19 April 2017

Andrew Cuomo's Excelsior Scholarship: An Idiotic Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 April 2017

For Legalizing Hard Drugs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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