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Just What We Need

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Why is schooling so expensive? Government makes it so.

Take the recent example, in California, of “coder boot camps.” These are “schools” where computer coders receive training. We now learn that the Golden State’s education bureaucrats are cracking down on this unlicensed and unregulated form of learning.

Unless they comply, these organizations face imminent closure and a hefty $50,000 fine. These organizations have two weeks to start coming into compliance.

In mid-January, the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) sent cease and desist letters to Hackbright Academy, Hack Reactor, App Academy, Zipfian Academy, and others.

The regulators insist that these private enterprises fall under their regulatory domain, and they are going to do their job, dangit, even if it helps . . . no one.

Reaction from the coder academy heads has been boilerplate. They’ve attested to their will to co-operate with regulators, but worry that current regulations do not really have much to do with what they are up to.

Hey, regulators, rather than shut these academies down, or cook up new regs, why not just let the operations go on as before?

Worried about quality control in a consumer-protection sense? Then make one requirement: The schools should notify paying students that the academy’s services and education contracts are unregulated by the state. Make do, students, with caveat emptor, as before. That is, by the principles of market supply and demand, and undergirding laws against fraud.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Planners Cover Up Waste

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

You know that politicians waste money. You guess that they waste a lot of time.

But did you know they deliberately waste our time?

Transportation scholar Randal O’Toole regales us with the fix that California’s overlords have put themselves in. Merely assuming that dense city living decreases commuting, California’s legislators cooked up a law requiring local governments to increase population density.

But it turns out “transportation models reveal that increased densities actually increase congestion, as measured by ‘level of service,’ which,” O’Toole informs us, “measures traffic as a percent of a roadway’s capacity and which in turn can be used to estimate the hours of delay people suffer.”

So what to do? Golden State’s august solons have exempted cities and municipalities from calculating and disclosing the bad effects of their own legislation. They offer other standards, all of which, O’Toole explains, demonstrate only “that planners and planning enthusiasts in the legislature don’t like the results of their own plans, so they simply want to ignore them.”

The gist of the new standards of “regulation”? “[T]hey ignore the impact on people’s time and lives: if densification reduces per capita vehicle miles traveled by 1 percent, planners will regard it as a victory even if the other 99 percent of travel is slowed by millions of hours per year.”

It’s quite apparent that politicians are willing to sacrifice our time to get what they — not we — want. Time is not money. Time is more important than money.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

What’re They Smokin’?

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

We live in strange times. The “nanny state” mentality is ramping up into overdrive just as the War on Drugs hits the rock of enlightened public opinion.

And nothing shows this to stranger effect than the contrast between the continuing success of the anti-tobacco movement while marijuana liberalization proceeds apace.

As “medical marijuana” and even decriminalized recreational marijuana use seem to be gaining ground, the whole “smoking in public” thing has become more draconian.

For years now, state legislatures and town councils and even voting populations have been cracking down on smoking tobacco in public, despite the very shaky science regarding second-hand smoke.

And now the city council of San Rafael, California, has votedunanimously — to ban residents of apartments, condos, duplexes, and multi-family houses from smoking cigarettes and other “tobacco products” inside their homes.

This American Cancer Association-approved legislation is quite intrusive. And one of the writers of the law boasted how little it matters to her who owns what property: “It doesn’t matter if its owner-occupied or renter-occupied,” she said. “We didn’t want to discriminate.”

And yet, contrasted with the cannabis liberalization movement — with medical marijuana legal (in some sense) statewide — there is discrimination here: in favor of the “weed” and against the “leaf.”

Perhaps history repeats itself. The war against cannabis began as the war on alcohol ended, with the repeal of the 18th Amendment. We could be we witnessing, now, another weird and inconsistent trade-off of paranoid prohibitions.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

A Veto for the People

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

The war on democracy is ongoing. One of the ironies some folks note is that the biggest opponents of citizens’ direct say in government tend to be sitting Democratic politicians. But Democrats who earnestly support democracy can take heart, for not only can they remind Republicans of recent GOP-led jihads against initiative rights, but Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, just vetoed an initiative-silencing bill in California.

Of course, it was concocted by labor unions for their benefit, and was supported by Democrats in the Assembly, but still: Huzzahs for Jerry Brown!

Assembly Bill 857, advanced by Cupertino’s Paul Fong, would have placed hurdles on the petitioning process by limiting the paying of petitioners to qualify initiatives for the ballot. The vetoed law, if enacted, would have required 10 percent of valid signatures to be volunteers. But “volunteer” included union workers who were, in fact, being paid to circulate petitions.

And that was one of the governor’s complaints about the weaselly legislation.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association had gone on record opposing the measure, charging that it would have made the process more difficult for most groups with its cumbersome record-keeping requirements. And another part of the bill, as Neal Hobson summarized at Citizens in Charge,

would have established a right for any California citizen to sue the sponsors of initiative petitions by claiming they had turned in any fraudulent signatures. Whether such charges could be substantiated or not, the resultant litigation could bankrupt initiative campaigns with legal fees.

Devious political minds obviously cooked up this bill. Exclude Gov. Brown from that designation.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

A Streetcar Named Veblen

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Around the country, cities are going ahead with trolley and streetcar projects, as well as light rail. I just returned from Seattle. Capitol Hill was torn apart at huge expense — all to add a streetcar line to cover a stretch where no buses now run.

Trains are cool; trolleys are neat; streetcars have cachet. But as transportation economist and city-planning critic Randal O’Toole puts it, these are all more costly than buses. Far more costly. They rack up huge costs in infrastructure, and the ridership for them rarely increases enough to pay off even maintenance costs much less the capital outlays.

But for real transportation insanity, California’s your place. There, the bullet-train project has spiraled out of control, “forcing” the state’s pixillated pols to court the state’s employee pension funds to “invest” in their beloved boondoggle.

Why this madness? What’s going on here?

I think Thorstein Veblen explained it. Inadvertently.

Veblen was the economist of our great-grandfathers’ generation who characterized capitalism’s failures as the wastefulness of the rich, in terms of “conspicuous consumption.” He thought that there should be more government, and that this would be . . . less wasteful.

Well, we got that “more government.” It’s far more wasteful than the billionaires of old. At least they got rich providing benefits for the masses. Today, governments tax the masses to pay for vast, inefficient schemes to . . . move the masses. And the masses stay away. In droves.

The “conspicuous consumption” is in the public realm.

It turns out that spending other people’s money makes folks in government less responsible and more enticed by technological gewgaws and the strange tides of high-cost fashion.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Equally Unequal

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Two court cases come to our attention, courtesy of Cato’s Ilya Shapiro. Both involve the favoring of members of one group over another.

The Sixth Circuit ruled that a voter-approved amendment to the Michigan state constitution outlawing racial preferences in college admissions would violate the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. The amendment states in part that Michigan public colleges and universities shall “not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. . . .”

In his dissent, Judge Richard Griffin writes: “The post-Civil War amendment that guarantees equal protection to persons of all races has now been construed as barring a state from prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race.” Shapiro calls the decision Orwellian.

The other case involves California law banning sellers of eyewear who are not state-licensed optometrists and ophthalmologists from conducting eye exams and selling glasses at the same place of business. The law prevents national eyewear chains from competing effectively in California (since customers prefer to get their glasses and eye exams in one shop).

Cato joins an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to take up the California case. Shapiro also says that because there are two conflicting lower-court decisions on the Michigan question, the Supreme Court is likely to add that case to its docket.

Let’s hope all further rulings are based on a clear-sighted respect for equal rights under the law.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

“Top Two” Goes South

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Washington State has a long history of popular antagonism to political parties. For years, the state enforced an open primary, which meant that Republicans could vote in Democratic primaries and Democrats in Republican primaries. This was very popular, because it led to widespread strategic voting.

Well, that’s a euphemism. In open primaries, what you get is not mere strategic voting so much as sabotage. I have heard of Democrats and others boasting of voting in Republican primaries, for example, supporting Pat Robertson. Why? They believed Robertson to be unelectable, and hoped putting Robertson ahead would undercut the GOP in independent voters’ eyes, and make running against the party easier in the general election.Shooting numbered ducks.

Well, a few years ago that system was thrown out as unconstitutional, as an abridgment of free association rights.

But instead of allowing party members to select candidates, Washington State movers and shakers cooked up something else altogether. They set up a system wherein anyone could use a party’s label — even if that party’s members don’t know said candidate or despise him. Robbing parties of any control over candidates offered in their name is far worse on the very constitutional issue that nullified Washington’s traditional open primaries. Though Top Two has been legally challenged, the U.S. Supreme Court just this week refused to hear arguments.

The name “Top Two” comes from the fact that only the top two vote-getters in this super-open primary are on the general election ballot. The new system has completely removed minor party candidates from the general election ballot, when most folks vote.

Top Two has had the same impact in California. Arizona voters will decide the issue this November, on their ballot as Prop 121.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.