Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Libertarian perspective on Syrian refugees

This won't take long....

As a Libertarian I believe that all human beings have a God-given right to life, liberty and their pursuit of happiness.  These rights do not come from government.  We are born with them. 

If a person in one place decides that their odds of having a life, liberty and greater happiness would exist in some other place, they should be allowed to leave the place where they are and move to the place they want to be.

When they arrive in the new place they should be guaranteed nothing but their three inherent rights.  No welfare, no special treatment, nothing.  The new arrival to the new place should be expected to look around and see opportunities where they exist and then pursue those opportunities. 

If charities, churches, mosques and synagogues want to chip in and help with the transition, so be it.  That is also part of Libertarian ideology, that we have the right to voluntarily part with our private property to aid other human beings.

Once the person is in their new home they need to understand that if they violate the right to life, liberty and property of others, the rule of law will deal with them.  As long as they stay out of trouble and simply pursue their interests - peacefully - the government should not bother them.

Apparently, one of the Paris attackers had come in to France under the guise that he was a Syrian refugee seeking protection from ISIS.  One. 

Now we are seeing an increasing number of American states blocking Syrian refugees.

This shows that our governments do not understand probability theory.

Look at the cities within the states blocking refugees.  There will be more people murdered in Houston, Orlando and Birmingham by American thugs than we will see murders carried out by fake Syrian refugees.

Yet, in our panic we are now doing what is mean, stupid and counterproductive.

The more people we turn away who just want a chance to have a better life, the more we create the impression that America is not what it was supposed to be - a place where the tired, hungry masses can pursue the American Dream.

Being  human beings and being an Americans should mean more than what we are doing now.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Can Democrats enjoy falling gas prices?

What follows is my November 8, 2015 column in The Orlando Sentinel.  Enjoy and pass it on to your favorite liberal!
Now that Thanksgiving is near, millions of Americans are making plans to get in a car and drive somewhere to enjoy turkey, football and loose clothing with friends and relatives. According to AAA, in 2014, 41.3 million people drove over 50 miles to enjoy this national holiday. In recent years, this annual road trip has not come cheap. Last year, the average national price of a gallon of gasoline was $2.81. The year before gas was $3.29. In 2012, it was over $3.40 per gallon. This year, barring some unforeseen calamity, it looks like American drivers are going to be able to fill their tanks for around $2, or less, per gallon.
This is welcome news for those of us that have budgets and would like to save money wherever we can. After all, for an SUV with a 20-gallon tank we are talking about savings of almost $28 per tank compared to three years ago. That is enough money to buy a really nice turkey or enough cans of cranberry sauce to keep your family in leftovers until Christmas.
Yet, I wonder if everyone is happy about this turn of events.
Clearly, the oil companies, OPEC and everyone working in the oil-rich regions of North Dakota and Texas are not happy. Profits are down, job losses are up and low oil prices threaten to destabilize parts of the country that have grown dependent on the oil boom economy.
But there is another group that might be — or should be — irked about the downward pressure on prices. That group is comprised of every non-hypocritical registered Democrat in the United States.
Consider the facts. Republicans do not really care much about climate change and often argue that the global-warming alarmists are relying on faulty, or worse, contrived "evidence" to push our country toward higher carbon taxes, the elimination of coal-fired power plants and into an economy that relies on windmills to keep our lights on.
Libertarian-types argue that if global warming is being caused more by human beings than natural cycles on the planet, then all we have to do is wait for profit-seekers to produce the energy-efficient appliances, long-lasting light bulbs and electric-powered cars that people might want to buy in order to save the planet. The last time I checked, the profit-motive is beautifully playing on our possibly irrational fears and we are seeing record production of all sorts of new "green" products.
Democrats, on the other hand, keep telling us that 100 percent of climate change is caused by human beings who selfishly choose to drive cars rather than take crowded, slow buses and enjoy air conditioning during the summer rather than sweat into buckets that we can use to water our … oh, that's right, we are not supposed to have lawns, either.
Democrats keep warning us that if we do not cut our CO2 emissions this very second, we are going to see Orlando homes called beachfront property while oranges will be harvested in Minnesota during month of January.
Therefore, if Democrats are honest, they will admit that falling gas prices is a horrific development because, by the law of demand, as gas prices fall, more gas will be burned, more CO2 will be released and Alaska will be one step closer to cactus farming.
Thus, the only honest solution for democrats this Thanksgiving is for them to stay off the roads and hope that somehow the oil companies and OPEC can find a way to drive prices back to $4 per gallon.
Anything less would be disingenuous.
Happy Thanksgiving and pass the garlic mashed potatoes financed by low gas prices.

Copyright © 2015, Orlando Sentinel

Monday, October 5, 2015

Oregon college shooting should surprise no one

What follows is my October 4, 2015 column in The Orlando Sentinel
On the very same day as the horrific shooting at a community college in Oregon, one of my lectures was loudly interrupted by a man yelling in the hallway of the building I teach in. My students were visibly jolted by this unexpected outburst, and in the seconds that passed, it became clear that if I simply ignored the noise, not much in the way of learning was going to take place. So, I walked to the door, opened it, entered the hallway and looked around.
From my vantage point, I could see dozens of students on the bottom floor talking, reading and having coffee. With nothing dangerous going on, I went back to work.
But what if something like the Oregon shooting had been going on? What then? Firearms are not allowed on the campuses of Valencia College. All we have in our classrooms to protect our students are color-coded cards telling us what to do in an emergency. The red card tells professors to hold the card up to indicate that assistance is needed.
Valencia students should feel relieved that if a gunman ever goes on a rampage during one of our lectures, I will be able to alert unarmed security guards by holding up a red card in the window of my classroom.
Second, school shootings are going to happen no matter what gun laws are on the books. When someone is mentally ill, or is sane but has criminal intent, guns will be found on the black market, and those guns will be used to kill people. The mass shooting years ago in Norway — a nation with tough gun laws — illustrates this reality. I would imagine carrying bombs around in many Middle Eastern nations is illegal, too, but even more people are killed over there.
President Obama pointed out — accurately — that in other developed nations these shootings do not happen as often as in the United States. Cultural anthropologists have offered insight as to why: When you have a nation of 315 million people with a vast array of cultures, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds, and value systems you are going to be more likely to see deviant, abnormal behavior than in smaller nations that are more homogeneous. The more similar people are in their sets of values and the more connected they feel to their fellow citizens, the less likely it is that you will see violence on a large scale.
Third, and perhaps most important, is the fact that criminals — even mentally unbalanced ones — are capable of engaging in rational thought. That is to say that before an act of violence is committed, human beings are able to recognize the likely benefits and costs of their actions.
For the Oregon shooter, killing as many people as possible was clearly his goal. In order to accomplish this heinous act, he had to conduct it in a place where the cost was as low as possible. The cost in this case would be measured by the probability of being slowed down, stopped, injured or killed.
Unfortunately, in our zeal to protect young people from guns, we have created the perfect environment for criminally insane individuals to murder people in large numbers.
I can only imagine what would have happened on the day I heard the man screaming in the hallway if he had been brandishing a gun. Thirty-two students would have been behind locked doors (with glass windows in each one) totally vulnerable to whatever caliber of weapon he chose to use.
As a gun owner, what if I were allowed, with a concealed-weapons permit, to be armed in my classroom? What if the professor in Oregon had been allowed to do the same?
Today we might be reading about a gunman who was stopped or killed by a law-abiding college professor. His victims might still be alive — and my students would be safer.
It is time for our state Legislature to recognize that until law-abiding citizens are allowed to confront criminals with the same threat of force, our schools will continue to be the ideal grounds for ending the lives of young people.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

It is time to pay college football players

What follow is my August 16, 2016 column in The Orlando Sentinel.  Enjoy!
Like millions of my fellow Americans, I love August. August means that seven months of sports purgatory (see golf, NASCAR and the never-ending baseball season) ends with the blowing of a whistle and the kicking of a football. Once this opening kickoff takes place, life in America returns to normal, and we can all sit back, relax and watch exploited young men crash into each other while institutions of higher learning rake in billions off their injured backs, heads and knees.
In other words, as a fan of college football in general (and the University of Oklahoma in particular), I annually participate in, and tacitly support a cartel that would put OPEC to shame. That organization is the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
According to the Department of Education, in 2013 alone, college football generated $3.4 billion in revenue. Out of that figure, top coaches like Nick Saban of Alabama and Urban Meyer of Ohio State earn millions of dollars per year in salaries and endorsements. Those same coaches, along with athletic directors, band directors, team doctors, field-maintenance supervisors and others, all were paid by universities to work at their craft and were free to leave for another school that might offer $1 per year more.
Not the players. College football players not only receive no salary, but are restricted by NCAA guidelines in where they can move if they want to change schools but continue to play football.
As a former college athlete and professional sports agent, I have seen firsthand what a farce it is when people say, "But they are getting a free education!"
First of all, nothing is free. These players work dozens of hours per week at their sport under much tougher conditions than most of the rest of us. Second, spending this time on football creates a huge opportunity cost in the form of time lost studying or the ability to pick a challenging major that would reward them in the labor market if football does not pan out. Moreover, this "free" education comes at the cost of injury risk that can shave years off a young man's productive life.
Let's face it. Football players like the former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow are essentially employees of their university. They work at football and create millions in ticket sales, jersey sales, video-game productions and television rights.
It is time to end the indentured servitude these young men face because of the NCAA monopoly.
Every high-school player in America, if approached by a college recruiter, should be able to say, "Well, I might be willing to attend your university, but this school over here is offering me $146,000 per year to play. What is your offer?"
Critics will argue that a market-based approach would create chaos. I would ask those critics how chaotic it would be if they had 10 offers from 10 different companies at 10 different pay grades. As long as someone can do math and has a map, there would be no chaos, just an orderly meeting of the forces of supply and demand.
Colleges should be forced to treat football players like they treat other potential employees. They should have to pay the market-going value and enter into contracts. Players should have the option of attending or not attending classes. Players should have the option of signing contracts of any length — one year to 10, if they choose, and switch to other schools once their contract expires — just like their coaches do.
Under this model, Tebow might still be the quarterback at Florida. After all, he was great there, but not so great at the NFL level. I am sure Gator fans would love to have him back.
In the meantime, as the new season begins, all of us college football fans should stop for a moment to reflect on what our lives would be like if we faced the same labor-market conditions as college football players.
If we are honest, we know that they have none of the liberties we enjoy. As a result, the only conclusion we can honestly reach is that the NCAA has successfully exploited young Americans by denying them the opportunities the rest of us have.
It is also worth noting that the vast majority of college football players at the top schools happen to be African-American. Many are from impoverished homes. The NCAA would do them and their cohorts a tremendous service by allowing market-based compensation to improve their lives.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

God has spoken to me through a movie scene

For quite some time now I have told people that as much as I think I know when I want to retire from teaching and writing God might have other ideas on how long he wants me to do this stuff.  Not that I have wanted to, but I have given in to the idea that when my time has come he will let me know (I am speaking of retirement, not death - although that is in his hands too.)

Well, today I heard him.  He came in through the following clip from the movie, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"  Watch this six-second clip then I will get back to you.

O.K., now that that is taken care of let me fill you in on what it means.

I am grading final exams from my four summer classes today.  I gave each of them a rare treat in my 24 years as a professor - a take home final exam. 

They got the exam in late June and it was due August 4th.  40 days to read only four chapters, watch some lectures online and answer five questions.  Every bit of each question could be answered by reading only four chapters and watching a few lectures.

In 40 days I could have translated the Bible into some ancient Navajo dialect.

In 40 days I could have learned how to speak Spanish, or walk to Tennessee or painted a good part of the Great Wall of China.

40 days later, most of my students turned in failing exams.  I mean grades that are so bad that it looks like they had 40 minutes to prepare for a test in particle physics while smoking weed.

Somewhere in my profane thoughts and loud declarations to my wife that there is no hope, no point and no reason for having hope, I heard Him.

Like James Earl Jones in the movie "Field of Dreams", I heard, "The man has done enough.  Leave him alone."

So that is it.  Six years to go.  In six years I will have done this stuff for 30 years.  Then Valencia will send me some retirement income and I can head to somewhere far away where there will be no grading, no writing, no blogging, no nothing but fishing for walleye, watching sunsets and not giving one rat's rear end what happens to this nation filled with (see video clip above).

I just hope during that six year stretch my students don't kill me off with their incomprehensible musings on things that have nothing to do with what I have asked them. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Moral Case for Abolishing School Districts

What follows is my May 11, 2015 column in The Orlando Sentinel.
Another school year is being wrapped up for the more than 2.6 million kids in Florida's 4,200 public schools. Some of those students will be in my classes next fall. When they arrive, many will discover that they have left a public-school system that failed miserably to prepare them for a challenging college curriculum. Most of my students come from America's K-12 public-education system. A few attended private or home-school settings; some are mostly educated in foreign nations.
The vast majority of students who fail my class, or withdraw during the semester for failing grades, are American public-school students. My best students — every year, with no exception — are foreign-educated or private/home-schooled Americans.
While many obvious answers come to mind — parenting, net family wealth and cultural views of education — there is something else that should not be overlooked. That is the fact that many of my top students never had to deal with educational monopolies.
In much of the rest of the world, parents are allowed to use their tax dollars to shop for the best public school for their child. In Belgium, for example, public schools must compete with one another for every student. There are no districts, and no one is forced to attend a school based on geographic proximity to the nearest educational facility.
This means that kids in Belgium are guaranteed that competition will produce better teachers, more educational innovation, a greater variety of school options and a brighter future.
Not in America.
Rich parents have school choice. They can send their kids to great private schools, hire tutors and more. Middle-class parents like my wife and I use home-schooling, along with private instructors. Many of our friends with even lower incomes do the same.
Poor families do not have these choices. They are forced, unless they are lucky enough to get into a charter school or specialized magnet program, to attend the school in their district.
What if they also faced grocery-shopping districts? Imagine being told by government that you could buy food only at the grocer closest to your house. If the grocer knew it was illegal for people in a certain area to shop elsewhere, you would see higher prices, reduced choices and diminished quality.
The same exists in public education. Kids who live in poor areas have no idea, until they go to college, that they were systematically segregated based on economic status. They know that racial segregation of schools ended in the 1950s. Now economic segregation, largely along racial lines, has prevailed.
What if we were to abolish all school districts and give poor people choices that other people have? Critics would charge that the good schools would become overcrowded and the failing schools would close. No and yes.
The good schools would do what every business facing an increase in demand does: expand. Under this model, the state's resources, along with bond issues, could be allocated to the high-demand schools. The struggling schools would face the Darwinian proposition of adapting or dying. If bad schools were to die, the result would be the same as when a bad restaurant goes away. Bankruptcy sends out important information on how not to run an organization.
Yet, as long as we use government force to discriminate against people based on their bank accounts and ZIP codes, I will continue to have students who, on the first day of class, have no idea how far behind they are — all while sitting next to other students who enjoyed educational liberty that every child deserves.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Dear Hillary, Please act like Bill (Mostly)

What follows is my last column from the April 17, 2015 Orlando Sentinel.

Now that President-in-waiting Hillary Clinton has made it official I would like to take the opportunity to offer some sound economic advice which, if heeded, will help restore our nation’s economic health to the level last scene when Mr. Clinton was the President.

First, Mrs. Clinton should look at what her husband did in the area of international trade and finance.  Like any brilliant politician Bill told his core voters what they wanted to hear while he was seeking the nomination and election, then ignored his supporters and did the smart thing.  This took two forms.  First, his actions on the North American Free Trade Agreement.   While running for office he said he would only support NAFTA if certain environmental and labor guidelines were met.  This made the environmentalist and labor union wing of the Democratic Party breathe a sigh of relief.  Then, after he was elected, he ratified NAFTA as it was negotiated by the previous Bush Administration without adding the stipulations he said he would.  The result?  The American, Mexican and Canadian economies all grew as trade barriers fell.  Sure, there were job losses in areas where Americans could not compete but the offsetting increases in the demand for our products created far more jobs and income.

Then, Mr. Clinton took to the skies, flying to countries all over the globe seeking to open new markets for America’s biggest resource – cash.  In nation after nation he brilliantly opened up access to foreign capital markets for American investors looking to earn profits in emerging markets and former Communist enclaves.   This led to hundreds of billions of dollars in cash flowing through international markets and a booming American economy.

In the area of taxes and government spending Mr. Clinton learned from the mistakes of his first two years by turning into the Democratic version of Ronald Reagan in his last six years.

Look it up.  From the 1994 Congressional midterm elections when the Democrats were pounded by the “Contract with America” Republicans until he left office we saw large cuts in capital gains taxes, the effective elimination of capital gains taxes on the sale of homes, the creation tax-saving investment accounts like the Roth IRA and of course welfare-reform legislation in 1996 that helped bring the number of people on welfare from 12. 2 million to 4.5 million.  Of course, he had vetoed two welfare reform bills before finally giving in, and he cannot take all of the credit for the tax policies he enacted, but the message is clear.

If Mrs. Clinton wants to end the economic catastrophe (see the budget, welfare rolls, labor force participation rates) of the Obama – and even much of the Bush years – she needs to follow her husband’s blue print.

Clearly, she will have to out liberal Elizabeth Warren and pretend to really care about income inequality, the $15 minimum wage, regulations of industry and more.  But it is one thing to stir up skeptical Democrats with visions of eight more years of Obama Socialism.  It is another to show genuine economic sense and leadership.  This is what her husband figured out and it is why many economists – including Ronald Reagan loving Libertarians like me – would gladly vote for Hillary if she would extend a wink and a nod in our direction to let us know that her campaign hyperbole will be replace with economic sanity once she moves back into the White House.