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Posts Tagged ‘Innovation’

This was originally posted at Neighborhood Effects.

Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t. – Traditional idiom

Sayings become traditional if they contain sufficient truth, but truth can usually be graded on a scale, from absolute to non-existent; better writers have called this the “truth-of-the-head” and the “truth-of-the-heart.”

The truth-of-the-head is that American public schooling is failing.Expenses are too highpolitical influence is too systemic, and results areterrifyingly lowThis isn’t news. We’ve written and talked about itextensively.

new study from the National Center for Policy Analysis adds to the mountain of evidence that school choice overwhelmingly benefits studentsespecially the poor.

From 1998 to 2008, the Children’s Educational Opportunity (CEO) Foundation funded a $52.4 million voucher program for residents of the low-performing Edgewood Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas. The vouchers were available to any student in Edgewood whose family chose to participate, regardless of academic ability or income.

The evidence shows that the voucher students weren’t the only ones who benefited. The students who remained in the Edgewood public schools benefited from increased funding resources due to increasing property values, and improvements in the public schools in response to increased competition.

Those are impressive results. Yet anti-reform groups and their legislative supporters have almost successfully killed school choice in Washington, DC, arguably the flagship federal school-choice program. Reason.tv has documented the trials, triumphs, and tribulations of the D.C. program for several years.

The recurring arguments against choice have always been theoretical. Students might be worse off. Communities might be forced into educational ghettos. Students might be subjected to failing systems, where private educators care only about power and money.

But any reasonable person has to agree, replace “might” with “is” or “are”, and “private” with “public,” and you have a fair critique of the current state. When faced with possible problems but tangible benefits, the devil you know seems egregiously evil.

I guess that’s why “idiom” and “idiot” are only one letter apart.

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Can you renounce your state citizenship? (more…)

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Paul Hollander writes an excellent piece in the Washington Post about the momentous events of November 1989.  Hollander escaped the communist hegemony in 1956, and he writes about the oppression and murder committed by the statist regimes of the last century.

While greatly concerned with communism in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Americans — hostile or sympathetic — actually knew little about communism, and little is said here today about the unraveling of the Soviet empire. The media’s fleeting attention to the momentous events of the late 1980s and early 1990s matched their earlier indifference to communist systems. There is little public awareness of the large-scale atrocities, killings and human rights violations that occurred in communist states, especially compared with awareness of the Holocaust and Nazism (which led to to far fewer deaths). The number of documentaries, feature films or television programs about communist societies is minuscule compared with those on Nazi Germany and/or the Holocaust, and few universities offer courses on the remaining or former communist states. For most Americans, communism and its various incarnations remained an abstraction.

The different moral responses to Nazism and communism in the West can be interpreted as a result of the perception of communist atrocities as byproducts of noble intentions that were hard to realize without resorting to harsh measures.

In the New York review of Books, Timothy Garton Ash breaks down the chronology of the mass liberation of Eastern Europe. (more…)

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I’m officially blogging at the Mercatus Center’s Neighborhood Effects blog.  My first post is about Maine’s TABOR bill.  At this point, it seems unlikely to pass, although I’ve crossed my fingers and sent in my absentee ballot.

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Peter Suderman does an excellent job of clarifying Ezra Klein’s misconceptions about health care.

This is the house they’ve built: an insurance market where plans are written for the healthy and all legal efforts are made to exclude the sick. That’s meant premiums are somewhat lower than they’d otherwise be, but only because the people who most need health-care insurance aren’t able to afford it, or in some cases, aren’t able to convince anyone to sell it to them. Now that arrangement is ending and they’re scared that they can’t provide an affordable product to the people who need it. They may be right, but it’s evidence of how deeply perverse their business has become, not of what’s wrong with health-care reform.

That’s one way to look at it. But Klein’s conclusion rests on the assumption that the insurance industry exists to provide inexpensive protection and support to those deemed “in need” rather than a service business built to help provide a safety net against genuine catastrophe—you know, insurance—to those who want to pay for it. Essentially, this view entails seeing insurance as a social good rather than as a business, which explains why many reform advocates see a single payer system as their ultimate goal.

Now, that’s par for the course for folks with a preexisting liberal worldview. And none of this is particularly surprising given that a) Americans tend to understand insurance as medical prepayment rather than actual insurance and b) the country has built its medical system around third-party payment.

I’ve never understood the concept of health care as a public good.  It’s not a resource, there’s no fount of endless good-health that we can dip into.  Health care and insurance are services, and in a service economy it’s clear that multiple providers and competitive pricing are the best discovered mechanisms for lowering costs and increasing access.

Consider cell phone service.  When the first bulky cell phones came out they cost an arm and a leg, had terrible reception, were ostentatious and you could only use them if you stood under a tower.

But competition and creative destruction have (and continue) to work their invisible hands in the cell phone industry, and now you can have a slim blackberry set to vibrate, and reasonably expect 3G coverage in the middle of Montana.  Google “cell phone providers” and see how many options you find.  True, most people you meet will have either At&t or Verizon, but that’s because by most standards they’re the best.  But the variety of carriers, and more importantly, the potential for increased variety, is intrinsic to the market.

When it comes to something as important as health care, we should be trying to actively promote that kind of diversity, expansion, and cost-cutting.  Baucus-care and its single-payer ilk won’t do any of these things, but Ezra Klein doesn’t care nearly as much for actually helping people as he does about bashing insurance companies for not operating as he’d like.

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Just a random thought this morning: history has progressed to this point, and seen several revolutions in the formal arrangements that govern societies.

Since pre-history, people lived in chaotic tribal groups, often warring with their neighbors.  Power and leadership coalesced around the warlord.  Eventually warlords ceded some power to a King, who could ensure a peace over a broader territory.  Kings eventually gave way to classically liberal regimes, like Napoleon or the English Parliment.  At the close of the 1800’s Europe, and soon the world, was ruled by a sense of tribal-nationalism, centered around the idea of a unified volk, or common people. (more…)

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Frequent contributor (and my brother-from-another-mother) Tom suggests we add an “ask a libertarian” section.  Now we are hardly mouthpieces for a wildly diverse movement that is part party, part philosophy, and we won’t try to be.

But we’re certainly glad to engage readers and try to shine some light on why we think freedom, limited government and private cooperation could lead us to a better world.  We can’t speak for everyone, but we can offer you our particular lens on an issue that concerns or interests you.

Hence, the inaugural Reader Questions.  The topic: Patents, exclusivity, and innovation.  Tom’s question is a good one, and I’ll reprint it in full:

I’m hesitant to form strong opinions on issues involving patents and intellectual property because, well, I’m not a lawyer. I have a hard time drawing the line between where patent laws encourage innovation and where patent laws change innovators’ focus from the act of innovating to milking patent protection to finding a balance with patent-assisted profits and further innovation, perhaps at the cost of further innovation.

I guess what I’m pondering, fueled by the role of pharmaceutical companies in American health care, is when do patent laws become a reverse incentive for innovation, artificially elevating prices and discouraging or eliminating competitive innovation for similar products?

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