24 December 2008

The Trinity

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
December 21, 2008

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is interesting. It holds that God exists as three persons: father, son (Jesus Christ), and spirit (Holy Ghost). Many Christians believe in it, including members of the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant Reformation branches. This last branch includes Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and Presbyterianism. The Bible also provides some support for it. This includes Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" and 2 Corinthians 13:14, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." An interesting question is whether a theist should believe in it. I should disclose that my Fredonia State colleague, Dale Tuggy, who writes here as The Theist, is an internationally recognized expert on the topic and the ideas here are influenced by his writings.

In 325 A.D., the Council of Nicaea held that the doctrine should be understood to involve the notion of one substance and three persons. On this account, according to The Sheed & Ward anthology of Catholic philosophy, the answer to the question: What is God? indicates the one-ness of God and the answer the question: Who is God? indicates the three-ness of the Trinity. The problem is that distinction is hard to understand.

The Trinity might mean that there are three different persons. This is analogous to three different roommates living together in an apartment (for example, Three’s Company). The concern is that if there are three distinct persons, then Christianity would be a polytheistic religion (believing in multiple gods) rather than a monotheistic one. The Christian might respond by claiming that one or more of these people is not divine (for example, Jesus is not divine), but then it is hard to square with Jesus Christ’s central role in Christianity. It is also hard to square with other parts of the Bible. Consider, for example, John 10:30, where Jesus says, "I and the Father are one."

In addition, the Council of Nicaea formulation can’t be squared with this account for if there are three different persons and if persons are distinguished because they are made out of different substances (that is, different objects), then it is hard to see how there could be just one divine substance. The notion that persons are differentiated by being made out of different substances (objects) makes sense once we recognize the logical incoherence of saying that one and the same object could constitute different persons. This is true regardless of whether the object is physical or spiritual.

Fans of the Trinity might assert that the three are different parts of the same whole. This is analogous to the way in which an elephant has different parts (for example, a trunk and two floppy ears). The problem is that a person cannot have another person as part of her. For example, a mother does not have an adult daughter as part of her even if the daughter were somehow to live inside her. If each member of the trinity were to have distinct thoughts, then it does appear that they are different persons and not merely part of one person. The notion that Jesus has thoughts that differ from those of God can be seen in that Jesus at times prays to God and this does not appear to be similar to a person conversing with himself. Also, Jesus is anguished at the thought of his future and this is not something that could be true of an all-powerful being like God.

Trinity proponents might instead assert that the three are different properties of a single person. For example, a person such as Winston Churchill was wise, courageous, and intelligent. If this is all that proponents of the Trinity are asserting then it seems obviously true. To say a perfect being like God has different properties such as vast knowledge, power, and goodness is uncontroversial. This would be unable to explain that vast amounts of ink, hard feelings, and church divisions that this doctrine has caused. In addition, this account would not explain the way in which God can be three persons.

One objection here is that all this shows is that the Trinity does not make sense when subjected to logic, but because God created logic and thus exists outside of it, this is not a problem. Exempting God from logic, however, runs the risk of reducing Christian beliefs to a contradictory morass. For example, when someone asserts that God is eternal, she means to rule out God’s having been created in 1984. However, if God is outside of logic, then the former does not rule out the latter. Similarly, when one asserts that God is all-good, she means to rule out the notion that God tortures puppies just for the fun of it. Again, this follows only if God is subject to logic. In addition, if God gave human beings reason to understand the world and then made the most important parts of it inaccessible to reason, this seems vaguely misleading, if not mean-spirited.

Some Christian philosophers such as Richard Swinburne of Oxford University and Stephen Davis of McKenna-Claremont College argue that there is good reason to believe that God has companions. They argue that God is perfect and that a perfect being will ensure that his life goes well. Because someone’s life goes well only if they have family or friends with whom to share their love, God would ensure that he has family or friends. This explains why there are the other members of the Trinity. This strikes me as a convincing argument, although it raises the issue of whether God created Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit or whether they exist independently of him. This argument strikes me as plausible, although it entails there are three divine beings and hence that Christians should be polytheists, that is, they should worship at least three gods and perhaps more.

The Trinity raises interesting issues. It is difficult to fit the traditional doctrine with the notion that there is only one divine being and ideas about what makes one person distinct from another. Christmas strikes me as a fun time to think about these issues.

10 December 2008

Skyrocketing College Costs

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
December 8, 2008

The cost of higher education is skyrocketing. This is troubling, not just because it involves massive waste, but also because it threatens to make college less affordable. This will lead to not only economic loss, but also personal loss if a college education generally makes people’s lives go better.

According to The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, college tuition is climbing at an alarming rate. From 1982 to 2007, college tuition and fees rose 439%. This rise is even more impressive when one considers that medical-care costs rose 251% over that period and inflation (consumer price index) increased 106%. This alarming climb makes college less affordable. This is particularly true because the increased cost of college is running far head of the increase in family income during this period (median family income rose by 147%).

In concrete terms, college is expensive. The cost of an average public four-year college (including tuition, room, and board) is $13,842. For middle-income families, this is 25% of their income and this is true only when we reduce this amount by taking financial aid into account. For many, financial aid has helped to reduce these cost increases. In 2003-2004, roughly 63% of students received aid and this reduced the average out-of-pocket costs to $6,600 per student. This percentage is even higher (69%) at public four-year institutions.

As usual with public education, taxpayers are carrying a good deal of the load. One 2003 study by Cato scholar Neal McCluskey, using data from the National Center for Educational Statistics, pointed out that more than half of public universities’ revenue came directly from federal, state, and local taxpayers. In comparison only about 19% came from student fees and tuition. On a per pupil basis, the taxpayers at all levels currently pay about $9,500 for each full-time student. This includes grants, loans, and tax credits. Even the rich line up at the trough. For example, in 2002, 8% of college students from families with parental income of $100,000 or more received state aid, with the average award being $2,400.

These patterns also hold true for New York. The state paid around $7,800 per student (6.9% of state and local tax revenue). This might explain why even spendthrift New York charges only slightly more for tuition, room, and board than the national average, $13,589. When prices are so reasonable, you know New York taxpayers are being fleeced.

As usual, when the government starts blindly shoveling money into something, performance suffers. According to The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, when it comes to Americans ages 25-34, the U.S. has slipped to 10th place in the percentage of persons with an Associate’s Degree or better. We lag behind not merely Asian competitors such as Japan and Korea, but also our Canadian neighbors and European competitors like Ireland, France, and Belgium. Worse yet, when it comes to percent of college students who get a degree, the U.S. performance is mediocre. The U.S. ranks 15th in worldwide graduation rates. This is made worse because the percentage of U.S. students who finish college in four years is surprisingly low. For example, at Fredonia less than half of the entering freshmen graduate from Fredonia in four years (in 2000-2003, the percentage was about 47%) and less than two thirds graduate in six years (around 64% from 1999 to 2001).

Shoveling taxpayer dollars toward higher education also likely fueled the cost increase. After all, when competing for students, administrators felt little pressure to engage in disciplined spending. My guess is the subsidies have helped to pay for an expansion of student services. The modern university is stocked with workers who provide psychological counseling, career counseling, child care, and special services for minority students. Other staff members handle public relations, promote diversity and affirmative action, and provide a sizable on-campus police force. This is in addition to employees who serve the food and oversee dormitory life. Even at small colleges, these programs cost tens of millions of dollars and drive up tuitions and fees. It is interesting to consider whether higher education would be better served without the bells and whistles.

This pattern can be seen at Fredonia State. There around 36% of full-time employees are faculty and they likely account for less than half of the 33% (inflation-adjusted) increase in spending that occurred at the school between 1998-1999 and 2007-2008 academic years.

Another interesting issue is whether taxpayers should subsidize college students in such large amounts. On average, college graduates make more than those without a college degree. As a result, it seems a little unfair to force blue-collar workers to subsidize their soon-to-be wealthier peers. It is often argued that education has positive effects for third parties (that is, it benefits people other than students and the people who provide educational services) and this explains why we should subsidize it. For example, higher education makes people more productive, thereby leading to more scientific and commercial discoveries, new businesses, more tax revenue, etc. However, subsidies also have negative effects. They encourage young adults to purchase more education than they want or, in some cases, can handle. Consider the low graduation rates. Subsidies also lower academic standards as colleges try to educate students who are not ready for college. On one estimate, 29% of state university freshmen needed a remedial course. And, as noted above, subsidies probably also ratchet up the cost of a college degree, thereby making college less affordable and saddling many students with weighty loans.

The balance of positive and negative effects that flow from massive subsidies to higher education is unclear. What is clearer is that politicians who promote higher education subsidies and then criticize skyrocketing costs are working at cross purposes. In addition, we should have little tolerance for those demagogues who bemoan the lack of taxpayer support for higher education.

29 November 2008

For Prostitution

The Objectivist
Revisiting Prostitution
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
November 24, 2008

Prostitution is one of those businesses that is here to stay and yet, outside of the Eliot Spitzer scandal, receives little discussion. The case for legalizing it is surprisingly strong and yet there is little movement for doing so. Even in liberal San Francisco, voters turned down a measure that would have prevented the police from arresting prostitutes.

The case for legalizing prostitution is straightforward. On one version, if two persons wish to engage in a transaction that does not harm anyone else, then they should be allowed to do so. A second version focuses on rights. In prostitution, the customer, almost always a man, gives the prostitute money, something which he has a legal and moral right to do. The prostitute has sex with the man, which she (or he) also has a legal and moral right to do. Somehow, the combination of these acts is illegal. This ban does not cover payment to actors in pornographic movies for reasons that escape me.

One argument for banning prostitution is that we should protect prostitutes from themselves. This is an odd argument in that you might think that the state is not your father and hence should not be in the business of protecting you against yourself. One might also think that consistency should prevent such laws. After all, we allow adults to eat unhealthy things, smoke, get fat, drop out of school, and serve in dangerous wars. However, even for fans of paternalism, the issue arises as to whether prostitution is a bad for women.

This is a claim that prostitution is bad for the women (and men) who work frequently made. The empirical studies in fact show that the job has a distinct mixture of benefits and costs. The best window into this mixture is one of the few in-depth studies on prostitution that was done by University of Chicago economics professor Steven D. Levitt (author of “Freakonomics”) and Columbia University sociology professor Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh.

In Chicago, street prostitutes earned around $27 an hour, roughly four times their hourly wage in other jobs. In other work sectors, these women averaged around $7 an hour. Interestingly prostitutes who worked for pimps, or business agents as I like to call them, earned around $41 an hour. In a week, the average prostitute only worked around 13 hours per week , averaged 10 sex acts, and earned around $340 a week, which is more than they made through other work. My guess is that this light work week might be valued by women who can’t afford much day care and whose other work prospects are undependable, dreary, and don’t pay much. Surprisingly, another academic study indicated that in many cases prostitutes enjoy the sex.

The down side is that prostitutes are in a violent, unhealthy, and stigmatizing field. Levitt and Vankatesh’s study indicates that working street prostitutes report being a victim of violence (from customer or business agent) about once a month. They are also at risk for disease because condoms are used about 25% of the time. Prostitutes also get arrested, although fairly infrequently (1 arrest per 450 tricks). They get imprisoned even less frequently (1 in 10 arrests leads to a prison sentence). They frequently buy off the police with sex. Incredibly, around 3% of their tricks are given to the police to prevent arrests. This is a higher rate than freebie sex given out to gang members for protection. Other researchers argue that being a prostitute is stigmatizing and leads to diminished marriage opportunities.

Do the costs outweigh the benefits? This is hard to tell. It depends in part on what other employment and marriage prospects the women have and what they value. It is unclear whether it is worse than their other options. Even if prostitution is bad for the women, one wonders whether they would be better off were prostitution legalized, thereby allowing women to gain better access to medical professionals, honest cops, and reputable business agents.

The cost-benefit analysis is also unclear when we look at high-end prostitutes. Venkatesh’s research indicates that some of these women make a lot of money (around $7,500 per session or $10,000 per session depending on how elite their clientele is). However, their other opportunities are probably quite good. At this level, the women tend to be white, have a college degree (or are in college), and only take referrals. In addition, they are also exposed to violence (on average, twice a year).

A second argument for prohibiting prostitution is that it is necessary to prevent business agents from exploiting prostitutes. Levitt and Vankatesh’s study casts doubt on this argument. In Chicago, business agents allow prostitutes to earn substantially more money (50% more) per trick, turn fewer tricks, get arrested less often, and give less freebie sex to cops and gang members. In return prostitutes pay a flat 25% fee on all of their tricks.

A third argument for banning prostitution is that it carries with it negative externalities. A negative externality is a harm to people who are not part of the transaction. In particular, prostitution is thought to cause crime, tamp down property values, break up families, promote immorality, etc. Negative externalities usually do not provide a good reason to ban something as opposed to zoning it. For example, the state allows bars and industrial plants despite the fact that they are alleged to cause crime and noise and tamp down property values to drop. In an analysis of Chicago neighborhoods, prostitution did correlate with crime. In contrast, this is not true of the drug trade. In the absence of data, it is hard to assess the claims about family breakup and promoting immorality. Also, the externalities need not be all negative. When studied, many rapists report preferring voluntary sex. This might indicate that prostitution will reduce the incidence of rape, although this is pure speculation. In addition, the negative externalities might be outweighed by the gains to prostitutes and their customers.

A fourth argument is that prostitution will lead to the importation of foreign sex slaves, thereby leading to sexual slavery. However, Emily Bazelon in Slate.com points out that in countries that legalized prostitution (Australia, Germany, and the Netherlands) have not become awash in foreign sex slaves. Neither have the parts of Nevada in which it is legal.

A fifth argument is that hiring prostitutes is wrong and that the law should enforce morality. This is an odd view of the state for those who think liberty is important. In addition, it is inconsistent with laws that permit people to enjoy pornography, alcohol, gambling, and adultery. The real problem, however, is that it is hard to see what is wrong with hiring a prostitute. People hire others for pedicures, hair cuts, and massages, all involve human contact. Why is sex different? At least in the short run, the exchange of sex for money appears to be mutually beneficial, otherwise such exchanges wouldn’t occur. The proponent of this argument needs to explain why morality supports banning of prostitution, but not premarital and gay sex. Paying for sex may seem distasteful, but such aesthetic objections are no more telling on prostitution than they are with regard to sex with a fat person.

It is surprisingly hard to see why prostitution should be criminalized. The most obvious arguments fail or lack supporting evidence. Perhaps we should revisit this issue.

12 November 2008

Against Diversity

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
November 10, 2008

The left often asserts that diversity is good for the U.S. The notion that diversity is good for the U.S. is an empirical claim and there is surprisingly little evidence for it. This is disturbing given that few slogans are more repeated in politics than “diversity is our strength” and given that schools and businesses spend large amounts of money and regularly sacrifice merit to promote diversity.

The argument against diversity is that when we look at ethnic, racial, and religious diversity, we find that it does not correlate with wealth, happiness, peace, or other indicators of human flourishing. As a result, even if diversity generates benefits, it is unclear whether they outweigh its costs.

Internationally, some of the richest countries have less diversity than their competitors. Examples of countries with less diversity include (in parentheses is their ranking in terms of per capita income): Norway (2), Ireland (4), Denmark (5), and Sweden (7). The same is true of two of the four richest Asian Countries: Japan (20) and South Korea (28). In more subjective terms, less diverse countries such as Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, and Norway have very happy people compared to the rest of the world (they are the 3rd, 5th, 9th, and 12th happiest respectively). This is measured in terms of life satisfaction, although genetic factors might explain a large part of the data. In terms of wealth and happiness, the U.S. has high numbers (10th in income and 11th in happiness). So while diversity does not appear to be necessary for wealth or happiness, it is not incompatible with it. My guess is that the U.S.’s wealth is probably due in large part to its free market.

Internationally, racial and ethnic diversity is a major source of violence. Jared Taylor, editor of the highly controversial American Renaissance, notes that a study by the United Nations found that between 1989 and 1992, there were 82 conflicts that had resulted in at least 1,000 deaths. Of these conflicts 96% (79) were ethnic or religious conflicts that took place within the borders of recognized states and only 3 were cross-border conflicts. Another researcher, Tatu Vanhanen of Finland, found a strong positive correlation between ethnic diversity and conflict. Intergroup violence in places like Yugoslavia and Iraq quickly spiraled out of control once the heavy hand that kept violence contained was lifted.

In the United States, diversity appears to have troubling results. For example, in 2007 Harvard professor Robert Putnam found that as racial diversity increase, levels of happiness decrease as does trust both within members of the same ethnic group and between members of different ones. Also, with the increase in diversity, people increasingly withdraw from community life. In short, Putnam found that as diversity increases people have less friends, less trust, and are less altruistic. When it comes to universities, the effects of diversity are also not obviously good. For example, a 2003 study by Stanley Rothman and fellow researchers found that there was an inverse relationship between the number of minorities on campus and how favorably students viewed their education.

Politically, the different races are worlds apart. In last week’s Presidential election, the Washington Post reported that 95% of blacks voted for Sen. Obama. The 95% support is not explained by political preference because plenty of blacks have economic and social views that are closer those of John McCain. For example, a majority of blacks in California supported Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage. Rather, the preference is explained by racial identification and this was not limited to blacks. Nearly 20% of all voters said that the candidates’ race was a factor in their vote, although most said it was not the most important factor. A number of the most high-profile conservative blacks backed Obama, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Manhattan Institute member John McWhorter, and conservative radio host Armstrong Williams. It is hard to imagine that they would have supported Hillary Clinton had she won the nomination. This is not to say that such racial identification among voters is such a bad thing, but merely that it plays a more important role with a diverse population.

A clear example of racial identification in another context is the fact that until the 1994 Multiethnic Placement Act, the Association of Black Social Workers did what it could to reduce the adoption of black children by white families. In 1972, they publicly labeled the practice “cultural genocide.”

Patrick Buchanan points out that we are all familiar with some immigrants’ high profile acts of violence. He points out that the 1993 bombers of the World Trade Center and the 9-11 bombers were immigrants. The same is true of Colin Ferguson (the Jamaican who killed six and wounded eleven people on the Long Island Railroad), John Lee Malvo (the Caribbean immigrant who was the Beltway Sniper), and Chai Vang (the Hmong immigrant who shot six hunters to death in Wisconsin when they asked him to vacate their deer stand). And these are just the famous cases. Now, there are many benefits too to having a diverse population. Also, we all know people whose lives are immeasurably benefitted by particular immigrants (particularly spouses). Also, one thinks of Indian- and Chinese-Americans’ many contributions to high-tech industries and the medical field. All these stories point out is that anecdotes cut in both directions and do not constitute a strong reason to view diversity as either good or bad.

If we look at how people behave, they by and large avoid diversity. When given a chance, whether in church, school lunch tables, or prison yards, Americans appear to show a preference for their own kind and against diversity. To the extent that they know what is in their interest, there is at least some reason to wonder whether diversity is a good thing.

Now it may be that in a country as diverse as the U.S. is now, we have no choice but to learn how to make the best of it. However, to celebrate diversity and endlessly repeat that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread is, as far as I can tell, pure sentimentality.

29 October 2008

Free Speech at Fredonia State

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 23, 2008

On Tuesday, October 7, 2008 in front of Reed Library, a father-daughter team (Jim and Michelle Deferio) came to argue for their Christian views, among them that God condemns homosexual acts and that they are wrong. The campus response showed the degree to which the campus left will bully their opponents and the administration and faculty will tolerate the bullying. I should disclose that a few years ago I was in a free-speech battle at Fredonia State.

The campus response to these speakers was a case study in liberal paranoia. First, according to the Fredonia State student paper, The Leader, around 1,500 people rallied to protest the speakers’ message. Later in the day, they in effect shut down access to the speaker, Jim Deferio. By the time I got there, protestors had partially encircled Deferio with a large white sheet so that most of the audience, who were gathered on the library stairs, could not see him. In addition, there was drumming and chanting that was so loud that it was very difficult to hear what he had to say. At least when I was there, they thus made it difficult to see him and nearly impossible to hear him. Music professor, Kay Stonefelt, took credit for organizing the student drum circle (“an endless beat to the mantra of peace”) and presumably for drowning out Deferio’s voice.

Despite the fact that the speaker was partially encircled and drowned out by sound, the University Police Chief Anne Burns refused to allow him to use sound amplification devices (for example, a megaphone) to get out his message. I don’t know whether the ban on such devices is part of a pre-existing rule. The Leader decided not to cover what the Deferios said. Apparently, the speakers’ argument was simply too dangerous and upsetting to allow the campus community to consider it.

Campus administrators, faculty, and staff seemed to condone much of the protestors’ behavior. According to The Leader, the night before the speakers arrived at campus, Monica White, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, met with Student Association representatives and the leaders of student groups, including the pro-gay Pride Alliance and other multi-cultural groups. Earlier in the week, Vice President for Student Affairs, David Herman, gathered information on the speakers and later expressed concern about the “tone of the message and how disruptive it might be.” On the day of the protests, he provided hourly reports to Fredonia State’s President, Dennis Hefner. Five of the university’s fourteen police officers monitored the speakers and protestors. In response to the speakers, The Leader reported that University Counseling Center staff were on-site to “provide help for students who were visibly shaken and disturbed.” After the visit by the Deferios, President Hefner and around 350 attendees met that night at the campus Peace Pole for a moment of silence and then sang “Amazing Grace.”

There are a number of disturbing features about these events. First, there is the issue of whether the protestors interfered with the speakers’ Constitutional right of free speech. While the Deferios were allowed to talk, the partial encirclement by a large white sheet was probably near the legal line in terms of interfering with their speech. Had they completely encircled them with the sheet, this would have interfered with their rights and significant encirclement is close to complete encirclement.

Second, even if the protestors’ actions did not violate the speakers’ right of free speech, it still was a case of a campus allowing protestors to silence one viewpoint with behavior that would never be tolerated if it were used to silence other viewpoints. The campus would never tolerate racist students and faculty using large sheets and drums to lessen access to black speakers, particularly if this was done all semester. A similar thing is true if Christian groups engaged in similar behavior in or order to silence leftist administrators. Allowing message-disrupting acts when they shut down some ideas but not others is viewpoint discrimination and the law takes a dim view of it.

Third, the campus might have shut down the community’s consideration of a sound argument. I saw them only briefly, but as best I can determine from discussions with students who were there, and I have no way of checking their accuracy, here was one of the speakers’ arguments.

1. If someone is Christian, then he should follow the Bible.
2. If someone should follow the Bible, then he should not have gay sex.
3. Hence, if someone is Christian, then he should not have gay sex.

I take it that the first claim is straightforward. The second is more complex. The Bible addresses gay sex in a number of places. From Leviticus 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” From Romans 1:26-27, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” See also, Corinthians 1: 9 and Timothy 1: 8-10.

Discussion of the speakers’ ideas might lead one to reason as follows: the argument is sound and because we independently know that gay sex is permissible, Christianity is false. Alternatively, discussion of this argument might have led to interesting discussions of how to interpret the Bible. For example, perhaps one should reject the literal text and look for the original intent behind the passages. Here the issue arises whether the intent is that of God or human authors. Alternatively, perhaps one should figure out what morality independently requires and use this knowledge to decide which parts of the Bible should be deemphasized or ignored. Note that this comes perilously close to rejecting the notion that if someone is a Christian, then he should follow the Bible.

As John Stuart Mill in his classic work, On Liberty (1859), pointed out, there is value in discussing unpopular ideas. By discussing unpopular ideas, people sometimes learn the conventional wisdom is false, that conventional wisdom is partially false, or the best reasons to accept the conventional wisdom rather than merely repeating it in a child-like manner. This last point is particularly relevant given that this argument is probably accepted by many Americans. None of these gains were possible in this case because of the crowd’s refusal to let people consider the speakers’ ideas.

Fourth, this incident points out that the campus views its students as children. The presence of counselors to care for psychologically injured protestors and the administration’s advance meetings with gay and other groups suggests a view of the students as too pure and delicate to face opposing views. The Leader compounded this view by deciding not to cover their message. This infantilization shortchanges students.

Fear of ideas different from the campus liberal orthodoxy is no excuse for closing down the marketplace of ideas.

24 October 2008

Brother, Can You Spare 15 Minutes?

To help out some NYU researchers by filling out their survey? And post the link (with comments closed) on your blog? Please don't do anything to bias the survey results...thanks!

15 October 2008

Bank Bailout #1

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 4, 2008

On Friday, October 3, 2008, the U.S. passed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. This $700 billion bailout authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to spend up this amount to purchase mortgage-based securities from U.S. banks. This is an attempt to reduce the banks’ losses. According to the plan, the U.S. government will buy the securities and in return receive the mortgage payments and eventually be able to sell the securities. The maximum cost of the plan is roughly $4,635 per income-tax paying citizen ($700 billion divided by 151 million working Americans), although this figure assumes that the purchased real estate will eventually have no value and it won’t. The Bush administration convinced Congress that the plan will keep the credit market healthy and thereby ensure that consumers and businesses can continue to get credit. If the plan wasn’t enacted, the Bush administration argued, the loans would dry up and the economy would collapse.

The problem here is that housing prices are declining after being grossly inflated. As a result, people are not making their housing payments. There is also widespread uncertainty about how high many defaults and foreclosures will go. A foreclosure occurs when the lender takes over the house that was used as collateral for the loan.

In the long term, this plan will hurt the economy. First, we don’t need the plan because we are not heading over the financial cliff. Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute points out that the U.S. economy is still growing (the real gross domestic product is up). It should be noted that there are some warning signs. The gross domestic products of France, Germany, Japan, and Hong Kong are declining. More ominously, the Dow Jones Industrial Average did drop 31% as of this past Tuesday (10/14/08). Still, this is nothing like the almost 90% drop in stock prices that occurred in July 1932. It is also worth noting that there have been 10 previous drops in the stock market (defined as at least a 20% decline in the Standard & Poor 500). Columnist Robert Samuelson points out that this includes nearly 50% drops in 1973-1974 and 2000-2002.

Reynolds also points out that bank and consumer loans are up. In fact, consumer loans are growing at the fastest rate since 2004. That is not a typo. Consumer and industrial loans are up. While giant banks have cut back on their loans, smaller banks have stepped into the breach. Reynolds points out that even loans between banks, a major concern for the bailout proponents, have only dipped modestly and in any case are very small in comparison to consumer and business loans. Even the interest rate on these loans as recently as September 30, 2008 was not out of the range of such loans in the last year.

The concern over bank failures is also premature. As of less than a week ago (September 29, 2008), there were little more than a dozen bank failures compared to more than 5,000 in the 1930s (The Great Depression) and 3,000 in the 1980s (The Savings & Loan Crisis). Where several major financial institutions have failed (Washington Mutual, Wachovia, Bear-Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and AIG), the Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation have handled the situation. The recent drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average is distinct from bank failures.

Second, the taxpayer money that is to be used to purchase the housing loans (that is, mortgage-based securities) must come from higher taxes or loans. Because the market almost always puts the money to better use than the government, higher taxes will result in U.S. dollars being put in to less efficient use. This problem will intensify once politicians start to trade security purchases for campaign contributions and other benefits. This in turn will reduce economic growth rates. Daniel Mitchell points out that lowered growth rates have significant effects over the long term because of compounding. The slightly higher growth rates in the U.S. as compared to our competitors explain why U.S. citizens make more money than French, German, and Japanese citizens. If the money is used for loans, then the government is taking out one loan to pay off another. Again this directs resources to less efficient uses and ratchets up the debt. Skyrocketing debt is in fact one of the legacies of the Bush administration. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winning economist, points out that in the last eight years the debt has increased by 58% (32% when you adjust for inflation) and by an astounding $3.3 trillion. In 2008 and 2009, the deficit will likely reach record heights.

Third, the plan’s particulars are atrocious. The government will need to decide what to pay for the mortgage-backed securities. Stiglitz points out that the banks will likely get the government to pay way too much for the worst mortgages. If the government paid fair market value for these terrible loans, then the banks would still have a crippling balance sheet and the credit problem would remain. So the system depends on the banks gaming the system. In addition, housing prices are generally expected to keep on dropping. If the government buys mortgages at the current price and the prices keep on dropping, then it will be buying high and selling low, thereby hosing the taxpayers and artificially propping up housing prices.

It is worth noting that the government, not deregulation or greed, caused the mess that led to this bailout. This claim rests on two premises.

1. The government forced banks to lend to people who were poor credit risks.

2. The collapse of the mortgage market is in large part due to these people defaulting on their loans.

The first premise is uncontroversial. As Russell Roberts, an economics professor writing in the Wall Street Journal, points out, beginning in 1992 Congress pushed private-public mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to buy more mortgages going to low and moderate income people. By 2005, the Department of Housing and Urban Development required that 22% of their mortgage purchases go to such people. In doing so, it thereby funded hundreds of billions of dollars of such loans, many of them subprime and adjustable-rate loans. In 1977, Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act, which pressured traditional banks to lend to poor and moderate income people. In 1995 this act was strengthened and it caused an 80% increase in loans to such people. These acts along with the increased capital-gains exclusion on real estate and lowered interest rates jacked up the housing market. The average price of a house doubled from 1997 to 2005 (in contrast, inflation increased by 22%). The current default problem is due in no small part to the failure of people who were poor credit risks to pay the subprime loans and to handle vastly inflated housing prices.

Members of Congress and the White House did this initially to redistribute wealth to the poor without having to raise taxes and later in exchange for campaign money. David Boaz points out that in the last decade, Fannie and Freddie spent $170 million on lobbying, including giving $16 million to members of Congress and $10 million in soft money to the Democratic and Republican Parties. Consider the leading recipients of Fannie and Freddie campaign contributions: Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) (chairman of the Senate Banking Committee), Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY). In addition to Dodd, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) is the other leading villain. He helped to block any attempt to rein in Fannie and Freddie. Ideology and campaign dollars led Congress to reject the strenuous warnings and requests by the Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, and the Bush Administration to fix Fannie and Freddie by increasing their capital requirements, shrinking their number of risky assets, and adopting sound accounting practices.

This bill will make things worse and was brought about by corruption and leftist ideology in Congress and the White House. Every aspect of it stinks to hell.

01 October 2008

Election #2: Trumpeting One's Own Virtue

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
September 7, 2008

John McCain and his supporters think that his war-hero status provides a strong reason for voters to choose him to be President. This argument is repeated by his many supporters. In McCain’s acceptance speech, six paragraphs at the culmination of his speech focused on his wartime service. Similar emphasis at the Republican nominating convention was given by former New York City Mayor Rudolf Giuliani and Vice Presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

In 1967, on his 23rd bombing mission in Vietnam, McCain was shot down by a missile over Hanoi. The crash fractured both arms and a leg. When the North Vietnamese captured him, they crushed his shoulder with a rifle and bayoneted him. He was beaten and interrogated, but later given medical care when the North Vietnamese learned who his father was. He was then kept a prisoner from 1967 to 1973. In 1968, McCain’s father became the commander of all U.S. forces in the Vietnam theater. For propaganda purposes, the North Vietnamese offered McCain early release. He refused the offer of release, insisting that he could accept it only if all the persons captured before him were released first. In 1968, his captors tortured McCain, subjecting him to beatings and rope bindings. During this time, he also suffered dysentery. He attempted suicide, but was stopped by the Vietnamese prison guards. The North Vietnamese eventually broke him and he gave a meaningless propaganda “confession” that said "I am a black criminal and I have performed the deeds of an air pirate. I almost died and the Vietnamese people saved my life, thanks to the doctors."

Being broken was common among the tortured POWs. Besides flying bombing missions, something shared by other Vietnam-era pilots, McCain’s claim to hero status apparently rests on his refusing early release and not cooperating with his captors.

One reason the war-hero argument is unsound is that there is no correlation between being a war hero and being a good President. The standard left-wing list of great Presidents includes people like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, none of whom saw combat. Lincoln was in the military but did not see action. For those who think the government should leave its citizens alone, Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan also didn’t see combat and were arguably excellent.

Recent Presidents who were in the military include such mediocrities as George H. W. Bush (who squandered Reagan’s legacy) and terrible Presidents like Richard Nixon (corruption) and Jimmy Carter (an abject failure on both economic and foreign-policy fronts). Our recent history, then, suggests that military service does not provide a good indication of whether a candidate will be a successful President.

The second reason to think that McCain’s war-hero status is irrelevant is that it is probably relevant only as an indicator of integrity or courage. However, here there is more direct evidence on McCain’s integrity and it is not good. In 1989, the Senate Ethics Committee found that McCain exercised poor judgment when he interfered with the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (FHLBB) in their investigation of failed Lincoln Savings and Loan Association and its chairman, Charles Keating. In 1987, McCain and four other Senators pressured the federal regulators to ease up on the bank. In 1989, the FHLBB seized control of Lincoln and more than 21,000 investors, mostly elderly, lost their life savings. When it seized Lincoln, the federal government also had to assume $2 billion in debt. It is not clear how much, if any, of these losses could have been avoided if the Senators had not pressured regulators. Not only did McCain get over $100,000 in campaign contributions from Keating, but his wife and father-in-law invested in a Keating business, and McCain and his family took nine trips at Keating’s expense, including vacations to Keating’s Bahamas retreat. Unlike McCain and a fellow tarnished hero, former astronaut John Glenn (D-OH), the other members of the Keating Five had the decency not to run again.

Also, McCain is a known adulterer, who has admitted that he treated his first wife poorly. Normally this would not be the voters’ business, but McCain raised the issue when he repeatedly trumpeting his virtue on the basis of what he did in his early 30s (he is now 72).

Third, voting for candidates who run on their biography sets a bad precedent. A heroic biography is no substitute for clear guidelines on what a candidate hopes to accomplish once in office. McCain is running on his biography rather than issues. He previously opposed Bush’s tax cuts, but now supports them. He flip flopped on offshore drilling and still opposes drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Preserve (ANWR). Why the U.S. should allow drilling offshore but not ANWR remains a mystery. He previously supported amnesty for 12-20 million largely poor and unskilled illegal aliens, but now doesn’t discuss it. He claims to support Supreme Court Justices similar to Scalia and Thomas, yet helped protect the Democrats’ ability to block such judicial candidates. It is widely reported that his advisors had a hard time talking him out of selecting Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) to be his running mate, despite the fact that Lieberman is a tax-and-spend liberal. For example, in 2007 the National Taxpayers Union gave Lieberman an 11% rating, that is, an F. This leads the voter to wonder whether he is for or against tax cuts, off-shore and ANWR drilling, amnesty for illegal aliens, smaller government, and doing what it takes to appoint conservative justices.

The war-hero argument raises a separate issue, which is whether citizens should be extraordinarily grateful to those who fight foreign enemies. This country no longer makes people work in the military if they don’t want to. Like teachers, farmers, or police officers, military jobs come with a package of benefits and risks. Compared to most jobs, it is more exciting, allows for travel, job security, and exercise, and, on some accounts, improves dating and marriage prospects. Persons who enter the military via the academies get paid to receive a world-class education and often have a bright future with the military. The downside of the job is that it carries the risk that war will come and they will have to fight. Do the benefits outweigh the risks? The answer depends on the individual. If someone takes the deal because he judges it to be better than other jobs, it is hard to see why we should be grateful to him. If someone didn’t like the mix of benefits and risks, he could have done something else or held out for a better deal. The notion of overwhelming national gratitude accompanies the McCain war-hero argument, just as it did four years ago when John Kerry trumpeted his war-hero status.

John McCain is running heavily on what he did more than thirty years ago in Vietnam. History provides little evidence that being a war hero correlates with being a good President. If it is offered as evidence for McCain’s integrity, we have more direct evidence and it does not bode well for him. Voting for McCain also encourages biography-based campaigns. Even the separate claim that we should be grateful to McCain or other veterans is unclear. Sadly, despite the war-hero focus and the lack of clarity about what he will do, McCain is still a far better choice than Obama.

10 September 2008

Election #1: Enthusiastic Tax-Collector for the Welfare State

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
September 1, 2008

Presidential Candidate Barack Obama is known to be a big-government type, but there is little discussion of just how far left he is. His plans are worth considering because they show that when it comes to taxes, his views are radical and offensive.

It is uncontroversial that Obama and his Vice Presidential Candidate are leftists. In 2007, the National Journal rated Obama as the most liberal member of the Senate and Joe Biden as the third most liberal. When it comes to taxes, in 2007 the National Taxpayer’s Union gave both an F with Obama and Biden, getting scores of 5% and 4% respectively. The average score in this disgraceful Congress was 37%, so these guys really outdid themselves.

Obama plans to wage an all-out war on those who make money and pay taxes. In this country, the rich and upper middle class pay most of the taxes. In 2006, the top 25% of earners (measured by adjusted gross income) paid 86% of the federal income taxes. According to Peter Ferrara of the Institute for Policy Innovation, the bottom 60% paid less than 1% of the federal income taxes and the bottom 40% of earners actually made money (+3.8%) from the federal income tax system because of refundable tax credits. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the middle class also didn’t pull their own weight. The middle 20% of earners paid just 4.4% of these taxes.

The percentage of income paid also increase significantly as income rises. In 2005, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the effective federal tax rates for all types of taxes were as follows: the top 1% paid 31.4% of their income to the federal government, the top 10% paid 27.1%, and the top quintile (that is, top 20%) paid 25.2%. In contrast, the middle quintile paid 14.1%, the second lowest quintile paid just 9.9%, and the lowest quintile paid merely 4.3%. Anyone claiming that the rich don’t pay their fair share is either a liar or doesn’t know the facts.

When one adds the effective tax rates from state and local taxes, it is reasonable to assume that the rich and upper middle class pay at least 40% of their income to various levels of government. Enter Obama. Obama is not content to soak the rich, he wants to assault them. According to R. Glenn Hubbard, the dean of Columbia University Business School, Obama wants a permanent federal estate tax (tax on the assets of the dead) with a top rate of 45%. He wants to raise the income tax on the rich by 14% (from 35% to 40%) and to slam them with an additional payroll tax increase of four percentage points on income above $250,000.

Obama also wants to attack businesses and the stock market. He wants to reverse President Bush’s 2003 tax cuts. He hopes to jack up the rate on capital gains by 25% (15% to 20%) and on dividends by as much as 167% (15% to a top marginal rate of 40%). These taxes are particularly bizarre given that a capital-gains tax cut, that’s right, a cut, will likely increase revenue. On one estimate by Donald Luskin of National Review (using Congressional Budget Office numbers), the Bush capital-gain tax cuts brought in more than $26 billion in additional taxes. Similar effects were observed when President Reagan’s tax cuts increased revenue.

The capital-gains and dividend tax increases are planned, despite the fact that both streams of income have already been taxed by corporate taxes. According to Daniel Mitchell of the Cato Institute, corporate taxes are already sky high relative to the rest of the world. For example, the 2007 federal and state corporate tax rate in the U.S. is around 40%, whereas the European average is 24.2%. When we look at taxes actually paid on capital in 2006, the U.S.’s rate is now the second highest and will soon become the highest. The rate is double some of our competitors. For example, the U.S. rate is 38%, while the rates in Ireland and Hong Kong are 14% and 6.1% respectively. Is there any doubt what will happen to economic growth, income, and jobs when it becomes clear that the United States treats corporations and investors as whipping boys? Nearly half of Americans own stock or stock mutual funds, so this massive increase in taxes will hit the middle class like a hurricane. No doubt about it, under Obama things will change.

Obama has even more tax increases up his sleeve. According to Peter Ferrara, his health-insurance plan includes a new payroll tax on employers, he wants to increase corporate income taxes, and punish oil companies with a new windfall profits tax. Does this make you want to open up your own business or expand your current one? Do you think business owners are stupid?

What does Obama plan to do with the revenue he hopes to raise from this smorgasbord of new taxes? He wants more welfare and more social engineering. As R. Glenn Hubbard and the Wall Street Journal point out, he plans to further the use of the tax code as a welfare disbursement system. In particular, he wants to give tax credits to the poor for their child and dependent care, mortgage interest payments, and to further expand the Earned Income Tax Credit. He also plans to have a taxpayer-funded insurance program similar to Medicare, but available to everyone. He also wants the federal government to become the biggest source of funding for pre-kindergarten education, despite little evidence that it works. His wish list goes on, but you get the idea.

Obama thus presents U.S. citizens with choice. If you vote for him, you are choosing massive tax increases in order to pay for new spending programs for the poor, public schools, and others that are already sucking hard on the government teat.

Strangely, despite his plethora of proposals, Obama is silent on the most pressing issues of the day. One strains to hear of how he plans to handle the oncoming Social Security and Medicare deficits. The former begins to run a deficit in 2017 and along with Medicare they can be expected to produce the ugly choice of significantly ratcheting up taxes on workers or making deep cuts in retirement and medical benefits that the elderly were promised. He is silent on when he would withdraw troops from Iraq. In opposing drilling and preaching independence from oil, his discussion of energy is inappropriate for anyone who went beyond the fifth grade. He is silent on the more than 2.3 million people locked up in prison like animals and the wretched performance of black students in public schools.

If you vote for Obama and you have integrity, you must admit two things. First, he is a hardcore leftist who will try to attack rich and middle class taxpayers in order to increase welfare payments and implement other government programs. Second, he is silent on almost all of the most important issues of that the U.S. faces (entitlement programs, the prison crisis, and the rotten public schools) and nearly silent on another (when we will withdraw from Iraq). Only on amnesty for illegal aliens is his position clear. These admissions make me wonder how we could have gotten to this point.

21 August 2008

Gender: Sex Differences and Employment Discrimination

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
August 14, 2008

An interesting issue is how society should respond to the fact that men and women are different. There is good reason to believe that on average men and women differ in the way they view the world and this difference is in part genetic. Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Cambridge University, argues that in general, women are probably more empathetic than men. On Baron-Cohen’s account, men are in general more likely than women to pursue systems of objects and information. I should mention the obvious, namely that these are general patterns, plenty of counterexamples exist.

Others, such as M.I.T. psychology professor Steven Pinker, note other differences that are probably in part genetic. He notes that in general, men are more violent, more interested in no-strings-attached sex, and more likely to compete for status using occupational achievement, whereas women are more likely to have more intimate social relations, feel more empathy toward friends, and are more concerned with their children. Baron-Cohen also points out that girls play more at parenting and trying on social roles, whereas boys play more at fighting, chasing, and manipulating objects. It is an interesting question as to how these differences are related to the empathy-systematizing differences.

Baron-Cohen notes that the observed differences in empathy begin early. He points out that girls as young as one year respond more empathically to the distress in others. He also points out that girls’ speech is more cooperative, reciprocal, and collaborative than boys. He observes that later in life this pattern continues. For example, women score higher than men on empathy tests and are better at judging emotion.

The evidence that these differences are in part genetic comes from several sources. First, Baron-Cohen notes, similar differences are observed in our closest relatives, the apes. For example, in apes both juvenile and adult females are more interested in babies of their own species than are juvenile and adult males. The background idea here is that any pattern that is widely found across human cultures and also found in our genetic relatives, stands a good chance of resulting in part from genetic factors.

Second, he points out that hormonal differences tend to track the above differences. Because hormonal differences are significantly influenced by genes, this is evidence of genetic differences. For example, lower levels of male hormones (specifically, testosterone) correlate with an increase in indications of sociability and empathy and this is true within each sex. Also, adding testosterone to men increases their systematizing abilities.

Third, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Deborah Blum, Pinker, Baron-Cohen, and others point out that in human beings, males’ and females’ brains differ. They differ in hemispheric development and laterality (how specialized the hemispheres are), and the strength of connections between the hemispheres. A brain hemisphere is the left or right side of it. They also differ in the areas of the brain related to empathy and systematizing. These differences are what one would expect if the two sexes differ on these dimensions.

These differences probably in part produce sex differences in commitment to jobs. Warren Farrell notes that men work more years in their occupation, work more years with their employer, work more weeks per year, work more hours per week, and are absent less often. In addition, they are more likely to relocate, commute to jobs that are farther away, travel more when on the job, and more likely to work at hazardous jobs. These differences are likely due at least in part to the different family roles that men and women occupy and these roles are probably influenced by genetics.

One area in which these differences come up is whether an employer may discount women’s job applications because of on average their lower level of commitment to their jobs. Many people don’t think employers may discount women’s applications, but it is a little hard to see why. If we have two applicants and given what we know about them one is likely to be more productive, it is hard to see why an employer shouldn’t be able to take this into account. The main reason that firms hire workers is so that they can make the firm profits. This concern for profits explains why firms prefer employees who are brighter, harder working, and have better employment histories. Because many firms don’t have the resources to do an in-depth investigation of every applicant, they have to rely on statistical patterns. In some contexts, sex is one of these patterns. It should be noted that federal law prohibits such discounting.

A second area that these differences have an impact is in expectations. In discussing areas of study, careers, and other professional matters, advisors oftentimes discuss these matters in a gender-neutral manner, suggesting that men and women face the same considerations. The idea is to let the individual decide what is important to her. But if women are likely to be more interested in family matters and less in their careers than men, and this difference is a strong one, it is not clear why this fact should be ignored. This is not to say that women should be steered toward “family friendly” fields or men away from them, but it is to say that pretending sex differences don’t exist and are irrelevant to career choices is a case of willful blindness.

A third area in which this comes up has to do with child-custody battles. Here the situation is murkier. This is because one might think that each parent has an equal right to have parental rights over the child. So even if women are on average more empathetic and even if empathy is related to parenting ability, and I don’t know whether this is true, it is still not clear whether fathers should more often lose most of their parental rights as usually happens. Other rights are not curtailed on the basis of people’s ability to exercise them and so it is not clear why this should be done here.

The notion that women and men are different and that the difference is in part genetic probably strikes most readers as so obvious that it is not worth discussing. The notion that these differences affect people’s job performance is more controversial, although it is a little hard to see why once we realize that these differences affect people’s preferences, which in turn affects performance. That these differences are relevant to hiring and advice is more controversial, but not obviously false.

06 August 2008

Gender: No Discrimination in Education

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
July 25, 2008

A widely held view is that in the United States there is widespread discrimination that disadvantages girls and women. The problem is said to be particularly acute in education. This view explains the recent attempt by a number of federal agencies (National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Department of Energy) to aggressively apply Title IX to promote women scientists at research universities. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in education and has previously focused mostly on sports. In addition, the National Science Foundation is giving funds to Cornell University to hire more women in the hard sciences and engineering. This view also explains the widespread presence in academia of women’s studies departments, feminist student groups, and women’s discussion forums and the presence of women’s interest groups, such as the American Association of University Women. Needless to say, similar groups for men would never be tolerated.

Before looking at education, it is worth noting that women arguably have better lives than men in the U.S. There is some reason to believe women are happier. One study showed that over the last thirty years, in general U.S. women have been happier than men, although this trend has reversed itself. Men also commit suicide more often, although women attempt it more frequently. Women live five years longer (2004 numbers) and by 2015 this gap is projected to grow to six years. They also are far less likely to be in trouble with the law. Men are more than five times more likely to be incarcerated or on probation and parole. They are also more likely than women to be victimized by violent crime (understood as homicide, rape/sexual assault, robbery, and assault). The notion that women are systematically oppressed by society is hard to square with the fact that they are probably happier (taking a long view), live longer, less likely to be punished, less frequently attacked, and better educated.

The fact of the matter is that females do better than males at every level of the education process. According to Jeffery Leving, writing in The Buffalo News, at the K-12 level, girls get better grades and are more likely to graduate from both high school and college. They are also less likely to be held back, suspended, or expelled. Boys comprise the vast majority of learning disabled students and are more than four times as likely to be diagnosed as having attention-deficit disorder.

The pattern continues in higher education. Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute points out that women earn 57% of bachelors degrees, 59% of masters degrees, and the majority of research Ph.D.s given to U.S. citizens. They also earn the majority of doctorates in the life sciences and the social sciences. At the very least, it must be said that education in the U.S. heavily favors women.

There are some areas in academia where men do better, but these areas probably reflect the fact that as a group, women are interested in different things than men. Consider the hard sciences. Sommers points out that they are a minority in some academic areas. For example, they earn about 24% of the Ph.D.s in the physical sciences and comprise 19% of the tenure track positions in math, 11% in physics, and 10% in electrical engineering. They are also 10% of physics faculty.

Some support for the notion that this difference reflects preferences can be seen in a study by Vanderbilt University psychologists David Lubinski and Camilla Persson Benbow and which was discussed in the New York Times. This study focused on mathematically gifted students. The psychologists found that beginning at age 12, gifted girls tended to be more interested in people and other living things than gifted boys. This likely explains why, despite their math abilities, these girls were less likely to go into physics or engineering. Nevertheless by their 30s, they were as content with their careers and made as much money per hour of work as their male counterparts. Another study by University of Kansas researchers found that the gender gap in the computer industry was explained by gender differences in preferences rather than discrimination.

These preferences are probably at least in part genetic. Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Cambridge University, provides strong evidence to believe that in general, the female brain is more hard-wired for empathy than the male brain and that the male brain is more hard-wired for understanding and building systems of objects and information than the female one.

This theory fits with much observed behavior. For example, Baron-Cohen points out, baby girls as young as one-year old respond more emphatically to the distress of other people than do baby boys. He reports that by the age of two, girls are more people-centered. This pattern continues to adulthood. Women spend far more time than men talking about feelings and relationships and are more sensitive to facial expressions and non-verbal communication. Also, mothers differ in parenting styles from fathers in a way that suggests that they are better at empathizing with their children. In contrast, men perform better in tasks requiring the systematizing of information. When young, boys are more physically aggressive and more likely to engage in rough-and-tumble play.

Nor is this difference purely cultural. The differences in empathy and systematizing appear in our nearest relatives. Female apes, both juveniles and adults, show greater interest in ape babies. After female monkeys are injected with male hormones (testosterone), they were more likely to engage in rough-and-tumble play; when they were injected with female hormones they engaged in more maternal behavior, such as an increased interest in babies. In human babies, up to a point, there is a wide range of studies that establish a correlation between the level of pre-natal testosterone and male-typical behavior. The different behaviors are likely the result of brain differences. In human beings, males’ and females’ brains differ. Specifically, they differ in hemispheric development and laterality (how specialized the hemispheres are), and the strength of connections between the hemispheres. A brain hemisphere is the left or right side of it. These patterns fit nicely with the notion that males’ and females’ differences in empathy and systematization are in part due to brain differences and the notion that these differences are in part the result of genetic differences.

This difference in genetically-influenced preferences probably explains why women are well represented in science fields that deal with people. Women are about half of medical students and 77% of veterinary students. These programs have high entrance standards.

Men and women as a group have different preferences and these preferences are probably in part genetic. This difference results in men and women have different levels of representation in academic subjects. There is little to no support for the notion that U.S. education disadvantages females in academia or anywhere else in education. To the extent that various federal agencies and women’s interest groups are pushing for more female admittance and hiring, they should be ignored.

23 July 2008

The Constitution: The Second Amendment

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
July 1, 2008

In the recent case, District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. ____ (2008), the Supreme Court held by a 5-4 vote that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own a gun and that this right does not depend on whether an individual serves in a militia. Rather, it protects gun ownership and use for traditionally lawful purposes such as self-defense. In dissent, Justice Stevens argued that the Constitution only protects the right to possess and carry a firearm in connection with militia service. Because we now have a standing army that makes militias superfluous, he in effect argued that the Second Amendment is dead.

The District of Columbia prohibited handguns. More specifically, it made it a crime to carry an unregistered handgun and then prohibited anyone from registering one. It backed this prohibition with a one-year sentence for a first violation and a five-year one for a second offense. It also required lawfully owned guns, such as long guns, to be unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device. The case was brought on behalf of Dick Heller, a D.C. special police officer who carries a handgun while on duty at the Federal Judicial Center. He applied to register a handgun and his application was turned down.

The Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional and held that if Heller is not unqualified, the District must grant him a license. It did not address whether there can be a licensing requirement. It also held that government at different levels may deny ownership to felons and the mentally ill, may prohibit carrying guns in sensitive places like schools and government buildings, and may regulate commercial gun sales.

The Second Amendment states that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” The first clause is the prefatory clause and the second clause is the operative clause. The majority had a number of arguments for its claim that the Amendment protects an individual right.

First, on behalf of the majority, Justice Scalia argued that the operative clause supports an individual right. He began by noting that the “right of the people” phrase in the operative clause is found elsewhere in the Constitution. Elsewhere, When it is linked to rights, the phrase protects an individual right. The other areas are the First Amendment’s Assembly-and-Petition clause, the Fourth Amendment’s Search-and-Seizure Clause, and the Ninth Amendment’s protection of unenumerated rights. In addition, whenever the phrase “the people” is used in the Constitution, it refers to all members of the political community. This pattern suggests that it is unlikely the founders used the phrase “the people” to refer merely to men in the militia.

Scalia further argued that other parts of the operative clause also support this interpretation. For example, the phrase “keep and bear arms,” was applied in the 1700’s to refer to the possession and carrying of weapons that were not specifically designed for military use. Justice Stevens countered that “bear arms” refers narrowly to the carrying of arms in the service of an organized militia, but, as Scalia points out, no dictionary has ever adopted this definition. In addition, this would make “bearing arms” hard to fit with the “keeping” (possessing) of arms.

Second, Scalia argued that the individual-right interpretation fits with the prefatory clause. He points out that “militia” refers to “all males physically capable of acting in concert for the common defense.” If the goal was to preserve weapons only in this group, it is odd that the phrase “the people” would have been used. Scalia argued that the prefatory clause makes sense when viewed in historical context. What motivated this clause was the desire to prevent the federal government from disarming the militia, which was one way tyrants used to eliminate threats to themselves. Scalia points out that this motivation was consistent with the founders also valuing the right because of its connection to self-defense and hunting.

Third, Scalia pointed out that individual-right interpretation fits with the history of the Amendment. The Amendment, he argued, codified a right inherited from our English ancestors. This is why a similar individual right was found in the English Bill of Rights and Blackstone’s commentaries on the Laws of England.

Particularly worthy of note was Scalia’s observation that four state constitutions that preceded the adoption of the Amendment protected an individual right to bear arms. In the period following the adoption (1789-1820), at least seven other states adopted provisions that protected an individual’s own and carry a gun. This is strong evidence of how the founding generation viewed the right. On the dissent’s view, the Second Amendment was disconnected to the right protected by the preceding English common law and the preceding and subsequent state law. This is implausible, particularly when seen in the context of the Amendment’s language.

In response, Justice Stevens argued that the Second Amendment was motivated by the fear that the federal standing army would threaten individual liberty and the states’ sovereignty. On this account, the Amendment reflected the desire to protect the states’ militias as a means to guard against this danger. This was linked with the recognition that the state militias could check the prospect of a federal standing army only if Congress lacked the power to disarm them and the Amendment prevented disarmament. In addition, Stevens claimed there is no evidence in the historical record that the Framers wanted to protect civilian weapon possession or use. On this account, the prefatory clause set forth the purpose of the operative clause and narrowed its meaning.

However, Stevens’s opinion does little to handle the inconvenient use of the phrase “the people” in other parts of the Constitution and the oddity of supporting an interpretation which fits poorly with the animating British law, subsequent state laws, and precedent. He does make a good point about the drafting history of the Amendment weighing against the individual-right interpretation, but not enough to defeat the totality of the majority’s case.

Two objections that assume an individual right are worth noting. One objection was that the state should be permitted to ban handguns so long as it allows other weapons such as long guns. The Court responded that handguns have long been considered the typical self-defense weapon and hence should be protected. Such guns do not require much strength, are harder for an attacker to wrestle it away, and can be stored in a readily accessible place.

A second objection was that permitting handguns is bad policy because it will lead to death and destruction. The Court responded that even if this is true, it’s irrelevant. The Constitution acts to take certain policy choices off the table. That is, the Constitution has an anti-democratic function and to ignore this function is to ignore the Constitution.

This case is important for it is the one bright spot in slew of recent cases that ignored the Constitution in order to green-light government interference in every aspect of our lives. Recent examples include gutting the Commerce Clause (which limits Congressional power to a few enumerated functions and the power to regulate interstate commerce), revoking the Takings Clause (which limits the government’s ability to take property unless the government or a substantial part of the population will use it), and tearing holes in the First Amendment as part of campaign-finance laws and anti-pornography laws.

09 July 2008

Anti-Smoking Nazis

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
June 10, 2008

New York recently increased taxes on smokers. This is yet another attempt to harass and punish smokers. This is a part of a broader trend to use the taxes, coerced settlements, and unconstitutional restrictions on free speech to bash unpopular groups. This trend is far more disgusting than is smoking.

New York raised the cigarette excise tax to $2.75, making it the highest tobacco tax in the country. The federal government taxes cigarettes at $.39 per pack, thus making every pack cost more than $3.00 per pack in taxes alone. The government makes more profit per pack than do the tobacco companies.

The high state tax explains why the same pack of cigarettes might cost around $33 on the reservations and around $60 elsewhere. This is somehow fitting coming from the state that has the highest tax burden and that is represented taxpayer-haters like Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY). For the last term, The National Taxpayers Union gave them grades of 6 and 5 last year (out of 100).

In the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, which was meant to fend off government rape of their industry, the cigarette companies agreed to pay $206 billion to the states and $1.5 billion to an antismoking campaign. It also agreed to open industry documents. Back in 1970, the federal government prohibited cigarette companies from advertising on TV. Despite the fact that they are legal adults, 18 year-olds are prohibited in four states and a couple of New York counties from buying cigarettes.

The most common argument for the taxes and settlement is that smoking costs the government money and these programs allow the state to recover from smokers what it can expect to spend on them in extra health-care costs. The problem with this argument is that it likely rests on a false premise. One 1997 study from The New England Journal of Medicine found that if all smokers quit, long-term health care costs would increase. This is because more smokers die early and medical costs increase with age. If the concern is for government coffers, we should probably subsidize cigarettes.

The notion that the government may decide to cover medical costs and then use this coverage to justify regulating every aspect of our lives is odd. If anything, this is a reason for the government to stop paying peoples’ medical bills. In addition, this argument has no stopping point. If it is correct, then the government should tax being a housewife, being fat, gay sex, and anything else that hurts its balance sheet.

The second argument is that cigarette smoking is addictive and hence the government needs to help people accomplish their own goal of quitting smoking. By addiction, I mean that smoking generates a physical change in smokers’ bodies that makes it uncomfortable to quit. This argument then slides from the fact that it is uncomfortable to quit to smokers being unable to do so. The problem here is that persons can and do voluntarily quit. One summary of findings by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that almost half of adult smokers had successfully quit. Other (now dated studies) found that 90% of those that have quit did so without professional treatment. In addition, the Buffalo News cites studies indicating that for every 10% increase in the price of cigarettes, there is a 7% drop in youth smoking and a 4% drop in adult smoking. None of these facts are what one would expect were smoking involuntary.

Even if cigarettes are involuntary for some users, this is not a reason to prohibit everyone from enjoying them. People get addicted to alcohol and no one wants to bring back prohibition. On a side note, with the high tax levels in New York relative to other states, it is only a matter of time before a significant black market in cigarette develops, where buyers and sellers attempt to evade the punitive taxes. Who will be the Al Capone of cigarettes?

The third argument is that cigarette smoking is destructive and no matter what people want they need to be protected against themselves. This is the view that we are like children whom the government needs to protect against ourselves. One version of this argument sometimes takes the form that smokers don’t know that smoking is dangerous. However, no serious theorist makes this claim. That is because researchers (for example, Vanderbilt University economist W. Kip Viscusi in 2006) have repeatedly found that smokers consistently overestimate smoking-related risks of lung cancer, life expectancy loss, and total mortality loss.

A more straightforward paternalist argues that smoking is dangerous and irrational and hence we don’t lose anything if it is banned or taxed into oblivion. Again, once the government gains the authority to interfere with our smoking-related choices, it’s hard to know what aspect of our lives it cannot regulate. Such interferences are also insulting. The government has no right to dictate whether and how much we smoke or drink any more than it may tell us how often we must exercise or with whom we may have sex.

In addition, it is not obvious that smoking is irrational. Smokers enjoy their cigarettes as evidenced by the fact that they pay high prices and risk their health to use them. In addition, smoking cessation sometimes leads to weight gain. Kent Sepkowitz of Slate points out that in one 1991 study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that more than 22% of former smokers gained at least 17 pounds and 10% gained 30 lbs. How would you look with another 30 lbs? He also cites a 1995 study that found that current smokers were the thinnest, followed by never-smokers, and then the quitters. Being fat makes a person less attractive and this has costs. Economist Steven Landsburg points out that less attractive women tend to attract the lowest quality husbands and seriously overweight women get paid 7% less than other women (about the same as an extra year of college or three extra years of work experience). Are the risks of smoking or not quitting greater than those of getting a lower quality spouse or no spouse, and lower wages? This strikes me as not an easy question and one that depends on what someone values.

The fourth argument is that we need to protect the children from smoking and if that means taxing at a high rate, banning it, and carving out an exception to the First Amendment, then so be it. At Fredonia, one sign that the campus nannies put up asks people not to smoke in that area because children might see them smoke. To see what’s wrong with the sign, consider a sign asking fat people to use a different entrance because children might see them and think that it’s okay to be fat. We’d immediately reject such a sign because it is mean-spirited. This is true even though being overweight costs the government money and is harmful, irrational, and the opposite of sexy.

The attack on cigarettes is just as mean-spirited and even less justified.

18 June 2008

Public Schools: Generous with Other People's Money

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
June 10, 2008

New York has the highest state and local taxes in the United States and spends more per student than any other state. In this context, the New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief Commission has suggested a way to contain skyrocketing education costs. Even this mild remedy has ruffled the feathers of the education crowd. In this column, we look at local taxes and the recent proposal.

Taxes are grinding New York taxpayers into the dirt. Note that the following figures come from the Commission’s findings. New York State has the highest tax burden in the country. The tax burden is 33% above the national average. Statewide spending is not the problem. Albany is a model of discipline compared to local governments and school boards. State taxes are only 1% above the national average.

Local governments and school boards are the villains here. New York’s incredibly high taxes are driven by the highest local taxes in the country, 79% above the national average. Excluding New York City, New Yorkers pay $26 more per $1,000 income than residents in other states. This is 57% higher than the national average.

The engine driving these local taxes is property taxes, which are a disgrace. Property taxes are 75% of local taxes. As a percentage of home value in 2006, 9 out of the 10 highest property-taxed counties in the United States were in New York. Chautauqua country is on the list of shame with the 6th highest in the country, taxing its residents at 2.52% of the home value each year. Property taxes have grown more than 150% above inflation since 1982. They’ve grown by an eye-popping average of 7% since 2001.

The property taxes are pushed ever higher by education costs, which, outside of New York City, are 62% of the property taxes. New York schools spend money like drunken sailors. In 2008-2009, New Yorkers spend $18,768 per pupil. Again, this is more than any other state (although the District of Columbia spends more) and reflects a 7.9% annual rate of increase from 2000 to 2006. The overspending is in part due to the fact that school boards spend other people’s money. 47% of school revenue comes from state and federal rather than local sources. It is also likely due in part to the fact that only 14.2% (2006 figure) of enrolled voters vote on the school budget. With such low enrollment, parties with a financial stake in the monster spending levels, for example teachers and people with kids in the system, can consistently win votes so long as they get out their members.

The recent spending increases result in large part from payroll padding. From 2001 to 2007, there was a 4.8% increase in staff (7,400 more staffers) and 3.6% increase in teachers (5,000 more teachers) despite declining student enrollment (down 0.9% or 15,900 students). In 2005-2006, the average teacher cost the taxpayer roughly $82,000 per year ($59,000 in salary and $23,000 in benefits). Because this amount is reasonable, the problem appears to be the number of employees not the pay level.

This level of property taxes lowers property values, which makes people poorer. It also drives businesses away. This increases unemployment and drives young adults from the area. For example, civic leader Kevin Gaughan asserts that Erie County lost 30% of its young adults (18-24) since 1990. Property taxes thus cause upstate New Yorkers to lose jobs, retire later, and watch their children move away. Now explain to me why school boards and associated special interests aren’t villains.

Enter the Commission on Property Tax Relief. It wants to cap property tax increases. The cap is a limit to the annual increases in school property tax levies and the Commission would set it at 4% or 120% of the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower. According to the proposal, if the school district held its increase to at or below the cap, it need not put its budget to a vote. If it wanted to increase spending by more than the cap but less than 5%, 55% of the voters would have to approve it. If the increase were more than 5%, 60% would have to do so. Any part of the levy that is not used can be banked for future years, although it may not exceed 1.5% of the previous year’s levy. The idea for a cap is nothing new. In 2006, 43 states had some type of cap on real property taxes.

The Commission also put forth a circuit-breaker proposal. It proposed that an income-tax credit that will kick in for low- and moderate-income residents when property-tax bills exceed a certain percentage of their income.

The proposal is mixed. The cap is probably necessary to prevent school spending from breaking taxpayers and ravaging the New York economy. Still, it is dangerous. We can expect that school spending will reliably come in at 4% because there is little incentive to spend less. Because 4% is likely be higher than inflation, the taxpayer burden will continue to grow relative to people’s incomes and property values. The supermajority cap-buster is troubling in that the education special interests can probably mobilize to push the rates up, at least in those areas without vigilant taxpayers.

The loss of local control accompanying statewide caps is not unfair given that state and federal taxpayers pick up about half the bill. By analogy, if an employer pays for half of his worker’s education, it seems fair and appropriate to insist that she take courses in real subjects and perform at a reasonable level.

The circuit-breaker idea is a mistake. The reason that school systems can spend like drunken sailors is that they spend other people’s money. If local taxpayers had to foot the whole bill for education, school spending would have a direct and immediate effect on local taxes. This would likely end the ratcheting up of school hiring and spending. The circuit-breaker makes local taxpayers foot less of the bill and thereby makes things worse.

It is a shame that the Commission chose such a clunky method to slow skyrocketing education costs. However, it’s better than the likely alternative, which is more drunken-sailor spending. In any case, the discussion of this proposal should begin with the acknowledgment that the school systems and associated special interests are villains who offend us with their outrageous and undisciplined spending.

04 June 2008

Fredonia and Dunkirk Statistics

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
May 24, 2008

Dunkirk and Fredonia are inextricably linked. It is interesting to see how they compare to each other. In this column, we look at some of the numbers.

Demographically, the towns are similar in some important respects. The following data comes from the 2000 Census. The two are about the same size: Fredonia (14,690) and Dunkirk (16,097). Dunkirk has a more stable population (60% have lived in the same house for five or more years) as compared to Fredonia (49%).

Dunkirk residents are older. Dunkirk residents average 39.6 years versus 25.9 for Fredonia. 7.3% of Dunkirk residents are 80 or older versus 3.1% of Fredonia. They have roughly the same percentage of young people. People 19 or younger comprise 29.7% of Fredonia and 26.5% of Dunkirk. It is not clear to what role the college plays in this.

There appears to be an income difference. Fredonia is less poor than Dunkirk (the 2000 median household income was $37,010 for Fredonia and $29,310 for Dunkirk). Both are not great. U.S. households averaged $47,599 in 2000, when the Census was last taken. In 2000, 6.4% of Fredonia households made more than $100,000 versus 3.8% for Dunkirk. Dunkirk has more rich households. In 2000, it had more people who make more than $200,000 (209 versus 118).

Fredonia has a higher education level. In 2000, 28.4% of Fredonia had a Bachelors degree or higher versus 13.4% for Dunkirk. The former is roughly the current national average. In 2006, for example, 28% of the U.S. population had a Bachelors or higher. On the other end, 12% of Fredonia didn’t graduate from high school versus 25.9% for Dunkirk.

Dunkirk has a much higher percentage of minorities, but both are whiter than the rest of the country. In 2000, 22.4% of Dunkirk consisted of minorities (16.8% Hispanic and 3.9% black). In contrast, only 6.2% of Fredonia consisted of minorities (2.4% Hispanic and 2% black). In the current U.S. (2006 figures), 35% were minorities or of mixed heritage (15% were Hispanic alone and 13% were black alone). Neither town has many Asians (0.3% of Dunkirk and 0.8% of Fredonia) versus 4% of the current U.S. population.

Using 2005-2006 data from the New York State District Report Card, we find that the schools differ significantly. More Dunkirk students are poor. 56% qualify for free lunch versus 18% for Fredonia. Dunkirk also has more discipline problems. It suspends more of its students than Fredonia (8% versus 2%). In addition, more of its students drop out of high school and less plan to go on to a four-year college (38% versus 56%). It should be noted that some of those who don’t complete high school later enter GED programs, so it is unclear whether these numbers should trouble us. None of these differences appear to result from the number of students with disabilities because both have roughly the same percentage as each other and the rest of the state. The two school systems also differ greatly in race and ethnicity. 6% of Fredonia students are black or Hispanic versus 45% of Dunkirk.

The analogous statewide numbers fall in between those of the two school systems. 37% of statewide students qualify for free lunch, 5% of the students are suspended, and 40% are black or Hispanic.

The students also perform at different levels. In terms of 2005-2006 Regents examination among high-performing high school students, Fredonia significantly outperforms Dunkirk. Here are a few of the percentages of students with the highest scores (85-100) on the Regents Exams, with Dunkirk in parentheses: Comprehensive English 31% (25%), Math B 34% (5%), U.S. History and Government 49% (40%), Living Environment 29% (10%), and Physics 39% (6%). It is an interesting question as to what produces the different levels of performance. It is not due to differences in expenditures, class size, or the number of administrators and staff.

The performance differential begins early on. Consider the 2005-2006 numbers. 55% of Dunkirk fourth graders are at level 1 or 2 in math. Level 1 indicates that the students have serious academic deficiencies and level 2 indicates that students need extra help to meet the standards and pass the Regents examination. In contrast, this is true for 22% of fourth graders across New York and the same percentage of Fredonia fourth graders. Similar problems occur with regard to English scores, with 50% of Dunkirk students at levels 1 or 2. Fredonia (34%) scores about the same as the rest of the state (31%).

Dunkirk’s math problems intensify in middle school with level 1 and 2 scores in math and English scores coming in at 74% and 82%. It should be noted, though, that the statewide scores are nothing to write home about at 46% and 51%. Oddly, Fredonia does well at math (26%) but not at English (52%).

It should be noted that in the eighth grade, Fredonia is nothing special when considering high-end scores. It has an average percentage of Level 4 scores (these students exceed the standards are moving toward high performance on the Regents examination) that tie the state average in math (10%) and are 2% lower in English. By high school (using the 2002 cohort), Fredonia students outpace the rest of the state with 20% more level 4 scorers than statewide student population in English and 25% more in math. It is an interesting question as to what explains this gain. Dunkirk’s results are mixed with 16% fewer high scorers in English and 4% more in math. Dropout rates for this 2002 cohort fit the general pattern. When compared with statewide numbers, 18% more of Fredonia students graduate than the statewide average. In Dunkirk, 1% fewer do.

In terms of spending, both school systems spend a lot. For example, from Fall 2002 to the recently passed budgets, Fredonia has increased its spending by 33% to $15,807 per student per year (using 2005-2006 enrollment). Dunkirk has increased its spending by 23% to $17,457 per student per year. The latter is a case study in which irresponsible spending occurs when someone else picks up the bill. Dunkirk residents only pay 28% of the bill ($4,821 per pupil). The overspending is predictable. If restaurant patrons knew that the state was going to pick up 72% of their bill, you can bet they would be more likely to order steak for themselves and fancy deserts for their children.

Overall the numbers are mixed. The area appears to be poorer than the rest of the country in terms of household income. The numbers also show that the towns differ significantly in income, age, race and ethnicity, and school performance.