Tuesday, August 23, 2016
The following is my August 15, 2016 column in The Dallas Morning News
This month I turned in grades for my summer classes. The moment that task was completed I had officially wrapped up 25 years in America's system of higher education.
During that quarter-century, I have observed countless proposals from Washington, D.C., to the hallways of my institution to make college education more "accessible" for millions of struggling American families. The latest idea —straight out of the Bernie Sanders-created Democratic platform — has Hillary Clinton proposing "free" college tuition for a large swath of America's middle- and lower-income families.
This idea is loaded with several unintended consequences that will make the recipients of this federal gift regret the moment it passed.
1. Her plan would create an artificial increase in the demand for college classes at community colleges and public universities. Community colleges, which are open-enrollment institutions, would be inundated with students seeking seats. This would lead to massive shortages, unless states approve huge budget (and tax) increases to fully fund the expansion of buildings and hiring of new faculty that would have to take place.
Universities, facing a similar demand push, would simply raise the price of admission, meaning higher grade-point averages, SAT and ACT scores would be used to weed out students who have responded to the allure of free tuition. This greater selectivity would put even more pressure on public universities, which already are facing challenges in having a racially and culturally diverse student population.
2. Potentially millions of young people who have no business attending college would waste their time -- and taxpayer dollars -- seeking degrees they will not obtain. It is a simple fact that not everyone is capable of surviving the demands of multitudinous college majors. Free tuition would dupe young people into a sense of belonging, only to find that their work ethic, intelligence and aptitude are not up to the rigors of advanced education.
This brings us to another economic fact: Ill-prepared students who rush off to college could have allocated their time and resources to second-best choices such as internships, vocational training or other certification programs to become skilled workers in fields that are already in critically short supply -- and often pay more than college graduates earn. Clinton's plan only exacerbates those shortages in blue-collar trades by decreasing the available supply of candidates for those programs.
3. Her program also would lead to downward compression on salaries for students who do obtain college degrees. Simply put, if you have an artificial increase in college and university enrollment, you will have an artificial increase in the number of people who eventually receive degrees. Ask yourself what will happen if, say, the supply of humanities or English majors increases? Of course, salaries will have to fall as surpluses emerge in those professions.
Furthermore, possessing a college degree would now be less illustrious in the eyes of many employers (as it already is), and the four-year degree would be less valuable. This would force more students to turn to graduate school -- and more debt since Clinton is not giving that away for free (yet).
4. Then there is the problem facing college educators who would now teach millions of educational welfare recipients. We already see a growing trend toward millennial entitlement thinking. If President Clinton gives these folks free tuition, many of them are going to treat college like they do public high school. Does anyone really want America's colleges and universities to be regarded the same way we regard our high schools?
Free K-12 education is of the same quality as many other free goods -- poor, at best. Paying for college makes people value their education more.
5. Finally, there is the small matter of the United States Constitution. In 1794, James Madison said, "I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress, of extending on objects of benevolence the money of their constituents."
Since Clinton would have to swear to defend the Constitution, I would like to send her my pocket copy, which provides no measure for taking away taxpayer dollars to pay for the education of college kids. Simply put, our Founders recognized that in order to make tuition free for one person, an act of plunder had to be committed on a taxpayer.
Which leaves me with my recommendation to parents of college-age kids:
Pay for your own creation.
Thursday, June 23, 2016
Today in my classes I reminded my students that they have an exam on July 5th. Mindful of the fact that many of them would rather not have to study supply and demand analysis on July 4th, I made an attempt to make them feel better. I explained how July 4th should be a day of mourning rather than celebration. Mourning for what America could be - and should be - if we would only follow the principles of individual liberty and limited government spelled out in the words of our Declaration of Independence.
I went on to explain that if you look at the trend in property rights, civil liberties, taxes, the social welfare state and government regulations (all issues we have covered in class), America is far from what our Founders meant for it to be and that in reality, we are closer than ever to becoming a land of socialism where fewer and fewer people have anything more than contempt for our founding principles.
To prove the point that July 4th should be called "National Hypocrite's Day" I offered the following challenge:
"As your family and friends prepare to enjoy fireworks on July 4th, stop and ask them if they would mind if you read the Declaration of Independence to them and have a family discussion of that Thomas Jefferson was saying and how his words apply to us today."
I told my students that there is a good chance that their request will be met with protest and if allowed to read it they would look out and see glazed, indifferent expressions, followed by silence as if to say, "Can we just pop the firecrackers now??"
For those of you who do not think a reading of the Declaration of Independence would go over well in your household, let me offer this 15 minute cartoon/ Bernie Sanders monologue instead. Surely you have 15 minutes to share this with your kids.
Enjoy the fireworks.
Thursday, May 12, 2016
What follows is my May 10, 2016 Op-Ed in The Orlando Sentinel
Now that the Republican Party has officially committed suicide by selecting Donald Trump as the new standard bearer of the GOP, it is time for all good Libertarians to come to the aid of our neighbor.
Make no mistake about it: If you are a traditional Goldwater/Reagan conservative, your party is now the one that is associated with xenophobia, racism, religious and ethnic bigotry and blatant sexism. On top of those unflattering but true categorizations, you also belong to a party that is now as economically ignorant as that of left-wing democratic socialism.
Forty-one years ago, Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes" interviewed Republican presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan. In this segment, Reagan told Wallace that the heart of his philosophy was Libertarianism.
Reagan went on to explain that Libertarianism is essentially a belief that human beings are better positioned to make their own decisions without the control or regulation of government.
This means that, on social issues, Libertarians do not believe the state should have any say in who consenting adults marry; should not regulate what adults put into their bodies; and should not interfere with our rights to privacy, speech and other civil matters.
Democrats understand this all too well, and are to be congratulated for pushing for laws that do not restrict the right to marry whom we choose while getting laws passed that decriminalize marijuana use. Moreover, it has been the Democrats who have been most outspoken in fighting the government's surveillance practices against innocent Americans. Meanwhile, Republicans, in their best ostrich-head-in-the-sand impersonation, continue to push for laws that impose their "family values" on all the rest of us.
On economic issues, Libertarians want government out of our wallets as much as we want them out of our bodies and bedrooms.
This is where Republicans traditionally received high marks. After all, it was Reagan who drove the top marginal income tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent in only five years. It was Reagan who championed welfare reform and fewer job-destroying regulations that helped to fuel the rapid growth of the 1980s. And spare me (in case you are a Democrat reading this) the line that "Reagan caused massive deficits." Government tax collections rose from $599 billion in 1981 to $990 billion by 1989 because of his tax cuts and growth-creating policies.
Reagan also championed amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants and never once announced a policy of not allowing any Soviet or Eastern-bloc residents to enter American until "we can figure this thing out."
Today's Republican Party also fails — miserably — the test of economic literacy.
Donald Trump wants to return the United States to the trade policies of the 1930s while pushing for greater social-welfare spending and immigration laws that would create labor shortages and inflationary pressures in innumerable areas of our economy.
But Trump's bad economics simply follow the policies of both Bush presidencies in which increased regulations, higher income taxes (the first Bush), horrible trade policies (second Bush) and rampant crony capitalism did not give voters much reason to believe that Republicans were good for their economic livelihood.
Those of us who are Libertarians offer today's disaffected Republicans a saner option going forward.
We would say to those who cannot stomach voting for Trump — or Hillary Clinton — that the time has come to realize that, on social issues, the country largely wants no part of 1950s Republican values. Millennials — who now outnumber baby boomers — do not want to hear about morality and certainly do not want the government to define it.
On the economic side of the coin, younger voters are torn between the Libertarian ideology of Ron Paul and the Socialist dogma of Bernie Sanders. In each of the past two election cycles, young people flocked to these candidates.
Now is the time for a smart Republican (no laughing, please) to embrace the Democratic Party on social issues and the traditional Reagan Libertarianism on economic issues in order to turn 2016 into a bad memory.
Or, Republicans can just keep losing elections.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
What follows is my April Op-Ed in the Orlando Sentinel
As the United States grinds ever closer to the Hillary versus Donald festival this fall, I have been reflecting on the presidency of Mr. Obama in preparation for lectures I will give my students. As I pour over the economic-policy proposals of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump, it has dawned on me that 2017 may very well mark the first year — of many years in a row — that we will wish Barack Obama were still in office.
Let's look at it.
First, there is the issue of income taxes. Yes, Obama did in fact increase income-tax rates with the highest marginal tax bracket reaching 39.6 percent. Hillary Clinton wants it to hit 43.6 percent. Obama also championed the push for higher taxes on capital gains — arguing for a top rate of 28 percent. Clinton wants rates as high as 47.4 percent (Bill Clinton lowered it to 20 percent) depending on whether or not we keep our investments for the number of years she believes is best. Of course, compared to Bernie Sanders' plan for a top income-tax rate of 54 percent and his stated belief that even 90 percent might be reasonable, Hillary's "soak-the-rich" model looks downright magnanimous.
While Trump has called for much lower tax rates — and fewer brackets — his horrible understanding of the economics of international trade and immigration makes his economic vision for America worse than anything Obama has created over the past seven years.
Despite all of his economically illiterate rhetoric, Trump cannot show that liberalized trade has been bad for the United States. While Bill Clinton was in office, international trade between the U.S. and the rest of the world skyrocketed — and the unemployment rate fell to less than 4 percent while incomes increased and the American economy experienced record growth.
Don't tell that to Mr. Clinton's wife, though. She is on record criticizing her husband's pro-trade policies (without mentioning him by name) and even though she initially supported the new Trans-Pacific Partnership, she is now feeling the "I hate free trade" heat from Bernie Sanders and has backed away from supporting this treaty.
That leaves no one from either party arguing for the very economic practices that have created trillions in global wealth. Rather, all three of the remaining major candidates are pushing us back to the disastrous 1930s when the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act destroyed international trade and accelerated the march to World War II.
Meanwhile, Trump is proposing to deport 11 million workers/consumers/taxpayers all in the name of creating the illusion that unemployed Americans will now be able to work in agricultural fields and in meat-packing plants.
His deportation plan in so economically disastrous in its potential that economists stand in rare unison to decry it. The impact on consumer prices, the gross domestic product, border town economies, agriculture, construction and countless other areas of our economy would be enormous — and negative.
I suppose that is OK because on the other side, we have Hillary and Bernie blaming everything from global warming to childhood obesity on Wall Street. Each of the Democratic candidates has a long list of promised "crackdowns" and regulations on the "evil" men and women who provide capital to our nation's economic infrastructure. The last time I checked, Wall Street has helped bring greater opportunities to new businesses than the federal government ever has.
No matter. It is time that the folks who have "rigged" the economy pay dearly — while we sit back and watch capital become more expensive and less available.
I would be the first among many economists who would give Barack Obama a very low grade for his economic policies. The list of bad decisions is long — and our meager economic recovery punctuates this point.
Yet, as I and other economists look into our crystal balls at what a Trump or Clinton or Sanders presidency would mean, we see even worse years ahead.
Enjoy your retirement, Mr. Obama — you don't look so bad after all.
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
What follows is my most recent Op-Ed in the Orlando Sentinel. Thanks for reading and sharing!
In 1944, Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek published his landmark book, The Road to Serfdom. Written during the height of World War II, it was meant as a warning to the United States and Great Britain that the flawed economic policies being pursued by each nation would eventually lead to an outcome that had befallen the German people living under the tyranny of Adolf Hitler.
Hayek, in a chapter on why the worst types of people often end up on top of political movements argued that:
“…. in general the higher the education and intelligence of individuals becomes, the more their views and tastes are differentiated and the less likely they are to agree on a particular hierarchy of values. It is a corollary of this that if we wish to find a high degree of uniformity and similarity of outlook, we have to descend to the regions of lower moral and intellectual standards where the more primitive and "common" instincts and tastes prevail. This does not mean that the majority of people have low moral standards; it merely means that the largest group of people whose values are very similar are the people with low standards.
If, however, a potential dictator had to rely entirely on those whose uncomplicated and primitive instincts happen to be very similar, their number would scarcely give sufficient weight to their endeavors. He will have to increase their numbers by converting more to the same simple creed.
Here comes in the second negative principle of selection: he will be able to obtain the support of all the docile and gullible, who have no strong convictions of their own but are prepared to accept a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently. It will be those whose vague and imperfectly formed ideas are easily swayed and whose passions and emotions are readily aroused who will thus swell the ranks of the totalitarian party.”
Could there be a more prophetic statement to encapsulate the Republican party in 2016?
The Republicans, once a party that stood for Constitutional rights, free trade, pro-business immigration policies and economic freedom has devolved, under the “leadership” of Donald Trump. It has gone through a bizarre metamorphosis that is driven by economic ignorance, bigotry and the art of blaming others for the ills that have come upon our nation.
Hayek would argue that Trump has successfully descended into the lower regions of conservative “thought” by insisting that Mexican immigrants, Muslim refugees and trade deals with China are at the root of our country’s problems. Of course no Trump supporter seems interested in the economic facts concerning the benefits immigration; the low probability of refugee-generated terrorist attacks and the historical merits of international trade. They simply see in Trump a savior who vulgarly and bombastically speaks for them. Even when detractors point out the fact that Trump has been a champion for the use of eminent domain to take away the property rights of other citizens or that he routinely shows virtually no understanding of the checks and balances of the Constitution, his fans simply ignore the evidence and cheer him for “telling it like it is.”
It is ironic that only three decades ago our nation was led by a Republican who supported amnesty for illegal immigrants; free markets and liberalized trade agreements and managed to assist Soviet dissidents who wanted to flee to America all while showing the world that America could exhibit genuine leadership in the global fight against Communism without bluster, threats or other irresponsible acts.
If Ronald Reagan were running against Trump today his reasoned and intellectual approach to foreign and economic policy would probably get him booed off the debate stage by angry Americans who are more interested in discussions about hand size and the “beauty” of torture.
I hope Hillary Clinton is watching closely because this fall she is going to have to be the composed adult in the room that keeps our nation from electing a person who is much more like the leader Hayek was warning us about.
Monday, February 29, 2016
1987 I walked into a college classroom as an educator for the first time. Ronald Reagan was in the last two years of his second term and the American economy was churning at full steam. Since the fall of 1982 the American economy had grown by near-record amounts for a nation at peace. The nation was on the way towards creating 20 million jobs with falling inflation and unemployment rates.
During those years teaching college students the principles of capitalism was easy. They were living through evidence that when allowed to pursue one’s self-interest – and keep the fruits of their labor – an economy could lift the standard of living up and down the income scale. It is important to note that in 1981 when most of my students were in middle or high school the top marginal income tax rate was 70%. Reagan had reduced that figure through two tax cuts that dropped the top income tax bracket to only 28%. My students knew that when they graduated they would be free to pursue their careers and start businesses without being shaken down by the IRS.
Today my students do not have the same reason to be optimistic. They have seen their parents suffer the vestiges of the ‘Great Recession’. They have grown up during a time when crony capitalism has invaded the halls of Congress while rising tax rates and historic increases in federal regulations have sapped the energy our nation’s economy needs to create real economic growth. By every measure, the 2009-2016 economic recovery is the weakest since World War II. Even our falling unemployment rate masks the reality that nearly 90 million Americans have withdrawn from the labor force, while others work only part-time or in jobs that do not match their skills, training or education.
In the wake of this new reality facing America’s young people it would seem to make the most sense that they would be looking for another Reagan. For my students who identify as Democrats I have walked them through John F. Kennedy’s massive tax cut in 1963 and Bill Clinton’s final six years when taxes on investments, savings and home sales fell and sane fiscal management of the budget prevailed.
Yet, my students – like millions of other young voters – seem to believe that Bernie Sanders can save their futures. Sanders, with his plan to provide Medicare for all; free university tuition; increased social security and family leave benefits, is an economically seductive candidate for people who are afraid that they have no economic future and therefore need economic security from that future.
However, as an economics professor, my job in an election year is to compare and contrast the major candidates economic plans and point out deficiencies in each.
This is where the Bernie Sanders wake-up call has occurred.
When my students see his tax plan that increases income tax rates on low, middle and upper-income workers – with rates rising to more than 54% for top earners – they learn that In America’s 102 year history of rising and falling income tax rates, in decades when marginal rates fell (see the 1920s, 1960s and 1980s, for example), the economy boomed and the government actually received greater tax revenue. In time periods when the government adopted a “soak the rich” mindset (1930s, 1970s and in recent times) the economy performed poorly and revenues never rose by as much as was predicted.
Moreover, they have learned that the Sander’s spending plans – which the Wall Street Journal has estimated would total $18 trillion – would further increase the national debt, and would saddle their generation with massive tax and interest rate obligations and make their college degree worth less - all in the name of expanding the social welfare network.
In short, young people today are pinning their hopes on a fairy tale. That fairy tale informs them that they can get free things from the government and no longer live with so much worry.
When they see that nothing is free and that they will have to pay for Bernie Sanders imitation of Santa Claus, that is when the real worrying begins.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
What follows is my most recent Orlando Sentinel Op-Ed - enjoy!
Once every 3-4 years, usually while standing in a local 7-11 store, I hear a voice that says, “Hey man, buy a lottery ticket.” Like an idiot, I listen to the voice and metaphorically flush a dollar or two down the toilet. When I do what the voice says I always pick my own numbers (more on that later) rather than let some computer program steer me wrong. Of course I know that my numbers give me the same odds of winning the lottery as being struck by lightning while fighting off a great white shark sporting an “I love Donald Trump” tattoo, but so what?
This week, that darn voice was at it again. I was in line to buy Gatorade wearing my lawn-mowing clothes. These clothes – some hole-ridden jeans from the last century and a paint-stained “Bigfoot for President” shirt, allowed me to blend in with the Power Ball line without tipping people off that I am a professional economist with countless hours of probability theory work under my belt.
I did not want anyone to walk in and say, “Hey, Professor Chambless, what are you doing in this line?” so instead of picking my numbers I mumbled “quick pick, please” and got out of there.
On the morning of January 14th I was scanning this newspaper when there in front of me was a headline, “Economics Professor loses Power Ball jackpot for stupidly refusing to pick his own numbers.”
The winning numbers were 4 (my favorite baseball player of all-time and the guy my first son was named after); 8 (my high-school baseball number); 27 (my high school football number); 19 (my oldest son’s high school football number) 34 and 10 (my youngest son’s baseball number.) What about 34? Oh, nothing big there except this.
This season I am coaching a local high school baseball team. One of the kids coming out for the team is a kid who reminds me of me back when I was a kid. I have been discussing this guy all week with my sons. That kid’s requested number? You guessed it…..34! This means all week somewhere, somebody was sending me cosmic hints. All I had to do was stick with the numbers that made sense to me and then throw in the number sent from the heavens and I would be smoking a cigar right now trying to figure out how large of a cabin to build in Northern Minnesota. I was even planning to give most of the money away! Millions to my church. Hundreds of thousands to friends and family and dozens to people I do not like much.
Since I was supposed to share in this incredible jackpot and was victimized by social pressure that economists should not buy lottery tickets, I am demanding the following.
I want to submit my case to the government and have it examined by the greatest lie-detecting machinery known to mankind. When I pass this test, I want to government to set aside a portion of the tax revenue it will collect from the Power Ball and start a new welfare program for all truth-telling lottery losers. I would be the first recipient of tax dollars from this fund.
After all, just because I made a poor choice and refused to put in the effort to work on my numbers does not mean I am not entitled. I think in this case I can show that I am as deserving as other folks who ostensibly make the same claim on our tax dollars every day.
In the meantime, I think I will take my case directly to the three people who won and see if they would be willing to help out an economist who buys stupid lottery tickets while wearing Bigfoot shirts.