One-Size-Fits-All Left Behind

Congratulations to Utah! Both houses of the legislature (by 90 percent majorities) have decided to opt out of the No Child Left Behind abomination. Thanks to Chuck Muth for the heads up.
This is a no brainer, New Mexico. Let’s go for it!

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The Constitution in Exile

Here is what I think a fascinating article. It is long, but so worth it. It is about “The Constitution in Exile” movement.
For one thing, it’s fascinating to hear the author describe standard Lockean arguments upon which our republic was founded. He writes with a tone which indicates that he thinks these are crazy new ideas:
“As Epstein sees it, all individuals have certain inherent rights and liberties, including ”economic” liberties, like the right to property and, more crucially, the right to part with it only voluntarily. These rights are violated any time an individual is deprived of his property without compensation — when it is stolen, for example, but also when it is subjected to governmental regulation that reduces its value or when a government fails to provide greater security in exchange for the property it seizes.”
Or try this one:
“[Epstein] insists that if the government wants to reduce the value of an individual’s property — with zoning restrictions, for example — it has to compensate him for the lost value.”
I also like the movement’s occasional skepticism of states-rights, which I have shared for a long time:
“One of Greve’s goals at the American Enterprise Institute is to convince more mainstream conservatives that traditional federalism — which is skeptical of federal, but not state, power — is only half right. In his view, states can threaten economic liberty just as significantly as the federal government.”
Finally, the article talks about a few Supreme Court Nominee possibilities that would be awesome. For example, Judge Janice Rogers Brown, who has referred disparagingly to ”the dichotomy that eventually develops where economic liberty — property — is put on a different level than political liberties.”
Amen!
Thanks to Alex Tabarrok for the pointer.

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More School Districts Mean Higher Graduation Rates

Check out this study just released by the Manhattan Institute.
According to the press release:
“A new study by Manhattan Institute scholars Jay P. Greene and Marcus A.
Winters finds that decreasing the size of a state’s school districts
leads to substantial improvements in its public high school graduation
rate. Conversely, consolidating school districts into fewer, larger
units decreases a state’s public high school graduation rate.
The results of the analysis indicate that decreasing the average size of
a state’s school districts by 200 square miles would lead to an increase
of about 1.7 percentage points in its graduation rate. This finding is
particularly important for New Mexico, which has the nation’s 6th largest
school districts. If New Mexico decreased the size of its school
districts to the national median, it would increase its graduation rate
by about 9 percentage points, improving it from 65% to about 74%.”
My take: While there are obvious difficulties in reducing district size in New Mexico’s rural areas, the overall move toward more centralization (while calling it “reform”)is counterproductive. Smaller districts mean that it is less costly for parents to move their child from a bad school to a better one, creating an element of choice and competition.
What we need is reform that works.

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Forget Red State vs. Blue State

As usual, NM does things differently. Based on a survey of 120,464 people, here is a map showing what words people use when referring to soft-drinks. Casual observation seems to show the Land of the Enchantment is also the land of diversity. In fact, we seem to be the least-homogeneous of all the states. No sheep here!
Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the pointer.

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I might be a convert

Like the Founding Fathers, I have never been extremely enamored of democracy. Usually, when I tell people this, they jump to the assumption that I must prefer autocracy or one of its variants. But you see it’s not the “demos” (people) part of democracy to which I object. Rather, it is the “kratia” (rule) part.
I think the happiest places on earth are those where individual rights reign supreme, and no one–not king, council or even a popular majority–is permitted to invade certain inalienable rights of the individual. To ensure these rights, strong (explicit or implicit) constraints on those in possession of political power are necessary.
In the US, an important aspect of that constraint is, of course, the Constitution. Expressing a common belief of the founders, the chief architect of that document, James Madison, noted that, “…democracies have ever been incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” He went on to argue, “A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect and promises the cure for which we are seeking.” (See Federalist 10)
In other words, representative government is one way to keep the majority from running roughshod over the minority. That is why Madison and company gave us, in Franklin’s words, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
In many ways we haven’t. Over the last 100 years, the United States has seen an explosion in direct democracy. In 1897, South Dakota became the first state to adopt the popular initiative and referendum. The former allowed citizens to introduce their own legislation and the latter allowed them to vote on issues originating in the legislature. Over the next 20 years, half of the other states in the union adopted similar measures.
As a (small ‘r’!) republican, I have tended to regard this change as unfortunate. By empowering the majority to make whichever laws it sees fit, I worry that the states have slowly eroded the rights and freedoms individuals.
Despite, these misgivings, I must admit that the empirical evidence appears to be against me. The economist, John Matsusaka, of the University of Southern California, for example has found that while initiatives do “not have a consistent effect on the overall size of state and local government” they do “systematically lead to more decentralized government,” which is generally considered by public choice economists to be more efficient than centralized government. Matsusaka has a forthcoming article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives which declares “Direct Democracy Works.” He has also begun an Institute dedicated to promoting direct democracy.
Other scholars have found similar results. The European economists Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer studied direct democracy in Switzerland where citizens in some cantons have greater access to instruments of direct democracy than citizens in other cantons. They found that it “systematically and sizably raise[d] self-reported individual well-being.” As an aside, they also found that local autonomy appears to increase happiness.
As an unabashed fan of limited government, I also can’t help but be impressed with initiatives like California’s Prop 13 or Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill or Rights. Perhaps New Mexican’s should consider direct democracy as well?

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New Mexico Personal Income — good news and bad news

The BEA has just released per capita personal income statistics for 2004. The bad news: New Mexico still ranks 47th among all states and the District of Columbia. The good news is that we are growing faster than in the past. Our growth of per capita personal income over 10 years ranks 32nd (no longer at or near last).
Why the improvement? Some of it is just plain luck. Our energy sector is enjoying high prices. We have a large government component that is resistant to the national downturn over the past four years.
Former Governor Gary Johnson probably deserves some credit. He mananged to hold the line on taxing and spending for 8 of the 10 years while most other states were not so fortunate. They are coming down to meet us. Unfortunately, that will probably not last because of our current spending binge.

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