Saturday, May 30, 2015

Former N.J. Governor Florio’s Immoral Hostility Toward the Needs of the ‘Most Motivated Students’

On January 28, 2015, New Jersey Star-Ledger guest columnists Joshua P. Thompson and Mark Miller of the Pacific Legal Foundation posted a good article titled Benefits of school choice extend far beyond disadvantaged students (See my May 15 post on the article, linked to below).

On February 3, raging anti-school choicer and former NJ Governor James J. Florio responded with a scorching rebuttal to Thompson and Miller. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a reactionary defender of the monopolistic government education establishment.

The subject of the opposing articles is the proposed Opportunity Scholarship Act, which uses corporate tax credits to fund school choice options for children of low-income NJ parents. The act is far from an ideal way to advance school choice, as I have observed. But that is beside the point of Florio’s argument, which is an attack on anything and anyone that threatens the government’s education hegemony, even at the cost of sacrificing the best students.

In my comments to Florio’s article, I called out specific passages to rebut:

“Tax credits are, in fact, tax expenditures.”

Demonstrably false. Somewhere, George Orwell is saying, “I told you so!” Tax credits leave money in the hands of those who earned it, to use as they judge best, before the government ever takes possession of the money. You can’t expend what you don’t have. This is an observational fact. It was also recognized by the Supreme Court in a ruling on education tax credits, in which the court said:

Tax credits are not owed to the State and, in fact, pass directly from taxpayers to private organizations. [The] contrary position assumes that income should be treated as if it were government property even if it has not come into the tax collector’s hands. That premise finds no basis in standing jurisprudence.

Or in fact. Follow the money: With government vouchers, the flow of funds passes from taxpayers to government to the schools; with a tax-credit funded private program, as recognized by the Supreme Court, taxpayers “spend their own money,” not “government property.” Tax credits are not tax expenditures, and it is dishonest to say so. Government has no inherent ownership claim on our income. We have a government of, for, and by the people—not the other way around.

“Voucher proponents are ready to jettison this uniquely American institution [government schools] and segregate the most motivated students to private schools, leaving the vast majority of students in failing schools.

“Accepting vouchers would signal a willingness to relegate the majority of the students in failing schools to second-class citizenship.”

“Failing schools.” “Second-class citizenship.” These terms are tacit admissions that many government schools are failing; this, after a century of government-run public K-12 schooling. At what point does failure stop being a rationalization for yet another government fix? Get the government’s central planning “experts” out and put parents in charge. Liberating the most motivated parents and the most motivated students from the ball-and-chain anchoring them down to the level of the worst parents and students is one of the best moral arguments for school choice—and one of the best arguments against our one-size-fits-all government-controlled school system.

“Incidentally, the creation of a voucher program providing public money to low-income families for private schools will undoubtedly create a for-profit private school system ready to focus on this universe of recipients.”

A tax credit program is not “a voucher program providing public money” (see above). But the creation of “a for-profit private school system ready to focus on this universe of recipients” is exactly the point of school choice. Liberate the market so education entrepreneurs can offer up a wide diversity of options for parents to choose from. In a free market, profits ultimately go to schools that best satisfy consumers, and what set of consumers are more badly in need of the better quality options free markets inevitably give rise to than education consumers? Of course, for-profit schools are not the only options that a freer education market will spawn.

“Since these students will be a part of our future workforce, if the immorality of that doesn't bother you, think about the economic consequences in terms of the knowledge-based economy of the future. Vouchers? We can do better.”

What should bother us is the immorality of dogmatically perpetuating a coercive government monopoly that keeps kids trapped in schools that even their supporters acknowledge are failing. Reactionary defenders of the government school monopoly are like reverse George Wallaces: They effectively stand in the schoolhouse door, not to keep children out, but to keep children whom their parents believe would be better served elsewhere trapped inside government schools.

How can any political leader—or anyone—in good conscience stand in the way of parents seeking out the education best suited to their own children? Rather than keep kids in, we need to provide every student and parent with a path out of zip code-based compulsory school assignment, by recognizing every parent’s—and every taxpayer’s—right to direct the course of their own children’s education and expenditure of their own education tax dollars. And school choice is not just for “failing schools”: Not every “failing” school is bad for every child, and neither will every school labeled “good” satisfy the needs of every child. Universal education tax credits, properly structured, are the best way under current constitutional law to expand opportunity for school choice to everyone—rich, middle class, or poor, academically gifted to special needs. Educational emancipation is the moral imperative of our time.

Related Reading:

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Solberg Eminent Domain Ruling and Zoning

In the letter by Readington Township, N.J. Committee candidates Liz Duffy and Ben Smith, Readington has options following Solberg ruling, which I discussed in my last post, Duffy and Smith wrote:

One thing to keep in mind is that In addition to the decision on the eminent domain suit, the township is now also faced with defending against the lawsuit filed by the Solbergs to have the entire 700-plus acres zoned for airport use. That suit had been stayed pending the outcome of the eminent domain action, and will now be re-activated if no appeal is filed.

In my last post, I argued against Duffy and Smith’s collectivist claim that they “are in the best position to represent the interests of the entire Township.” Zoning powers are an outgrowth of collectivist thinking. As such, zoning is integral to the matter of Readington’s attempted eminent domain seizure of Solberg land. The township forbids Solberg from expanding or developing by zoning those uses into illegality. The eminent domain action grew from Solberg’s lawsuit challenging the zoning ordinance blocking the Solberg’s plans.

So zoning is at the root of the eminent domain controversy. But zoning powers themselves are illegitimate because they are contrary to the proper purpose of government, which is to protect individual rights, including property rights. Zoning violates rights, so the state has no legitimate authority to dictate private property use, so long as the use of one’s property doesn’t violate the rights of others.

But since we have zoning, any landowner has a right to seek zoning changes in pursuit of the peaceable use of his own land. There’s nothing sacred about zoning powers or zoning maps. The Solbergs have the same rights as anyone else, and deserve not to be threatened with eminent domain—which is nothing more that legalized Mafia-like aggression—for seeking zoning changes needed to use their land as they judge best. Property rights should be the standard for decision making.

Property rights—the right to use one’s property as one pleases—doesn’t mean a landowner can do whatever he wants regardless of the effect on others. If resident “A” believes his rights—his use and enjoyment of his property, or his physical safety and security—will be infringed by resident “B’s” use of his property, then “A” can fight to stop “B’s” use. But the burden of proof is on “A”. If the municipal officials really had the interests of township residents at heart—rather than some undefinable “interests of the entire Township”—, they would seriously consider the rezoning, based on respect for the property rights of the Solbergs, and the valid concerns of residents as these concerns relate to their property rights, which means being safe and secure in the use of their property. If surrounding residents can demonstrate, in an objective forum, that airport expansion would violate their rights—i.e., initiate physical force against them—they would have a valid argument for stopping airport expansion.

The Solberg’s lawsuit to overturn their township’s zoning of their property is no justification for eminent domain aggression, because there is no justification for eminent domain.

Related Reading:

Eminent Domain- Always an Abuse

How Property Rights Solve Problems—David R. Henderson for the Library of Economics and Liberty

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Solberg Eminent Domain Ruling and Collectivism

The battle over Solberg Airport in my hometown of Readington Township, NJ will reach a new stage soon. The battle involves the long-running attempt to seize Solberg land through eminent domain in order to prevent development of the property into a larger airport capable of handling corporate jets, or into housing. The battle has split the township, and elections have become a de facto referendum on the Solberg issue.

In the last election, two pro-eminent domain township committee incumbents were defeated by two anti-eminent domain challengers. This election will once again pit two pro-eminent domain candidates—Liz Duffy and Ben Smith—against an anti-eminent domain team, Larry Lelah & Deb Lyons.

All the candidates that will face the voters in the June 2, 2015 primary are Republicans. Generally, no Democrats run in Readington, so the winner of the primary is usually in effect the winners of the November general election by virtue of running unopposed.

This new stage of the Solberg battle was set by Readington’s third court loss, in which the Solbergs are fighting to protect their land from eminent domain seizure. In this latest court decision, N.J. Superior Court Judge Paul W. Armstrong labeled Readington’s action “a manifest abuse of the power of eminent domain.”

In reaction, Duffy and Smith penned a Letter describing Readington’s options going forward:

1. Appeal Armstrong's decision. An appeal would be a small fraction of the cost of the trial and the years of discovery leading up to it. If we win on appeal, the township would not have to pay the Solbergs' legal fees, and the land around the airport would be preserved.

2. Don't appeal, and let the judge's ruling stand. In this case, the township would pay the Solbergs' legal fees, and the parties should go back to the positions they were in the day before the taking. This means the Solbergs would have an airport on between 50-100 acres surrounded by 600-plus acres of land zoned Agricultural-Residential.

Duffy and Smith support option 1, and concluded their letter with:

These critical decisions should be made by people who have the interests of the entire township in mind; not by candidates hand-picked and supported by the most vocal supporters of the Solbergs. Can you imagine a Township Committee with four out of five members that the Solbergs and their closest supporters helped elect negotiating with the Solbergs? We are in the best position to represent the interests of the entire Township.

“Most vocal supporters” happen to be a majority of the township’s voters, many of whom are not merely supporters of the airport or of the Solbergs, but conscientious opponents of eminent domain (such as me).

I left these comments:

Beware politicians peddling undefined collectivist slogans, like this one:

“We are in the best position to represent the interests of the entire Township.”

Just what are those “interests,” and who determines them?

It is not in the interests of the Solbergs to be forced into “negotiations” with township officials, while those officials hold over their heads the threat to take their land if they don’t agree to township demands. That’s Mob-style “negotiating.” Good faith negotiation implies voluntary give-and-take on both sides, with each side having the right to say no to any offer without threats of aggression to coerce an “agreement.” A negotiation in which one side is holding a gun to the head of the other party is not a negotiation. It is “an offer that you can’t refuse”—literally.

It’s not in my interests to be forced to finance, through my taxes, what I consider a grossly immoral and un-American action against a Readington neighbor, while that neighbor is stuck with huge legal expenses just to protect their property and their right to use it in any peaceable manner they choose. Nor is it in the interests of any other Readington Township resident who opposes their township officials’ eminent domain aggression.

There are no “interests of the entire township,” apart from the diverse interests of the individuals who comprise the township. Neither Duffy, Smith, or anyone else have any right to declare themselves the township interest czars claiming the authority to impose their idea of “the interests of the entire Township” on everyone else. There are only the interests of individual residents.

The “option” of negotiating with the Solbergs from a position of aggression as the final arbiter is no option at all for those whose land is threatened, or for those forced to finance the threat against their consciences and convictions. The fact that our constitution wrongly grants the power of eminent domain to government officials does not mitigate its immorality. Differences among residents should be worked out without the threat of force, and with due respect for private property and other individual rights.

Related Reading:

The Rise of Collectivism and the Fall of the Constitution

Saturday, May 23, 2015

A Memorial Day Tribute

Throughout history, armies have fought for territorial boundaries, kings, monarchs, dictators, imperialistic ambitions, the “honor” of some sundry rulers, the tribe, some theocrat's assertion of God’s will, and so on.

America’s military is unique. It fights for a set of ideas…the most radical set of ideas in man’s history. America is the first and only country founded explicitly and philosophically on the principle that an individual’s life is his to live, by unalienable right. America is the first and only country founded on the explicit principle that the government exists as servant for and by permission of the people, with the solemn duty to protect those rights; or, as Ronald Reagan put it in his first inaugural address:

Sadly, the knowledge of what this country stands for is steadily slipping away…and along with it, our rights. Fortunately, we’re still free to speak out. So the best way to honor our military personnel, for those of us who still retain that knowledge, is to remind our fellow Americans in any small way that we can about America’s unique, noble, and radical Founding ideals.

We can still prevent “the other way around”. But we must rediscover the knowledge of, and think about, what it means to be an American. So, let us reflect on what really made this country possible.

This Memorial Day weekend, we will hear a lot about the “sacrifices” made by those who died defending America.

It is said that this nation, our freedom, and our way of life are a gift bestowed upon us by the grace of the “sacrifices” of the Founding Fathers and the fighters of the Revolutionary War. But, was it? Is it even possible that so magnificent an achievement – the United States of America – could be the product of sacrifice? As the closing words of this country’s Founding philosophical document – the Declaration of Independence – attest, the Founding Fathers risked everything to make their ideals a reality:

“And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

Some point to those words, and bestow on the signatories of that document the “honor” of having sacrificed for us, the "future generations." Nothing can be further from the truth. Sacrifice--properly understood--is the giving up, rather than the achievement, of values. America was achieved.

What is any human being’s highest attribute and value? It is his mind and his independent judgement. To use one’s mind – to think – is an exclusively personal, individualistic, self-motivated, self-chosen, selfish effort. All else in a person's life is a consequence of the use, or lack of use, of his mind – for better or for worse. One’s convictions about what one believes is right, one’s passionate concern for ideas, is the product of the independent use of one’s mind. The man who places nothing above the judgement of his own mind, even at the risk of his own physical well-being, is not engaging in self-sacrifice. To fight for one’s own fundamental beliefs is the noblest, most egoistic endeavor one can strive for.

The Founders were thinkers and fighters. They were egoists, in the noblest sense—that is, they were men of self-esteem—which is the only valid sense. They believed in a world, not as it was, but as it could be and should be. They took action – pledging their “sacred honor” at great risk to their personal wealth and physical well-being – to that end. They would accept no substitute. They would take no middle road. They would not compromise. They would succeed or perish.

Such was the extraordinary character of the Founders of this nation.

To call the achievement of the Founders a sacrifice is to say that they did not deem the ideals set forth in the Declaration as worthy of their fighting for; that the idea that the individual’s life belongs to him and not to any collective and not to any ruler was less of a value to them than what they pledged in defense of it; that they did what they did anyway without personal conviction or passion; that the Declaration of Independence is a fraud. To say that America was born out of sacrifice is a grave injustice and, in fact, a logical impossibility.

World history produced a steady parade of human sacrifices, and the overwhelming result was a steady stream of bloody tyrannies. The Founders stood up not merely to the British Crown, but to the whole brutal sacrificial history of mankind to turn the most radical set of political ideas ever conceived into history’s greatest nation. It is no accident that the United States of America was born at the apex of the philosophical movement that introduced the concept of the Rights of Man to his own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, the Enlightenment.

Only the most extraordinary men of the most ferocious personal strength and courage could have so uncompromisingly upheld, against overwhelming odds and hostility and personal risk, so passionate a belief in their own independently held convictions so as to have established the American Founding. The American Revolution was history’s brightest demonstration of the rationally selfish pursuit of a noble goal by any group of people, ever. It was a monumental human testament to the dedication these men had to their cause – the refusal to live any longer under any social condition except freedom, and to "pledge eternal hostility against every form of tyranny."

The highest tribute I can pay to those Americans who died in the line of military duty, on this Memorial Day, is not that they selflessly sacrificed for their country. Self-sacrifice is not a virtue in my value system. It is an insult, because that would mean that their country and what it stands for was irrelevant to them; that they had no personal, selfish interest in it; that they were not passionate about their service; that they were indifferent toward America's enemies; that it made no difference to them whether they returned to live in freedom or to live in slavery; that they lacked self-esteem.

This, of course, is not the case.

Freedom is thoroughly egoistic, because it leaves individuals alone to pursue their own goals, values, and happiness. It follows that to fight for freedom is thoroughly egoistic. If American soldiers fight for freedom, then the highest tribute I can pay to those who perished in that cause is to say that they were cut from the mold of the Founding Fathers; that they did not set out to die for their country but rather that they set out to fight for the only values under which they desired to live—that radical set of ideals that is the United States of America.

In honor of those who perished fighting for the American cause, and to all of America’s service men and women past and present:

Thank you for your service in defense of American ideals, for the self-esteem that motivatwes you, for your desire to live in freedom, and for your fierce determination to accept no substitute.

Happy Memorial Day!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Climate Change or Not, Humans Need Reliable, Economical Energy—and the Pilgrim Pipeline

The proposed Pilgrim Pipeline, which would move liquid petroleum through Northern New Jersey, has garnered some loud opposition. But the opposition is motivated primarily by NIMBYism and environmentalism-inspired anti-fossil fuel hysteria.

But to automatically condemn the Pilgrim Pipeline, which would transport crude oil through 60 miles of our state (notably, the Highlands region), is premature until all the facts are heard, and to oppose any infrastructure project because of a reflexive dislike of fossil fuels is an irrational misfire in the overarching climate fight.

The Star-Ledger did salute allegiance to the environmentalist flag. It supports “every reasonable measure to advance environmental protection – a carbon tax, a cap-and-trade system, more subsidies for clean energy, and conservation – because climate change is a clear and imminent threat, if not the moral imperative of our time.”

But the Star-Ledger, to its credit, stops short of radical environmentalist efforts to shut down the fossil fuel industry regardless of the consequences. Editorial Board member Tom Moran, for example, previously criticized environmentalists who hailed New York’s ban on fracking. On Pilgrim, the paper notes that

Even environmentalists, in their lucid moments, must concede that oil must travel. There is no timeline on when the U.S. can transition from hydrocarbons for its transportation needs – it could be 10 years or 50 years – so the only option in the interim is to make the delivery method safer.

They’re giving hard core environmentalists too much credit. The most lucid environmentalists are not primarily concerned with human well-being. That aside, the Star-Ledger does note that pipelines are much safer than trains and barges, especially newer, technologically state-of-the-art pipelines. The Star-Ledger also notes a legitimate downside to the pipeline; approval could carry with it the power of the company to impose eminent domain seizures.

Its nod to environmentalist dogma aside, the Star-Ledger presents a relatively balanced assessment of the pipeline proposal. I left these comments:

Regardless of whether climate change turns out to be an “imminent threat” or much ado about nothing, one thing is certain: Without reliable energy on demand, life in any climate is miserable and deadly to man. Imagine no regular source of clean water; no safe human and industrial waste disposal facilities; no clean indoor central heating and cooling; no electricity; no safe means of transportation to move people and goods over short or long distances; no modern medicine; no modern agriculture; no modern communications; no sturdy structures; no ability to quickly remediate disaster consequences; and none of the myriad other aspects of safe, clean, and prosperous modern living that we take for granted.

Our modern, life-giving industrial society requires monumental amounts of reliable energy, most of which is currently provided by fossil fuels. Nowhere on Earth has anyone yet proved that so-called “renewable” energy can be the primary source of energy. It would be cruel, immoral, and downright insane to suppress and block fossil fuel development merely on the quasi-religious hope that something will come along to replace it.

To the extent “renewables” can contribute to our energy needs, the demand for fossil fuels and thus pipelines will naturally decline. But given the vital importance of reliable energy to our lives, we shouldn’t suppress any energy technology. We should welcome energy producers of all kinds, consistent with common sense technologically and economically feasible environmental, safety, and anti-pollution policies, and due respect for property rights.

In the comments, URnoexpert11 questioned mrbru’s observation that "Solar, which tries to convert sunlight into energy, is nothing but a modified version of  coal, oil and natural gas..." URnoexpert11 asked how so?  Does it pollute at the same levels?  Please elaborate.” mrbru didn’t. But I did:

All energy sources pollute, including wind and solar. But pollution risks of any energy source must be weighed against the benefits and the risks of not having it. Would any rational person argue for the abolition of antibiotics or vaccines just because they have some potentially harmful side effects? The answer is to minimize pollution through technology and law—which has been ongoing and successful for decades—not forego the enormous benefits of fossil fuel energy. To focus only on pollution and not benefits of fossil fuels is the very definition of irrational prejudice.

Related Reading:

Call for "Carbon Fee" is a Call for a Tax on Human Well-Being

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Newark, NJ Mother Demonstrates the Educational Power of Parental School Choice

Despite the hysterical demonization of the charter school movement by the reactionary defenders of the public school establishment, charter schools’ success is really about market demand: i.e., the desires of individual parents to attaining the best education available for their children. Charter schools are in demand, especially in the bigger cities, because they satisfy parents by giving their kids a better education than the public schools can.

These motivated parents are the ignored faction of the anti-school choice side. But it only takes one parental voice to demolish the whole anti-choice edifice. One such parent is Newark, New Jersey’s Shayvonne Anderson, who argued from personal experience in a NJ Star-Ledger guest column that Newark's charter schools get an A-plus for education. Newark is a central battleground in the charter wars.
Anderson shares her happy story of how she got her kids a better education by taking advantage of the choice accorded to her:

I applied to just about every charter school in Newark and was successful. My children were accepted into Newark Collegiate Academy, Paulo Freire Charter School, Great Oaks Charter School and Marion P. Thomas Charter School. After One Newark was introduced in 2014 I prioritized specific schools for my children that I knew, based on my research, would be best for them. Now, my children attend Newark Collegiate Academy, Team Academy, Spark Academy and The Paulo Freire Charter School. My children are learning life skills and receiving the benefit of a great education that every child deserves.

My children are learning so much more than I ever did [w]hen I attended Newark Public Schools. . . .

Anderson recounts the dramatic improvement charter schools engendered for six of her childrens’ performance. Here is one example:

-- My 13-year-old son has been a challenge in school behaviorally and academically, but since coming to charter school he, too, has become a star student in his own right. Although he still has his challenges, his teachers work with him and me. The teachers take time to understand his learning process and they work very closely with me to develop plans that support and help him.

As Anderson learned, acceptance into a charter school is done by lottery, and is not guaranteed. (typically, demand far exceeds charter school openings.) She was lucky to get six of her children (she has 10) into these superior schools. But Anderson is not content to rest on her own personal laurels. She ends her column with a resounding call for something bigger:

In each school, the teachers care about the students and they are invested in helping them succeed. I love that my children are held accountable for their actions, taught to take responsibility, and taught that hard work hard [sic] is the process to get good grades. My children are held to a higher standard in charter schools, where they are taught to push past the thought of being average and work to be excellent. I am grateful that my children have been afforded this opportunity, but I feel strongly that this opportunity should not be something that is afforded, but rather something that is required for and owed to, every student no matter where they live. A ZIP code should not impact whether my child - or any child - has a great educational opportunity. That's just a fact.

“A ZIP code should not impact whether my child - or any child - has a great educational opportunity.” Amen to that. Stories like Anderson's make public school establishment-defending anti-choicers look trivial and mean (which they are).  They would sacrifice children to save their unearned, undeserved monopolistic status.

I left these comments:

I have been advocating for parental school choice for years. I even got an article published advocating a tax credit-based plan for universal school choice. But there is no better advocacy than real-life stories. Ms. Anderson’s inspiring saga says it all about school choice: It’s about real parents and real students, as opposed to the establishment’s utopian ideals and standardized assessment schemes.

Charter schools are definitely a step in the right direction. But the important point here is that motivated parents, in direct cooperation with educators, are perfectly capable—and by far the best equipped—to direct the course of their own children’s education.

Related Reading:

Charter Schools – Good, but Not the Long-Term Answer