19 April 2017

Andrew Cuomo's Excelsior Scholarship: An Idiotic Policy

Stephen Kershnar
Andrew Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship: Stupidity on Parade
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
April 1, 2017

            Andrew Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship makes college tuition free for the middle class. This is an embarrassingly stupid idea. Full disclosure: I am a professor at a SUNY university.

            In the last election, presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton put forth plans to make college free. Cuomo jumped on the bandwagon, making state colleges and universities (government schools) tuition free for the middle class. Here is how Cuomo’s plan works. New York taxpayers will pay $163 million to make college tuition free at state colleges for those students who families make up to $100,000 in 2017. This will rise to $125,000 in two years. Tuition is roughly $6,500 a year. This does not cover room, board, and fees. These cost roughly $14,000 per year. The scholarship only applies to students who go to school full-time, graduate in four years, and stay in the state for four years after graduation. If a student doesn’t stay, the scholarship becomes a loan.

            Writing in The Washington Post, the Urban Institute’s Matthew Chingos points out that this plan does nothing for the poor. Chingos points out that Cuomo’s plan (unlike Sanders’ and Clinton’s plans) covers the difference between tuition and the student’s existing financial aid (read: college welfare). Poor students who would have gotten more than $11,000 in education-welfare (via Pell Grants and a state specific program), in effect get $0. They still have to come up with roughly $10,000 to cover room and board. In contrast, students from middle class families making $75,000-$110,000 will in effect get roughly $6,000. Cuomo thus decided to give the middle class $6,000 and the poor $0. He could have targeted the money toward the poor via the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) or other programs, but decided that the middle class needed the welfare more.

            The taxpayers are getting hosed on this and it will get worse. Anyone who thinks that the poor will not eventually be taken care of has no idea how leftist, especially minority, politicians think and vote. The middle class will shortly begin screaming like stuck pigs that room and board need to be covered and that the four-year requirement must be scrapped and politicians will accommodate them. Predictably, then, the cost of this program will explode.

As the state increasingly fails to cover the cost of forgone tuition, state colleges will ratchet up housing and food costs as a form of backdoor tuition. Grade inflation will also get worse. Professors increasingly won’t endanger or flunk a student knowing that this could cost him his scholarship.

            The poor and especially minority students will not get this benefit or, if they do, will have to pay it back. The New York Times’ David Brooks points out that most poor, and especially minority, students do not graduate in four years. In fact, he notes, fewer than half of black and Hispanic college students at state colleges graduate in six years. They will thus not get the scholarship or be victimized by the scholarships becoming loans and backdoor tuition.

            The higher education system and the tax burden in New York will worsen. Private colleges will not be able to compete against free colleges and a significant number will shrink or close. This will reduce competition and thereby hurt the overall system of higher education. It will also redistribute students into government schools, thereby driving up taxes. This will occur despite the fact that New Yorkers already pay the highest taxes in the country (see Tax Foundation).

            It is unclear whether it will even benefit the middle class students who receive the scholarship. The scholarship requires that they live in New York for four years after graduating. On average, this will harm their ability to move to jobs that provide the most opportunity and pay the most. Over a career, it is likely to reduce to lifetime earnings more than $26,000 ($6,500 welfare per year x 4 years). Instead, this is a protectionist measure that like other protectionist measures redistributes money from one group to another and does so inefficiently.

Also, as Brooks points out (citing Northwestern University’s Chenny Ng), studies show that making education free results in students working less hard and being less likely to graduate. It is strange how paying for college makes students work more likely to graduate.

            The most disturbing aspect of the program, though, is not that it makes things worse for the poor, minorities, taxpayers, higher education, and, likely, middle class beneficiaries, it is its unfairness. Over a lifetime, Georgetown University’s Anthony Carnevale and colleagues found that a college degree adds roughly $1 million in lifetime earnings over a high school diploma. A professional degree adds $2.3 million. There is nothing fair, just, or caring about using government force to take taxpayers’ money and give it to middle class families whose children go to college, especially when these children will make lot more money than those who don’t go.
This is a disgusting redistribution of wealth, much of which will go to the upper middle class.  Consider, for example, Fredonia’s student body. It tends to come from the upper middle class with a median family income of $97,000 and with 4 out of 10 coming from the top 20% of family incomes (2013 numbers from The New York Times).

This disgusting redistribution to the upper middle class is made worse by the fact that the money is given away in a haphazard manner. If the state really cared about benefitting New Yorkers, it would give scholarships to those majoring in engineering, computer science, and finance and not to those majoring in elementary education, fine art, and drama because the former majors’ skills are so much more valuable.

It would also require graduates work full-time for the four-year period after graduation. In addition, it would exclude those with low SAT scores and low high school grade point averages.

Even if a college degree doesn’t add anything to an individual’s productivity, but merely signals higher intelligence or better work habits, there is still no reason to take more money from people who are shoulder the most crushing tax burden in the country and give it to adults with these competitive advantages.  Andrew 

17 April 2017

For Legalizing Hard Drugs

Stephen Kershnar
Legalize Hard Drugs: American Freedom at Work
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
April 3, 2017

            It’s clear that marijuana should be legalized. The more interesting issue is whether other drugs such as ecstasy, LSD, cocaine, and heroin should be legalized.

            Consider the following background. The U.S. locks up an incredibly large number of people. It has 5% of the world’s population but 25% of its prisoners. Writing in The Washington’s Post, Michelle Ye Hee Lee notes that the U.S. incarcerates 478 per 100,000 people. In contrast, other countries incarcerate far fewer. Consider, for example, Australia (130 per 100,000) Canada (188), Japan (51), and across Europe (134). What makes this fact so horrifying is that the victimization rate in Western Europe is roughly the same as it is in the U.S. The U.S. has been turned into a lockdown nation due to a variety of “get tough” laws that include truth in sentencing laws, mandatory minimums, mandatory drug sentences, life sentence without possibility of parole, three-strikes laws, and so on. 

Roughly 3% of the adult population is under the control of the criminal justice system (incarceration, parole, or probation) at any one point in time and this population churns, constantly sweeping new people into its gaping maw. Some populations are especially likely to be swept in. Using data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, The Sentencing Project notes that for U.S. residents born in 2001, roughly one in three black men and one in six Latino men will be imprisoned at some time in their lives.

            Drug laws are one of the causes of this ocean of incarceration. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one out of two federal prisoners and one out of six of state prisoners are there for drug-based offenses. In 2015, roughly half a million people were incarcerated for drugs. This number has exploded from the mere 41,000 who in 1980 were incarcerated for drugs. Most inmates currently locked up for drugs were neither high level dealers nor had prior criminal records for violent offenses.

            Why think that buying and selling drugs should not be punished or, at very least, should not be incarcerated?

First, there is the argument from rights. People consent to government to protect their natural rights and rights derived from them. One person’s natural right is a claim against a second that the second not interfere with the first’s use and enjoyment of his body or property. Among the natural right a person has is the right to put whatever she wants into her body, whether it is unpasteurized milk, another woman’s finger, tattoo ink, alcohol, or drugs. When people consent to the American government’s authority, they have not waived this right. This can be seen via the text and structure of the Constitution as well as the assumptions made by those who wrote and ratified it. People thus retain the right to use drugs for the same reason they have the right to engage in sodomy, it is a natural right that has not been waived.

            Second, there is an argument from the many benefits of freedom. According to Heritage Foundation, economic freedom correlates with per capita income. Other studies show economic and personal freedom robustly correlate with happiness. The best interpretation of these studies is that increased freedom makes people wealthier and happier. Drug prohibition lessens freedom directly, by trampling on a natural right, and indirectly, by the many ways the governments trample on people’s rights against search and seizure in the pursuit of drugs. The recent atrocities in the Philippines being a case in point.
            One objection to these arguments is that hard drugs are just too dangerous to legalize. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that in 2015, 52,000 people died from drug overdose, including 13,000 from heroin.

One reason to be skeptical of this argument is that these tragic deaths occurred under a brutal and unforgiving system. This tragedy is then used to argue that we should make the system even more brutal and unforgiving. Perhaps we should try legalization accompanied by education campaigns and more opportunities for treatment. We did this for alcohol.

Our freedom should not depend on whether undisciplined yahoos can handle it. For example, the U.S. protects the Westboro Baptist Church’s freedom to picket military funerals and people’s right to buy Everclear’s 191 proof grain alcohol regardless of whether either is a good idea.
In addition, it is unclear whether the cost of drug use outweighs its benefit. While the tragic death of thousands is bad, the pleasure that people millions get from drugs is good. People drink alcohol because they enjoy it. That pleasure would be lost were alcohol again prohibited. Similarly, drug use would generate more pleasure than it currently does were drugs no longer prohibited. For example, some friends tell me that ecstasy is more fun than Jack Daniels.  

A second objection is that drug use is not part of American freedom because people get addicted and addicted people are unfree.

If this objection were true, this would be a good reason to prohibit alcohol and cigarettes, but it’s not. Not every drug user gets addicted. Consider those who dropped acid in Vietnam or at Woodstock. More importantly, freedom includes the right to engage in risky activities when such activities do not wrong others. For example, the government allows allow adults to drop out of school, become uneducated-and-unwed mothers, and waste their money on cult-like religions (for example, Scientology) even when doing so risks poverty, indignity, and a loss of control.  

A third objection is that hard drugs should be prohibited in order to keep them from children and teens.

The problem is that this argument has no logical stopping point. The same is true for alcohol, cigarettes, pornography, premarital sex, and MMA fighting. You can’t have a free society if the laws are designed to make the world perfectly safe for 13-year-old girls.

As the first step in eliminating the lockdown nation, drugs should be legalized or, at the very least, not punished via incarceration. 

23 March 2017

Middlebury Students and Professors Shame Themselves

Stephen Kershnar
Middlebury College Riots over Charles Murray
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
March 20, 2017

            On March 2, 2017, Charles Murray came to Middlebury College to discuss his book about the breakdown of the white working class. He was accompanied by Allison Stanger a leftist professor who was supposed to moderate discussion of his ideas. After being drowned out by protesters, Murray and Stanger moved to another part of the campus to live stream their talk. Protesters made it difficult by banging on the walls and pulling fire alarms.

When Murray and Stanger left the building, one protester grabbed Stanger’s hair and another protester shoved her. The upshot was whiplash and a concussion requiring a visit to the hospital. Were it not for security guards and other protectors, the mob likely would have ground Murray into the dirt.

With guards holding off the howling mob, Murray, Stanger, and a college vice president got into a car and locked the doors. The mob then surrounded the car, banged on its sides and windows, rocked it, and climbed onto the hood. The car had to inch forward to avoid hitting anyone. The three then drove to a dinner venue, but when the mob discovered them, they fled again.

Encouraged by several faculty members, the protests had been organized for about a week. The protesters’ reasoning was that because Murray is a racist, white nationalist, discredited pseudoscientist, eugenicist, anti-gay, and so on, his talk was hate speech. Because hate speech does not deserve to be heard, the protesters concluded, they should forcefully keep him from speaking.

This protest followed the violent mob that prevented libertarian commentator Milo Yiannapoulis from speaking at the University of California at Berkeley. The mob decided that he engaged in hate speech and, hence, other people did not have the right to hear him speak, even at a state-owned campus. His alleged hate speech consisted of such obvious points as criticizing Muslim countries that condemn gay people to death (Yiannapoulis is gay), challenging Facebook for censoring its customers, and arguing that mass third world immigration is bad for the hosts.
It is odd that protesters thought that Murray’s discussion on the white working class should not be accessible because of his prior work on intelligence and race. It is odd too that there was so little interest in hearing about the prior work, especially since his conclusions are likely true and relevant to today’s incessant discussions of race, class, and immigration. 
The first thing to notice about the protests against Murray is the degree to which his findings in the controversial part of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (1994) have held up. Leaving aside what most of the book was about (isolation of the cognitive elite), critics attacked Murray for claiming that (1) differences in intelligence are in part heritable and (2) races have different distributions of intelligence and the differences is in part heritable (more specifically, not known to be purely environmental). The first claim is widely accepted. The second is plausible.   

The claim that intelligence is heritable is supported by studies that attempt to isolate the relevant statistical factors. It is also supported by studies of identical twins. These studies show that identical twins have intelligence levels that are closer than are those of non-identical twins, normal siblings, and other pairings. Murray and his fellow author, Harvard psychologist Richard Herrnstein, estimate that for populations, 40-80% of cognitive ability, as measured by IQ tests (tests that measure general intelligence), is inherited and the role of inheritance increases as people go from infancy to adulthood. A 1996 American Psychological Association task force on intelligence drew a similar conclusion. For late adolescents and adults, they estimate heritability at 75%. In contrast, by late adolescence, the effects of family environment are surprisingly small.

As a side note, IQ scores have been validated. They correlate with grades, SAT scores, income, and performance ratings in many occupations. There is reason to believe that differences in intelligence cause the different performance levels. IQ scores also correlate with undesirable features such as out-of-wedlock births, criminality, welfare use, and so on, though the strength of correlation varies. Even if intelligence were not inherited, it still is relevant to understanding differences between populations.

Herrnstein and Murray also argued that we do not know that the sizable difference in the black-white distribution of IQ scores is purely environmental. The evidence here is mixed. Proponents of the genetic explanation, such as J. Philippe Rushton and Arthur Jensen, point to studies involving transracial adoption, IQ scores for mixed race populations, a worldwide pattern of race and IQ scores, greater IQ difference the more the test is focused on general intelligence, and so on. Critics challenge these findings. Herrnstein and Murray’s argument that the difference is in part genetic and in part environmental is plausible because they fit with a number of lines of evidence.   

Murray and Herrnstein never supported racism, eugenics, fascism, white nationalism, etc. These labels are as false as they are offensive. Murray’s mixed race children are not what one would expect from a racist.    

Even if Murray were racist, fascist, sexist, etc. that is still no reason to violently prevent people from listening to his ideas. As John Stuart Mill argued in On Liberty, free speech is useful because the marketplace of ideas tends to separate true ideas from false ones in the same way that a marketplace tends to separate better goods from worse ones. Mill also argued that false ideas sometimes contain a kernel of truth, a kernel that is discoverable by discussing the ideas. In addition, Mill and others have pointed out that discussing ideas forces people to discover why they believe what they do. This makes them better thinkers and, Mill adds, more virtuous.

Middlebury protesters and their faculty cheerleaders were wrong on Murray’s ideas and don’t understand the value of free speech. Instead of discussing ideas with one of America’s most important intellectuals, Middlebury students engaged in thuggery. What a shame.