Transparency: the Silver Bullet for Combating Healthcare Costs

Rising healthcare prices have long been an issue for this country. This is largely due to both the third-party payer problem and a lack of price transparency. The lack of stated prices from providers makes it impossible for consumers to get the best price for any procedure. They can’t even know what they owe until after the procedure is over. No other industry is able to operate in this way. Insurance used to only be purchased for catastrophic instances such as cancer, heart attacks, and life-threatening surgery – true “disaster” insurance. Now consumers purchase insurance to cover things as inconsequential as an office visit for the common cold. Instead of paying directly out of pocket for healthcare services, most patients are covered by either insurance or government programs. This creates a disconnect between the consumer and the producer. Since the consumer is not paying the full cost, they are more likely to agree to unnecessary tests and procedures. And since the producer does not have to disclose the full cost to the consumer, they are free to charge whatever they wish. Without price transparency, healthcare services are not a true market. The airline industry used to...

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Train Wreck Legislation Demonstrates the Need for Public Testimony

The Oklahoma legislature continues to impose new mandates on individuals and businesses that grow government and restrict free and open markets. This despite being comprised of a supermajority of legislators affiliated with a political party that claims to support limited government and individual liberty. One can apportion blame for such myopic legislation in several ways. Among the contributing factors is a concerning lack of public testimony in the Oklahoma legislative process. Public testimony allows for viewpoint diversity. On occasion throughout my career, I have witnessed public testimony inspire legislative epiphanies, causing a legislator to ask a thoughtful, probing line of questions. Unexpected testimony often changes minds. A recent hearing of the House Transportation Committee serves as just one recent example of the testimony deficiency in the Oklahoma legislative process. The committee unanimously approved House Bill 1048, sponsored by Representative Dell Kerbs, which mandates that private railroads maintain at least “two crewmembers in the control compartment of the lead locomotive unit of a train.” The committee heard from the bill sponsor followed by a couple of...

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Whose Job Is It Anyway? Parents Versus Bureaucrats in Educating Kids

One of the major principles of the school choice movement is the idea that parents should be empowered to choose where and how their children are educated. This seems like a fairly simple idea: parents are responsible for their children and should direct their education. For some reason, many of those opposed to school choice can’t seem to grasp this. Either that or they reject the premise entirely. In fact, they seem to hold the idea that it is the government’s role to educate children and view anything that breaks the status quo as a threat. In a recent opinion piece for The Oklahoman, one writer attempted to invoke scripture in his rebuttal of the effort to expand school choice in Oklahoma. As far as I can tell, the Bible doesn’t have a whole lot to say about the American education system; however, it does seem to heavily indicate that parents have the responsibility to raise their children. Ironically, I believe that the very verses the author vaguely cites to support his argument actually form a basis of the school choice movement. In Psalm 127, Solomon states that children are a blessing from the Lord. He goes on to say that children are like “arrows in the hand of a...

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Want More People Earning Nothing? Raise the Minimum Wage

Among the many policy proposals supposedly intended to help those harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns is a fresh push to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. However, the minimum wage, though often a popular policy, hurts more than it helps. Although the federal minimum wage is set at $7.25, policymakers would be wise to remember the real minimum wage is $0. Perhaps the one silver lining of suddenly mandating $15 per hour would be the sudden and massive job losses so that no one could ever argue again that minimum wages don’t put people at that $0 no-job minimum. The most fundamental laws of economics are the laws of supply and demand. When the price of a product is increased, in this case, labor, the demand for said product falls. The result of a minimum wage increase would be increased unemployment. The first minimum wage instituted in 1938 resulted in the loss of at least 40,000 jobs. A 2006 review of over 100 minimum wage studies found that about two-thirds found negative employment effects. The most recent study from the Congressional Budget Office projects that an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour would result in 1.4 million fewer jobs....

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Education’s Iron Triangle Traps Parents, Teachers, and Children

The triangle is structurally extremely strong. Most roofs are constructed of triangular trusses. They provide for great strength with an economy of resources. Depending on the material used to construct them, trusses can be nearly indestructible. An iron or steel truss, launched into the air by a tornado, would be a very destructive projectile, doing far more damage to the structures it impacts than it would itself suffer. This describes well the political interests that so successfully resist change in public education—the iron triangle (a characterization not original with me).  The term is generally used to define the close, supportive relationships among government agencies, legislative bodies, and special interests. There are lots of iron triangles: renewable energy and the environmental lobby; urban renewal and the developers who partner with government to carry it out; the military-industrial complex; and the biotechnology, health care, hospital triangle, to name a few. None are so resilient and sometimes perplexingly powerful as the education iron triangle.  I have lived and worked in public policy in three states: Texas, Arizona, and Oklahoma. I have studied and written...

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Central Planning in Land Use Threatens Liberty

Central planning suffers from a fatal flaw: insufficient knowledge. No single individual or group of individuals possess the knowledge or wisdom to make decisions that maximize individual and collective prosperity. However, taking advantage of positions of power and privilege, central authorities often seek to impose a particular order on the general public. One of the most apparent manifestations of central planning is governmental control of land uses through comprehensive design.  With a utopian vision, planners deploy laws, policies, and practices such as zoning, comprehensive planning, urban renewal, and environmental protection to impose an aesthetic, a lifestyle, or a mission upon the people. Whether it is a brick-clad business district, a walkable city, or mandatory green building practices, planners pursue a city that may or may not reflect the desire, will, or preference of the governed.   Cities are incredibly complex. Whether that city is home to thousands or hundreds of thousands, each individual is unique in how they interact within the human environment and with different objectives. To understand the complexity involved in designing and organizing something as...

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What GameStop Can Teach Us About Good Governance

What we refer to as the law, written statutes or regulations outlining specific penalties for certain behaviors, doesn’t govern most every day interactions. There’s no law saying that you have to get in line at the grocery store, but everyone does, because that’s what we’ve always done. We rely on traditions built up over decades, knowing that unwritten rules of fair play will be observed. What happens when we throw out those rules? A quick escalation of rule-breaking, one that makes everybody worse-off. The recent kerfuffle with GameStop is illustrative, and it should serve as a warning to those willing to erode governmental traditions for short term wins. What happened? Most recently, Robinhood - a website that allows users to trade stocks without a per-trade fee - stopped allowing trades of certain highly-volatile stocks, including GameStop. The net result is that the populist traders who use Robinhood were locked out of these trades, while the elites still had access through traditional hedge funds. Outrage was swift, with a class action suit filed, and Robinhood quickly reversed its decision. But these actions and reactions didn’t happen in a vacuum: the volatility of the...

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The Economic Fantasizing of Pete Buttigieg

A recent article described a brief dispute during a confirmation hearing between Senator Ted Cruz and President Biden’s pick for Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg. In response to Cruz complaining that Biden’s executive order killing the Keystone XL pipeline eliminated 11,000 jobs, Buttigieg is described as responding, and an accompanying video confirms the characterization that “Biden’s climate agenda will create a net increase in jobs.” The problem is, good as it sounds, Buttigieg’s response, commonly given by climate activists when challenged on jobs, is pure, unmitigated, economic balderdash. Here’s why. What makes the climate job-loss deniers sound almost reasonable, and a source of their faith that green technology will create jobs, is that new technology has generally done exactly that. Buttigieg and others like him presume, therefore, that any new technology, regardless of its origin, will do the same. After all, every time big new innovations, from steam engines to robotics, have come along, some have worried that people would be put out of work. As it turns out, these innovations have been disruptive, but any job losses were temporary. History teaches that new...

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Stress of School District Funding During Covid-19 Made Worse by Bad Policy

If a business loses hundreds of customers to a competitor, are they justified in thinking they will retain the same level of profit? Of course not, that’s absurd. However, Oklahoma school district administrators appear to think so. A recent article in the Oklahoman discusses the financial impact of the mid-year funding adjustment for Oklahoma school districts. School administrators bemoan the adjustment, citing the hardships of the pandemic. This reduction should come as no surprise, however, considering how Oklahoma’s school district funding is set up. State appropriated school district funding is allocated based on Weighted Average Daily Membership (WADM), a convoluted “per student” funding measure. WADM is then used to calculate how much funding a school district will receive from the state. In essence, the more students you have in your district, the more money the district will receive overall. It follows that if a district loses students, it will not receive as much funding, and if a school district gains students, it will receive more funding. In 2020, school districts decided to shut-down in-person learning during the pandemic but were not adequately prepared to continue...

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Stop Nibbling Around the Edges of School Choice

Parent Power Index, a website comparing state policies based on how much power a parent has to get their child a good education, gives Oklahoma a C overall, but a D on school choice. We can do better. Since last March, Tulsa and Oklahoma City public schools have barred their doors to the kids they are charged with educating, shirking the duty for which they were created, and depriving kids of the education they deserve. During that time, Epic Charter was the subject of a witch hunt by public education insiders and still saw its enrollment grow to the point where it serves more students than any traditional public school district in the state. Sixty-one percent of Oklahoma voters indicate they favor full school choice where the money follows the child - and 72 percent of Republicans support such a policy. There is a Republican supermajority in both houses and a governor who strongly supports school choice. Yet to date, the most impactful school choice bills filed in the legislature still barely nibble around the edges. One bill would expand the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program to include military families. Two more bills would create similar programs for victims of...

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COVID-19 Illuminates Why Collective Bargaining with Government Employees Should Be Illegal

By one recent ranking of the fifty states and the District of Columbia, Oklahoma’s public schools come in 48th in terms of quality, a mere three spots from the very bottom. Only Arizona, Louisiana, and New Mexico have lower-quality schools than we do. The schools in perennially last-by-every-measure Mississippi even rank five spots ahead of Oklahoma’s in quality. Arizona’s first excuse is always the number of non-citizens in their system. Texas is big and diverse, but it has its own immigration issues. Nevertheless, it manages to rank 30th, ahead of Missouri (32nd), and Arkansas (39th), but behind Oklahoma’s other neighbors Kansas (27th) and Colorado (17th). To be sure, demographics, culture, and other issues outside of schools’ direct control play a part in the rankings. Nevertheless, whether we like it or not, and whether we want to accept it or not, they do say something about Oklahoma and its public schools, and it’s not good. Our schools were not doing what they needed to do even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Things have only gotten worse. Since the pandemic resulted in Oklahoma’s schools closing in March 2020, Oklahoma’s public schools have, by any reasonable judgment,...

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Disorder Is an Attack on Liberty, Regardless Where It Erupts

The riots we have seen over the past year indicate a pervasive deterioration of law and order. As a people, we must attain greater internal, moral order and return to a greater civil order founded on the rights and liberties enshrined in and protected by the United States Constitution. Recently, I was reading portions of Russel Kirk’s book The Roots of American Order. Kirk gives primacy to “order,” asserting: Order is the first need of the soul. It is not possible to love what one ought to love, unless we recognize some principles of order by which to govern ourselves. Order is the first need of the commonwealth. It is not possible for us to live in peace with one another, unless we recognize some principle of order by which to do justice. In this context, order is more than the organization of people and things in relation to each other. It is distinct from the tomes of laws and regulations that purport to govern our behavior. It is comprised of higher principles that guide and direct individual and collective actions. The functioning of America is contingent upon maintaining a higher moral and social order through which life, liberty, and property are protected. Simone Weil, a...

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False Alarm: Climate Change is Not Going to Kill Us All

In recent years, apocalyptic predictions of climate change have been popular. As politicians and activists push their preferred policies to supposedly prevent climate change, their claims of what will happen if we do not adopt them grow more severe. One politician claimed, “The world is going to end in 12 years if we don't address climate change.” I remember hearing similar predictions while growing up in the early 2000s about the ozone layer and polar ice caps. But their fearmongering overstates the dangers posed by a changing climate, and their solutions are unlikely to fix the problem. Indeed, their solutions will likely cause even more problems, especially for states where fossil fuels are a staple of their economy. One of the more radical proposals to fight climate change involves making the United States carbon neutral by a specific year, such as 2030 or 2050. To do this, activists want to transition to an electrical grid that runs on renewable sources of energy. Such a process would be expensive, costing nearly $6 trillion. Beyond the dollar cost, such an act would require massive amounts of land. According to an analysis by the Brookings Institute, wind and solar...

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Plumber Licensing: Another Monopoly That Fails the Smell Test

Why must aspiring plumber contractors’ complete multiple years of education, multiple years of lower level work, and pay a hefty annual fee just to obtain a license? What justification does the state provide for these requirements? According to the Construction Industries Board (CIB), which oversees plumber contractor licensing, these requirements are in place to “protect life and property,” to “provide a fair and healthy market environment for the contractor business,” and to show Oklahomans that plumber contractors meet a “minimum standard of competency.” My recent addition to the 1889 Institute’s Occupational Licensing Directory discusses the 1955 Plumber License Law and the licensing regime that developed pursuant to it, finds it totally unnecessary, and recommends a simple solution. First, the services plumber contractors provide on a daily basis pose no real danger to life or property. Think about it: fixing sinks, faucets, toilets, sewer lines, etc. is relatively straightforward stuff. In addition, for large jobs or those that require more skill or expertise, inspection and permitting requirements of both the state and municipalities mitigate most of the risk. The real...

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Present Reforms to Keep the Ghost of State Questions Past from Creating Future Headaches

Oklahoma, like many western states, allows its citizens to directly participate in the democratic process through citizen initiatives and referendums. In a referendum, the legislature directs a question to the people — usually to modify the state constitution, since the legislature can change statutes itself. An initiative requires no legislative involvement, but is initiated by the people via signature gathering, and can be used to modify statute or amend the constitution. Collectively, the initiatives and referendums that make it onto the ballot are known as State Questions. Recently, there have been calls to make it more difficult to amend the constitution. At least two proposals are being discussed. One would diversify the signature requirement by demanding that a proportional amount of signatures come from each region of the state. The other would require a sixty percent majority to adopt a constitutional amendment rather than the fifty percent plus one currently in place. Both of these proposals come from a good place. The constitution is inherently higher than statute; that is to say, when a statute and a constitutional provision conflict, the constitution always carries...

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The True Spirit of Christmas

I think the movie, Elf, is pretty hilarious. Will Ferrell’s “Buddy” character marching off to New York from the North Pole, enjoying syrup (actually whiskey) in coffee, eating cotton balls, outing a fake Santa, and sleeping in a store’s window display carry a lot of laughs. It’s no wonder it’s become a Christmas staple. But there’s something that has always bothered me about that movie. We find out that Santa’s sleigh requires a jet engine in order to fly because Christmas spirit, once the sole motive power for Santa’s sleigh and reindeer, is on a low ebb. Christmas spirit is restored by Buddy’s half-brother reading Santa’s gift list, with the receivers of the gifts-to-be evidently getting warm Christmas spirit fuzzies on learning they will receive what they want. In other words, Elf turns Christmas into the Season of Receiving rather than its classic meaning, which is the Season of Giving. This is nothing new, really. Miracle on 34th Street, a constantly remade Christmas classic, tells the story of a self-absorbed little girl with a self-absorbed mother who discover a kind old man calling himself Kris Kringle who manages to make sure people get what they want. The mom and girl...

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Licensing Boards Might Violate Federal Law: Regardless, They Are Terrible Policy

Competition is as American as baseball and apple pie. “May the best man win” is a sentiment so old it doesn’t care about your pronouns. The beneficial effects of competition on economic markets are well documented. So why do we let powerful business interests change the rules of the game when they tire of competing in the free market? Most of the time when an occupational license is enacted, it is the members of the regulated industry who push hardest in favor of the license. Honest competition may be fundamentally American, but thwarting that competition through licensing seems to be fundamentally Oklahoman. Oklahoma doesn’t have the most occupational licenses, but when they do license an occupation, the requirements tend to be more onerous than the same license in other states. But what if, instead of merely breaking the rules of fair play to keep out would-be competition, Oklahoma licensing boards are also breaking the law? Normally a concerted effort to lock out competition would violate federal antitrust law; but there is an exception for anticompetitive state policies. As 1889’s latest paper argues, there is good reason to think Oklahoma's licensing boards do not qualify...

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When It Comes to the Cox Center, “What if I Get to Meet a Movie Star?” Isn’t Good Enough

In a recent post, 1889 Institute expounded on the fiduciary duty of elected officials “to act in the best interest of the people of the state as a whole,” a “high duty, executed as a public trust … wherein one puts the people’s interest above one’s own.” This fiduciary duty must not stop with elected officials. Once an elected body or an elected official – the legislature, a city council, the governor, or a mayor – has taken final action, the faithful implementation of each enacted law, policy, or program falls to an army of bureaucrats. Thus, a fiduciary duty to execute laws and policies with diligence and integrity, tantamount to that of elected officials, must extend to government employees. Recently, I had a few moments to sit down and watch a show with my children. Unsurprisingly, my son picked a series entitled “The Stinky and Dirty Show.” I was naturally skeptical that the show would yield any real value. However, as I watched, I found myself pleasantly surprised. Each episode is formulaic. Stinky, a jovial garbage truck, and Dirty, a thoughtful backhoe loader, must confront an obstacle or a challenging problem. Together they must be creative and resourceful to solve the...

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