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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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Official Statement of 1889 Institute: Open Oklahoma’s Schools

Byron Schlomach, director of the 1889 Institute, issued the following statement today regarding the ongoing school closures throughout Oklahoma as a result of the Oklahoma State Board of Education’s response to the COVID-19 virus: Way back in March, the 1889 Institute first protested school closings based on then-existing evidence that school-age children are not prone to the disease, evidence confirmed in intervening months. This evidence, combined with the failure of school districts to provide a rigorous online education and the hardship on two-earner families created by distance learning, makes it clear that closing the schools has, indeed, been a policy error of epic proportions.  To that end, 1889 Institute is calling on the Board of Education to rescind its current guidance that recommends such closures and reopen traditional brick and mortar schools immediately following the upcoming Christmas break. Not doing so is a disservice to both students and parents and will have a lasting impact on the educational achievements of an entire generation of Oklahoma students. Background: On March 24 of this year (2020), the 1889 Institute released an official statement opposing the...

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COVID Inspires Tyranny for the “Good” of Its Victims

The Christian philosopher, C.S. Lewis, once said, "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies." The moral busybodies C.S Lewis warns of reminds me of those who would have Americans give up their liberty to combat COVID-19.  A recent Oklahoman op-ed compared COVID-19 to World War II, stating that the number of deaths from COVID-19 is approaching the number that died fighting for this country and the freedoms it protects. This comparison is, of course, nonsense. This suggests that a virus with a high survivability rate is an equivalent threat to the Nazi and Japanese regimes that brutally murdered millions. The piece uses wartime rationing of meat and cheese, a sacrifice necessary to ensure men on the front lines had adequate nutrition, to justify Americans accepting counterproductive lockdowns in exchange for additional stimulus checks and another eviction freeze. Those that support lockdowns say that liberties are luxuries provided to us by society. In truth, individual liberty enables a free society. This freedom comes at a high and...

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I Abstain: Why I Refuse to Vote in Judicial Retention Elections

Over a million Oklahomans voted in the recent November 3rd election. For most, the presidential race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump is what drove them to the polls. However, some were likely confused when they reached the bottom portion of their ballot marked “Judicial Retention Elections.” What are judicial retention elections? Every two years, certain judges are placed on the ballot for a simple yes/no retention vote. These elections stem from Oklahoma’s judicial selection method, and ask voters whether they want to keep, or retain, certain judges. Elections are staggered so judges only face retention every six years. Many claim that the merit selection method is a more sophisticated, apolitical judicial selection method than the federal model or the partisan election model, but in reality it is much worse than either of the two. In essence, the retention vote was a patronizing attempt to make “merit” selection more palatable to voters back in the 1960s. Unfortunately, due to a bribery scandal that involved a supreme court justice, it worked. Oklahomans voted to institute the so-called merit selection model. Predictably, not a single judge has been voted out via retention...

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Zoning Offense: Attacks on Free Speech

Among its proponents, zoning (where government dictates how we can use our property) is credited with accomplishing a multitude of good for the public. However, there is a dark side to governmental control of land use. Throughout its history, zoning has been deployed to categorically discriminate against and exclude whoever might be the chosen pariah of the day. Whether the target was a religious or racial minority or a member of lower economic classes, zoning was a tool to exclude certain individuals from protected neighborhoods. An early American land-use ordinance passed in San Francisco in the late 19th century provides us with a clear example of weaponized land use control. In a subtle attempt to discriminate against Chinese launderers, San Francisco passed an ordinance that seemed neutral on its face. Essentially, it was impermissible to operate a laundry in a wood building. At the time, 75% of laundries were run by Chinese owners, and every single one was located in a wood building. In an act of blatant discrimination, the city denied all applications for a variance submitted by Chinese owners while granting all white-owned operations permission to continue operations. The...

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The High Duty of Elected Officials and Ways They Fall Short

With an election just completed (the alleged voting, anyway), a legislative session coming up, constant talk of spending to offset the impacts of COVID-19, and elected officials trying to mandate our way out of a disease, the duty of elected officials in their official positions is worth considering. The 1889 Institute recently published a booklet for state lawmakers that discusses various issues and possible solutions. Included in that booklet is a short discussion of the central duty of elected officials, which is expanded here. What is the central, over-arching duty of an individual after having been elected to public office? Public oaths of office give a strong hint, and the Oklahoma Constitution is a good place to start. Article XV includes the oath of office, which states that an Oklahoma public official swears to “support, obey, and defend” the constitutions of the nation and the state, that the official will not take bribes, and that the official will discharge duties as best he or she can. The Oklahoma County oath of office adds that the official “will faithfully discharge the duties of my office with fidelity.” The state and county oaths of office do not clash. The...

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Public Unions and Obscure Election Dates Create a Perfect Storm

Wouldn’t it be great to pick your boss? I don’t mean choose between two competing job offers based on which boss you prefer. I mean that you and your coworkers get together and pick a boss based on who is going to be the easiest to work for: someone who won’t interfere with your work, won’t call you out when you’re acting against the interest of your customers, someone who will sing your praises to the public, and let you work for another organization on company time.   Public sector unions everywhere wield undue power over the elected officials charged with overseeing them. In many states unions dominate every aspect of politics. Right to work laws, and the state culture that created them, are meant to shield Oklahoma from this fate. But when public employees are able to band together and withhold essential services, especially those services they have fully monopolized by virtue of the fact that only government provides them, elected officials have little choice but to cave. This is the central theme of 1889’s latest paper, which not only identifies the problem, but also suggests a solution. But there is more to it than our paper reveals. Oklahoma’s ridiculous number of...

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