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.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Debunking Economic Fallacies

What follows is my recent Op-Ed in The Orlando Sentinel.  Enjoy...
____

While some people cannot resist the temptation to drive slowly and gawk at car accidents, I struggle with a different fascination that provides no more joy than is derived from staring at carnage on Interstate 4.

My problem occurs over a cup of coffee every morning with the Letters to the Editor page of the Orlando Sentinel in front of me.
It is here that I find the musings of residents of Central Florida on the favorite topic of economics. Specifically, the letters I most often gravitate toward are the ones filled with emotional rants against wealth, profit, self-interest, capitalism and anything that allows the letter writer to claim some sort of victim status at the hands of greedy businesses and "obscenely rich" Americans.

I always check to see if these folks are economists. Alas, they never are.

Unwittingly, many letter writers are passing along misguided economic fallacies that, when believed by others, welcome more unnecessary government intrusions into the lives of citizens who would be better off with less government in their lives.
Therefore, I will attempt to shed some light on some of the inherent, inarguable truths about economics that every American — whether they know it or not — implicitly agrees with.
One letter writer argues that people who apply their "time, effort, knowledge and skills to produce goods or services" are more valuable than those who enjoy the "accumulation of wealth from wealth."
Wrong.
I put in time and effort, possess knowledge and have skill in teaching college students the principles of economics. For my work, this letter writer would argue that I deserve more money than, say, an investor who pours millions of dollars into the stock market. The investor simply gains wealth from wealth, according to the Marxian theory espoused by this letter writer.

In reality, the investor is providing the necessary capital from which new and existing businesses can grow. This growth means job creation, new products and services, and greater income and wealth for far more people than I will ever assist. In order to have a vibrant, growing economy where even poorer people have cellphones, access to electricity, food and clothing, people like me are of far less value (measured by the returns to society from our work) than a wealthy person who is exposing his or her wealth to risks that generate immeasurable multiplier effects.

The same goes for the fallacy espoused by another letter writer. She argues that the "obscenely wealthy" become so on the backs of "thousands of poorly paid employees," citing the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune as examples.

Nope.

First, Sam Walton and his heirs are more special than their employees. This fact is derived from the laws (not theories) of supply and demand.

There are millions of people who can put a box of cereal on a shelf. There are not many people capable of starting (Sam Walton) or running (his kids) a global corporation. It is also a fact that the overall revenue generated by someone stocking a shelf is lower than the revenue generated by a CEO working on expansion plans all over the globe.

Without knowing it, we all agree with these ideas. Every day we pay homage to the capitalists out there who, out of their self-love, provide us with miraculous products and services and the jobs and income that follow. Everywhere in the world where people are not allowed to pursue money, we see poverty and emigration to nations that are more capitalistic. Yet, in America — the richest place in history, ignorance of where those riches came from abounds.

The inherent danger of failing to understand who creates wealth and where our pay comes from is clear. When economic ignorance is combined with a voters-registration card, terrible things happen.
Those terrible things come in the form of angry, resentful, coveting citizens voting for the politician who will promise the highest taxes, the most rules and the most redistribution of wealth that can be imposed on the real wealth creators.

When that trend starts, it does not take many years for the disgruntled masses to be left with greater poverty, fewer job opportunities and the question: "Where did all the rich people go?"

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Economics of "Free" Community College Education

http://websflash.valenciacollege.edu/videoPlayer.html?appl=Economics&inst=ECO2023&vid=mp4:150125-01ECON


The link provided above is to a lecture I recently gave on President Obama's plan to provide free community college education to us "deserving" Americans.  Enjoy and pass it on.  It also covers capital gains taxes, the Kennedy and Reagan tax cuts, the concept of plunder, the U.S. Constitution and more.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Was Christ a Progressive? by Larry Reed

I thought many of you would enjoy the following from the President of The Foundation for Economic Education  www.fee.org
 
Enjoy!
 
 
The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) is proud to partner with Young America’s Foundation (YAF) to produce “Clichés of Progressivism,” a series of insightful commentaries covering topics of free enterprise, income inequality, and limited government. See the index of the published chapters here.
#42 – “Jesus Christ Was a Progressive Because He Advocated Income Redistribution to Help the Poor”
 
 
You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate the deceit in this canard. You can be a person of any faith or no faith at all. You just have to appreciate facts.
 
I first heard something similar to this cliché some 40 years ago. As a Christian, I was puzzled. In Christ’s view, the most important decision a person would make in his earthly lifetime was to accept or reject Him for whom He claimed to be—God in the flesh and the savior of mankind. That decision was clearly to be a very personal one—an individual and voluntary choice. He constantly stressed inner, spiritual renewal as far more critical to well-being than material things. I wondered, “How could the same Christ advocate the use of force to take stuff from some and give it to others?” I just couldn’t imagine Him supporting a fine or a jail sentence for people who don’t want to fork over their money for food stamp programs.
 
“Wait a minute,” you say. “Didn’t He answer, ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s’ when the Pharisees tried to trick Him into denouncing a Roman-imposed tax?” Yes indeed, He did say that. It’s found first in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, verses 15-22 and later in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 12, verses 13-17. But notice that everything depends on just what did truly belong to Caesar and what didn’t, which is actually a rather powerful endorsement of property rights. Christ said nothing like “It belongs to Caesar if Caesar simply says it does, no matter how much he wants, how he gets it, or how he chooses to spend it.”
 
The fact is, one can scour the Scriptures with a fine-tooth comb and find nary a word from Christ that endorses the forcible redistribution of wealth by political authorities. None, period.
 
“But didn’t Christ say he came to uphold the law?” you ask. Yes, in Matthew 5: 17-20, he declares, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” In Luke 24: 44, He clarifies this when he says “…[A]ll things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” He was not saying, “Whatever laws the government passes, I’m all for.” He was speaking specifically of the Mosaic Law (primarily the Ten Commandments) and the prophecies of His own coming.
 
Consider the 8th of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not steal.” Note the period after the word “steal.” This admonition does not read, “You shall not steal unless the other guy has more than you do” or “You shall not steal unless you’re absolutely positive you can spend it better than the guy who earned it.” Nor does it say, “You shall not steal but it’s OK to hire someone else, like a politician, to do it for you.”
 
In case people were still tempted to steal, the 10th Commandment is aimed at nipping in the bud one of the principal motives for stealing (and for redistribution): “You shall not covet.” In other words, if it’s not yours, keep your fingers off of it.
 
In Luke 12: 13-15, Christ is confronted with a redistribution request. A man with a grievance approaches him and demands, “Master, speak to my brother and make him divide the inheritance with me.” The Son of God, the same man who wrought miraculous healings and calmed the waves, replies thusly: “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you? Take heed and beware of covetousness, for a man’s wealth does not consist of the material abundance he possesses.” Wow! He could have equalized the wealth between two men with a wave of His hand but he chose to denounce envy instead.
 
“What about the story of the Good Samaritan? Doesn’t that make a case for government welfare programs, if not outright redistribution?” you inquire. The answer is an emphatic NO!” Consider the details of the story, as recorded in Luke 10: 29-37: A traveler comes upon a man at the side of a road. The man had been beaten and robbed and left half-dead. What did the traveler do? He helped the man himself, on the spot, with his own resources. He did not say, “Write a letter to the emperor” or “Go see your social worker” and walk on. If he had done that, he would more likely be known today as the “Good-for-nothing Samaritan,” if he was remembered at all.
 
What about the reference, in the Book of Acts, to the early Christians selling their worldly goods and sharing communally in the proceeds? That sounds like a progressive utopia. On closer inspection, however, it turns out that those early Christians did not sell everything they had and were not commanded or expected to do so. They continued to meet in their own private homes, for example. In his contributing chapter to the 2014 book, “For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty,” Art Lindsley of the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics writes,
 
Again, in this passage from Acts, there is no mention of the state at all. These early believers contributed their goods freely, without coercion, voluntarily. Elsewhere in Scripture we see that Christians are even instructed to give in just this manner, freely, for “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). There is plenty of indication that private property rights were still in effect….
 
It may disappoint progressives to learn that Christ’s words and deeds repeatedly upheld such critically-important, capitalist virtues as contract, profit and private property. For example, consider His “Parable of the Talents” (see one of the recommended readings below). Of several men in the story, the one who takes his money and buries it is reprimanded while the one who invests and generates the largest return is applauded and rewarded.
 
Though not central to the story, good lessons in supply-and-demand as well as the sanctity of contract are apparent in Christ’s “Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.” A landowner offers a wage to attract workers for a day of urgent work picking grapes. Near the end of the day, he realizes he has to quickly hire more and to get them, he offers for an hour of work what he previously had offered to pay the first workers for the whole day. When one of those who worked all day complained, the landowner answered, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
The well-known “Golden Rule” comes from the lips of Christ Himself, in Matthew 7:12. “So in everything, do unto others what you would have them do unto you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” In Matthew 19:18, Christ says, “…love your neighbor as yourself.” Nowhere does He even remotely suggest that we should dislike a neighbor because of his wealth or seek to take that wealth from him. If you don’t want your property confiscated (and most people don’t, and wouldn’t need a thief in order to part with it anyway), then clearly you’re not supposed to confiscate somebody else’s.
 
Christian doctrine cautions against greed. So does present-day economist Thomas Sowell: “I have never understood why it is ‘greed’ to want to keep the money you have earned but not greed to want to take somebody else’s money.” Using the power of government to grab another person’s property isn’t exactly altruistic. Christ never even implied that accumulating wealth through peaceful commerce was in any way wrong; He simply implored people to not allow wealth to rule them or corrupt their character. That’s why His greatest apostle, Paul, didn’t say money was evil in the famous reference in 1 Timothy 6:10. Here’s what Paul actually said: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Indeed, progressives themselves have not selflessly abandoned money, for it is other people’s money, especially that of “the rich,” that they’re always clamoring for.
In Matthew 19:23, Christ says, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to get into the kingdom of heaven.” A progressive might say, “Eureka! There it is! He doesn’t like rich people” and then stretch the remark beyond recognition to justify just about any rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul scheme that comes down the pike. But this admonition is entirely consistent with everything else Christ says. It’s not a call to envy the rich, to take from the rich or to give “free” cell phones to the poor. It’s a call to character. It’s an observation that some people let their wealth rule them, rather than the other way around. It’s a warning about temptations (which come in many forms, not just material wealth). Haven’t we all noticed that among the rich, as is equally true among the poor, you have both good and bad people? Haven’t we all seen some rich celebrities corrupted by their fame and fortune, while others among the rich live perfectly upstanding lives? Haven’t we all seen some poor people who allow their poverty to demoralize and enervate them, while others among the poor view it as an incentive to improve?
 
In Christ’s teachings and in many other parts of the New Testament, Christians—indeed, all people—are advised to be of “generous spirit,” to care for one’s family, to help the poor, to assist widows and orphans, to exhibit kindness and to maintain the highest character. How all that gets translated into the dirty business of coercive, vote-buying, politically-driven redistribution schemes is a problem for prevaricators with agendas. It’s not a problem for scholars of what the Bible actually says and doesn’t say.
 
Search your conscience. Consider the evidence. Be mindful of facts. And ask yourself: “When it comes to helping the poor, would Christ prefer that you give your money freely to the Salvation Army or at gunpoint to the welfare department?
 
Christ was no dummy. He was not interested in the public professions of charitableness in which the legalistic and hypocritical Pharisees were fond of engaging. He dismissed their self-serving, cheap talk. He knew it was often insincere, rarely indicative of how they conducted their personal affairs, and always a dead-end with plenty of snares and delusions along the way. It would hardly make sense for him to champion the poor by supporting policies that undermine the process of wealth creation necessary to help them. In the final analysis, He would never endorse a scheme that doesn’t work and is rooted in envy or theft. In spite of the attempts of many modern-day progressives to make Him into Robin Hood, He was nothing of the sort.
 
Summary
  • Free will, not coercion, is a central and consistent element in the teachings of Christ.
  • It is not recorded anywhere that Christ called for the state to use its power to redistribute wealth.
  • Christ endorsed things like choice, charity, generosity, kindness, personal responsibility, and voluntary association—things that are irreconcilable with coercively-financed redistribution schemes.
  • For further information, see:
“For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty,” Anne Bradley and Art Lindsley, editors:  http://tinyurl.com/kez32e3
“Socialism: Spiritual or Secular?” by Francis Mahaffey: http://tinyurl.com/njpd2kx
“The Parable of the Talents: The Bible and Entrepreneurs” by Robert Sirico: http://tinyurl.com/p4gr8yl
“Lawrence Reed on The Platform” – a short video interview on income redistribution, the welfare state and Christianity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reo0p9N1p4A
“Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Economics” by Doug Bandow: http://tinyurl.com/n9sjth9
Cliché #20: “Government Can Be a Compassionate Alternative to the Harshness of the Marketplace” by Lawrence W. Reed: http://tinyurl.com/nnt3qty
“Christian Charity and the Welfare State” by Mark W. Hendrickson:  http://tinyurl.com/ks2xdxn