Sunday, August 10, 2014

The American Dream is Alive and Well in Williston, North Dakota

What follows is my Op-Ed in today's Orlando Sentinel.  If you are a rapid environmentalist your comments are not welcome...

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This summer marks five years since the "Great Recession" officially ended.
 
For millions of Americans, it probably does not seem possible that our economy has grown for that long. After all, by historical standards, the current recovery is anemic, if not borderline invisible.
Sixty months after the last recession ended, the unemployment rate is still well above the 4 percent to 5 percent range we would see in past recoveries. The gross domestic product continues to slog along at a 1 percent to 2 percent growth clip. Nearly half of all Americans are receiving some form of social-welfare income from taxpayers, and the labor-force participation rate — the percentage of Americans working or seeking work — is at a three-decade low.
 
For young people, the news is even worse, with far greater rates of unemployment or total disconnection to the labor force or to a job that matches their education.
 
This latter reality is why this fall I am going to show my students where Williston, N.D., is located; 2,188 miles from Orlando, Williston is a modern-day boomtown that is providing jobs, high incomes and hope to people all over the world.
 
While driving through North Dakota this summer with my family I decided we would spend a few hours looking around and talking to people who have poured into this remote locale.
 
What I found was Saudi Arabia of the North American plains. Stunning to behold, I looked out upon hundreds of oil wells as far as the eye could see. My family and I saw billboards advertising new-home subdivisions and ads on newly constructed buildings that offered employment to truck drivers, carpenters, electricians and more. Everywhere we looked were new businesses ranging from hotels to restaurants, heavy-equipment dealers, car dealerships and everything else a booming town would need.
 
At the local Wal-Mart, we saw and heard workers of all races and ethnicities. The young man who bagged our items was a young immigrant from Africa. His starting pay? $17.10 per hour. If he offered to work the night shift, he would make $19 per hour.
 
The girl at the window of a fast-food restaurant was from Russia. Starting pay for her? $15 per hour.
What, in the name of supply and demand, can possibly lead to two teenagers earning several dollars more than the $10.10 minimum wage that Barack Obama and Charlie Crist desire?
It is simple.
 
North Dakota decided years ago that the vast oil reserves under the ground and accessible only by technology called fracking would be fair game to the oil companies willing to come in and get it.
Not only did North Dakota decide to allow massive drilling and extraction to take place, but it did so without adding thousands of pages of burdensome, incentive-killing regulations and without hammering property owners and oil companies with Jimmy Carter-era "windfall-profits taxes."
Instead, North Dakota adopted a free-market, private-property-respecting mentality that told the world it was open for business.
 
Today, North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the U.S. at only 2.6 percent. With chronic shortages of skilled — and unskilled — labor, the supply-demand equation is greatly in favor of those willing to supply their labor services to the oil fields, Wal-Mart and the other businesses in this town.
 
Even without a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour, businesses have to pay the going rate or face labor shortages. Without any law, regulation or mandate, the natural forces of supply and demand have led to compensation levels far beyond what many college graduates are pulling down in other places around America.
 
Without any central planning from Washington, D.C., the natural allure of profit has led to all of these entrepreneurs entering a region that has brutally cold winters and few entertainment options.
Friedrich Hayek taught the world decades ago that all that is needed for a nation to prosper is for government to allow people to pursue their self-interest, so long as that pursuit does not violate the life, liberty or property of another person.
 
This system is based on the concept of spontaneous order, which means it does not require intelligent busybodies in far-away political capitals to plan and organize and coordinate economic activities. All that is needed is for those we elect to get out of the way by regulating and taxing human beings less, and we will see more Willistons emerge.
 
I hope I can convince some of my students to rent a moving van and chase a realistic American dream.

Friday, August 8, 2014

An Immigration Policy for 'Real Americans'

I read in the Orlando Sentinel this morning that 70 percent of Americans and 86 percent of Republicans feel that immigrants threaten America.  What follows is an Op-Ed I wrote for the Sentinel in 2006.  Your comments are welcome.

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Here we go again. It seems that every few years someone looks around and starts shouting that too many people are showing up on our shores, in our airports and in our labor markets.

Round 132 in the "Are Immigrants Destroying America?" debate is upon us, and politicians from both sides of the aisle are frantically sticking their wet fingers in the political winds to see what Americans want this time.

What is unfortunate in this debate is that we keep ignoring all of the historical and contemporary analysis that has been applied to this question, and we keep finding the same facts. We may not like the facts we are finding, but as Aldous Huxley once said, "Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored."

So, what are the immutable truths about the folks who walk, fly and swim to get here?

First, they create jobs, not destroy them. Immigrants from up and down the wealth scale have proved to be incredibly entrepreneurial. Many technologically savvy immigrants from Western Europe and India helped create thousands of jobs in Silicon Valley. One in six of these companies was started by immigrants.

Many of America's best scientists, economists and engineers are not originally from Kentucky or Florida or Maine. They are from Beijing, Moscow and Bangalore. This reality is because American kids can't do math and science, so Microsoft and Google have had to find these geniuses somewhere else.

Poorer immigrants have created thousands of restaurants, retail shops and other service-based companies. One visit to San Francisco, New York or Chicago will show you how many native-born Americans are earning a paycheck because of the incredible efforts immigrants have put into our quasi-capitalistic market.

Immigrants without money and business plans have filled jobs in meat packing, textiles, lawn care and restaurants that Americans simply won't take. Sadly, it is beneath the dignity of the average American to pick onions or cut fat off a pig 10 hours per day. Who is supposed to fill this gap?

Immigrants have also helped keep our rate of inflation down by supplying valuable labor in areas where shortages would otherwise exist. Imagine what the price of housing or restaurant meals would be if not for immigrant roofers and dishwashers with tremendous work ethics.

We can also thank immigrants for having lower crime rates, higher graduation rates and lower participation in the welfare state than native-born Americans. Routinely, immigrants from the Caribbean show up, look around and find opportunity where many native-born Americans look around and give up on the chance to advance over time.

If I were president of the United States, I would fly to New York and read the plaque on the Statue of Liberty. Then, I would go on television and announce to my fellow Americans that every one of us is a descendant of someone who originally was not from here. I might also mention that if we want to help India and China pass us up in the economic superpower game, the surest way of achieving that is to keep immigrants from those nations out.

I would also suggest that we are never going to win the war on terror if we do not let liberty-loving people from the Middle East come over here to find out why America is a nice place to live.

Finally, I would suggest that if we want to kick out the immigrants, we might want to look at our own history with respect to the first Americans, "real Americans." I seem to recall that when we showed up from Europe -- as immigrants -- we took away their property, forced them to move to less desirable places and killed many of those who resisted.

Perhaps then the best immigration policy of all would be for everyone who is not an American Indian -- also known in politically correct terms as a Native American -- to leave at once.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

When Economists are Irrational...

Meet our new dog, Jake.
 
Jake is from Wolf Point, Montana which is 2,270 miles from my front door.
 
On July 11th we were driving across northern Montana when I decided to stop for gas before we hit a long stretch of nothing.
 
I heard my wife say, "Ahhhhh, he's sooooo cute!!!" a few seconds after she got out of our car.  I thought maybe she was talking about me but how cute can anyone be pumping gas?
 
When I came out of the gas station she was holding this Golden Retriever/English Setter mix puppy. 
 
Uh, oh.
 
Surely this was going to be one of those few seconds of fun and then we would move on towards Florida.  After all, 2,270 miles with a puppy is exactly 2,270 miles of potential disaster at every turn.
 
She would not put him down.
 
I then had to "go all economist" on her and start sentences with words like, "Do you understand...." and "Have you thought about......" and "A dog means that........"
 
She did not hear a word.  No matter what cost-benefit calcuation I conjoured up, she just looked up at me like a four-year old girl and said, "But he's so cute."
 
Case closed.
 
She even said, as she got in the car with him, "Let's just get in the car and figure this out as we go along."
 
2,270 miles later Jake is adjusting to humidity, fire ants and the joys of air conditioning while we are adjusting to pee on the floor, running around at 2:00 in the morning and the $1,130 in fencing that is going in next week.
 
But he is so cute.
 
Note:  Some of you might be wondering, "How did they know if he belonged to anyone in Montana"? 
 
Good question.  He had no collar, was underfed and had been hanging around there for awhile according to some residents of the small town.  Now he has a collar, is eating everything and is hanging around our house.
 
Wish us luck.

Reflections on America - and Americans

Last month I was driving out west on vacation with my family when I crossed over the Nebraska - South Dakota line.  At that moment I had officially visited all 48 of the lower states.  I will also turn 48 this September so I found myself thinking, "One state per year.  Not bad...." 
 
After spending several days in South Dakota we traveled through much of the rest of the western states, the Pacific Northwest, Canada and then back home.    During the more than 10,000 miles of driving that we logged I had plenty of time to let my mind wander.  One of the resting places of reflection was on the various people I had met in the lower 48 states over my lifetime and on this summer trip.
 
One person that came to mind was a young man in South Dakota who let us park our car in his barn to get out of a major hail storm.  He had no way of knowing if we would rob him or act like jerks.  He simply waved us in and offered us a cold drink to boot.  Ironically, a few weeks later my wife and kids were at the Calgary Stampede - the largest rodeo in the world - when they heard the name Chad Ferley announced as one of the participants.  Mr. Ferley, as it turns out, is one of the world's best saddle bronc riders.  He is also the guy who let us in his barn weeks earlier.
 
In Washington we met the owner of a lodge who was cleaning up a storage shed on his property at around 11PM.  We could not find a place to camp for the night, his lodge was full so I asked him if we could pitch our tent out in the grass near his lodge.  I offered to pay but he refused to take money and told us it would be fine to sleep there for the night.
 
In Minnesota - at Glacial Lakes State Park - we talked to an employee of the park about camping one late night when we were once again struggling to find a place to sleep.  He told us the campground was full but offered to let us camp anyway in an area not normally used by traditional tent campers even though we would be arriving hours after his office closed.
 
In Oregon there was a man who found my wallet lying on a bench in a gym locker room who sought me out to return it.

In Jackson, Wyoming I ran into former Vice-President, Dick Cheney in an Albertson's grocery store while he was selecting some milk.  He was very pleasant to talk with as I shared some economics stories I tell my students about his work in the Nixon Administration.
 
In Seattle there was a guy who gave us a free oyster shucker to help us with our dinner when they were clearly marked $15.
 
In Alabama there was the vet clinic that charged us nothing when we brought in our new puppy (yes, we picked up an abandoned dog in Montana and drove him back to Florida....) who had swallowed a bone.
 
In Olympic National Park there was the camp host who let me ride around on his golf cart to find a campsite that would be more private and quiet than the one we almost got stuck with. 

Another camp host in Cape Perpetua State Park along the Oregon coast kept bringing us free fire wood.  He was a retired police officer from Fort Worth, Texas who saw my Oklahoma Sooners sticker on the back of my car.  He said he wanted to "help out an Okie."
 
In Wyoming we met a lady who came upon our campsite and politely pointed out that we had taken her reserved spot.  Not only was she super nice about this transgression but she ended up giving us a free gift from her shop when we got to know her a bit better during our stay.
 
This is not to say that we did not meet a few jerks and imbeciles along the way but it is true that our country still has people who are genuinely giving, charitable and thoughtful.  It is nice to know that those folks are out there - in every state.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How to Teach the Foundation of Free Markets and Liberty to a Child

Greetings, everyone. 
 
I wanted to share something with you before I vanish into the wilderness for the summer.
 
Many of you have read the Leonard Read classic, "I Pencil".  This Youtube clip is a modern take on this work and worth showing to your children. Please forward this to people you know (or don't know) who could use a simple look at why free human beings, not government, are the source for every good or service we enjoy.
 
Have a wonderful summer.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Memorial Day Tribute to an Incredible WWII Veteran

One of the most amazing books I ever read (Forgive your Enemies by Janet & Geoff Benge)  was about Jacob DeShaver, a prisoner of war during World War II.  What follows is his story.  Enjoy  - and please take a few moments to remember those who lost their lives defending our liberties.
 
 
Doolittle Airman Was a Different Kind of War Hero
By Mel Barger
How do people forgive when they have endured hideous cruelty from oppressors who have no desire to be forgiven? And can there be a good outcome when such forgiveness is made?
The man who may have made the strongest case for true forgiveness was Jacob DeShazer, an airman in the famous Doolittle raid over Japan on April 18, 1942. He not only achieved it for himself, but went on to touch the lives of thousands with his message of hope and redemption.
Under the heading of “War and Forgiveness,” The Wall Street Journal on March 25 published an editorial tribute to the “heroism and remarkable forgiveness” of DeShazer, who had died ten days earlier at his home in Salem, Oregon, at age 95. “It is one of life’s safer bets that he is restimg in peace,” the Journal concluded.
Any of us who served in World War II would acknowledge DeShazer’s heroism in joining the legendary Jimmy Doolittle in that first bombing raid over Japan. As the Journal noted, “The Doolittle bombing raid was close to a suicide mission, a one-way trip to bring the war to the Japanese homeland for the first time. Coming not long after Pearl Harbor and before the Pacific island victories to come, the raid was a huge boost to domestic morale.”
Though all of the 80 men who manned the 16 North American B-25 bombers used in the raid were soldiers in the then Army Air Corps, and subject to orders, their service on this special raid was entirely voluntary. They were personally requested to serve by Doolittle, who in addition to being a lieutenant colonel was a famous racing pilot from the 1930s. DeShazer said later that he was too much of a coward to refuse Doolittle’s request.
The story of the famous raid has been told many times in both print and film. The planes and crews took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet in a turbulent sea and flew into history, bombing Tokyo and other major cities. Corporal DeShazer, a bombardier aboard a B-25 called Bat Out of Hell, dropped incendiary bombs on Nagoya before the plane ran out of fuel and they were forced to bail out over a Japanese-held section of China. He was soon captured and spent the next forty months as a war prisoner, beaten, starved, and tortured by his Japanese captors. His pilot, Lieutenant William Farrow, and engineer-gunner Sergeant Harold Spatz, were executed by firing squad.
The same harsh punishments were doled out to hundreds of other Allied soldiers and sailors captured in the early months of the war. Some of them were killed or died from malnourishment and brutal treatment, others barely survived to come home filled with hatred for those enemy guards who had abused and taunted them. But DeShazer’s story had a different outcome. That was the “remarkable forgiveness” noted by the Journal.
DeShazer, amid the misery of imprisonment, turned to religious teachings he had learned as a child. “I begged my captors to get a Bible for me,” he recalled in “I Was a Prisoner of Japan,” a religious tract he wrote in 1950. “At last, in the month of May 1944, a guard brought me the book, but told me I could have it only for three weeks. I eagerly began to read its pages. I discovered that God had given me new spiritual eyes and that when I looked at the enemy officers and guards who had starved and beaten my companions and me so cruelly, I found my bitter hatred for them changed to loving pity. I realized that these people did not know anything about my Savior and that if Christ is not in a heart, it is natural to be cruel.”
This was his profound spiritual awakening that would stay with him for life. Corporal DeShazer gained the strength to survive, forgave his captors without reservations, and became determined to spread Christian teachings to the people who had almost killed him.
Upon returning home, he enrolled at Seattle Pacific College (now Seattle Pacific University) and received a bachelor’s degree in biblical literature in 1948. In late December of that year, he arrived in Japan with his wife Florence, also a graduate of Seattle Pacific and a fellow missionary in the Free Methodist Church.. A few days later, he preached his first sermon there, speaking to about 180 people at a church in a Tokyo suburb. He and Florence eventually helped start 23 churches in Japan The DeShazers would spend 30 years in Japan doing missionary work. Their five children helped.
In 1950, they gained a surprising convert, a Naval officer as honored in Japan as Doolittle was in the U.S. Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese naval flier who had led the Pearl Harbor attack and had become a rice farmer after the war, came upon DeShazer’s tract.
“It was then that I met Jesus, and accepted him as my personal savior,” Fuchida recalled when he attended a memorial service in Hawaii in observance of the 25th anniversary of the attack. He had become an evangelist and had made several trips to the United States to meet with Japanese-speaking immigrants.
DeShazer met several times with Fuchida, who died in 1976.“I saw him just before he died,” DeShazer once told The Salem Statesman Journal. “We shared in that good wonderful thing that Christ has done.”
Retiring to his native Oregon after their work in Japan, Jake and Florence lived quietly in Salem until his passing.
The slight war damage inflicted by the Doolittle raid did nothing to impair Japan’s warmaking capability. But it provoked the Japanese assault on Midway, which turned out to be a disaster for them and marked the beginning of American victories in the Pacific.
The more lasting victory, however, may have been DeShazer’s rebirth and forgiveness in the midst of hellish conditions. No wonder The Wall Street Journal called it “remarkable.”

From: Mature Living, Toledo, Ohio, October, 2008

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Remember when Mark Zuckerberg gave New Jersey schools $100 million? OOPS!!!

Some of you may recall that a while back I posted a blog about Facebook's CEO and his decision to give New Jersey public schools $100 million.  Back then I wrote that it would not matter because giving money to a calcified government monopoly did nothing to promote choice or increase the quality of the teachers in New Jersey.  Well, well.  The results are now in.  Here is an article from The Business Insider.



In the fall of 2010, Mark Zuckerberg announced on Oprah that he'd be making a generous gift to Newark, New Jersey.
As Oprah said in her Oprah way, "one ... hundred ... million ... dollars" would be given to Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the three began the Startup: Education foundation. 

The plan was to turn Newark into what Zuckerberg called "a symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation," spent on retaining the best teachers, and creating environments that would produce successful students and, one day, graduates.

Newark is a city wrought with crime. Its graduation rate is about 67%. It needed the help, and Booker's vision sounded promising.

Between 2010 and 2012, The New Yorker reports that "more than twenty million dollars of Zuckerberg’s gift and matching donations went to consulting firms with various specialties: public relations, human resources, communications, data analysis, [and] teacher evaluation." Many of the consultants were being paid upwards of $1,000 a day.

“Everybody’s getting paid but Raheem still can’t read," Vivian Cox Fraser, president of the Urban League of Essex County, was quoted saying.

Today, the money is pretty much gone, and Newark has hardly become that symbol of excellence. 

In 2010, Mayor Booker found a loophole in getting money to help fund Newark's educational reform. It came in the form of philanthropic donations, which, unlike government funding, required no public review of priorities or spending. Gov. Christie approved the plan, and Booker's job was to find the donors.
 
Meanwhile, in Silicon Valley, Zuckerberg (like many other tech billionaires) had pledged to donate half of his fortune, but as The New Yorker reported, he knew new very little about urban education or philanthropy.
 
Booker and Zuckerberg met to discuss a vision for Newark's future. Booker wanted to significantly reward Newark teachers who improved student performance rather than focus on seniority and tenure. Teachers would be challenged and rewarded to do their jobs well, and students would benefit.
Zuckerberg was confident Newark and Booker were the right recipients for this huge gift (given over five years), and agreed to gift $100 million dollars with a few stipulations: 
  • Booker would also have to raise $100 million dollars. Zuckerberg's money would release to Newark as matching dollars rolled in.
  • Booker would have to replace the current superintendent with a “transformational leader.”

The reform ended up looking like this: taking low-performing public schools and closing them, turning them into charter schools and "themed" high schools. But there was no easy way to expand charters without destabilizing traditional public schools.
 
In the months following the gift announcement, Booker and Christie still had no superstar superintendent and no reform plan.
 
Zuckerberg was concerned and urged Booker to find the superintendent, even sending Booker a poster widely seen around the Facebook campus that read, "Done is better than perfect."
 
Immediately, Booker appointed Cami Anderson for the job. She implemented ways to help students and improve schools (all which The New Yorker detailed), but there were roadblocks along the way, like how the students brought the issues going on in their homes with them to the classroom.
 
Anderson wanted to give schools more support to help students on emotional and social levels, but Newark had already been spending more money per student than most districts in the entire country, none of which was reaching the children it existed to help.
 
New contracts were being created, money was being hemorrhaged, and the district was going broke. But interviews — like this one in Forbes — regarding the money and the future of Newark's schools were always positive, highlighting, of course, only the good aspects of the huge monetary donation.
Anderson came up with another plan called One Newark, which sounded like it could work. Families would choose which charter or public schools they would want to send their children to. Children from the lowest-income families would get first pick. So would kids with special needs.
 
It all sounded great until parents and teachers realized it was only on paper. Solutions hadn't been figured out fully. Programs hadn't been developed. Issues like transportation had not yet been tackled. Things that were promised didn't come to fruition.
 
According to The New Yorker, Anderson, Booker, Zuckerberg, and Christie, "despite millions of dollars spent on community engagement — have yet to hold tough, open conversations with the people of Newark about exactly how much money the district has, where it is going, and what students aren’t getting as a result."