How Should the On-Demand Economy Protect Workers?

Are you a worker in the on-demand economy? Do you pick the hours you want to work, change who you occasionally work for from time to time, and get most of your work through the matching of your services through technological apps and other forms of digital on-demand requests? Basically, are you an Uber driver or something like that?

These are the new workers. They’re not quite independent contractors who can set their own prices and choose their clients nor are they traditional employees who work “9 to 5” or at the employer’s will. So do they need the traditional protections that workers in the “old” economy created through the years in public policy?

One study last year proposed coming up with a new set of rules for these “independent workers” to give them some of the protections and benefits that traditional workers get on minimum wages, overtime pay, non-discrimination, family and medical leave, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, health insurance, and pension benefits.

Among the suggestions: The new “independent worker” classification would allow employees to unionize, and task employers with providing health and disability insurance through contributions to the Affordable Care Act exchanges, paying the employer share of FICA tax payments, and withholding income tax payments.

But a new report on “The On-Demand Economy and Worker Benefits and Protections” suggests that these demands may be over-correcting in a new economic era that is still developing. In other words, the study is a little bit of overkill.

An important reason for exercising some caution in public policy regarding worker protections is the very real prospect of unintended consequences from steps intended to help workers. In particular, the proposal to create a new third category of worker – the “independent worker” – could inadvertently result in a loss of income and social protection for the people the policy is intended to help.

Today, employers must choose to either hire workers as employees or engage with independent contractors to get the services they need to run their businesses. If employers are given a third choice that entails less expense, less long-term commitment, and fewer risks, it would seem possible that the main effect would be to encourage more employers to redefine their workforce to fit within the new model. This could mean a larger migration of people out of employed status and into independent worker status than from independent contractor to independent worker.

After all, there are far more people who are currently employees of firms than who are working as independent contractors, and thus far more potential for migration out of employment than out of independent contracting. In addition, the combination of proposed benefits for independent workers would raise costs on employers well above what they are today. Harris and Krueger’s proposed requirement to pay a 5 percent fee for health insurance on all compensation earned by independent workers would be the equivalent of a new tax on this sector of the economy. Employers will be unlikely to pay much of this tax, as they will adjust the compensation levels of their workers and also raise their prices. The net effect, however, will be to squeeze the ability of the new firms to run their businesses as they can today, which means these firms will contract or grow less rapidly than they would without the new costs and restrictions associated with independent workers. This will mean reduced incomes for those people who would have been willing to engage with these firms without the added protections of independent worker status.

The report acknowledges that workers do need protections, but suggests that many potential solutions are already in place. Author James Capretta notes that independent workers are already required to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. Additionally, retirement accounts and health insurance are available to workers who may not have it provided by employers. Increasing the “portability” of job-based benefits, as has already been proposed for the overall workforce, would free up workers to move from position to position as it suits them, thereby enhancing the on-demand economy.

As for workers compensation and unemployment insurance, these are two areas where changes could help both firms and workers.

The best alternative approach to improving the financial security of workers in the on-demand economy is to allow them to set aside resources that they could later tap during a period of lower earned income. Firms could be asked to facilitate independent contractor contributions to a 401(k) plan that could also serve as a cushion during periods of lower earned income. Conditions could be established for withdrawing funds without penalty to allow individuals with a history (above some minimum) of independent contractor income to supplement their incomes during periods of lower incomes. Those who access funds in this manner could be required to repay the amounts when their incomes, as shown in tax filings, exceed a certain threshold.

The Aspen Institute’s Future of Work Initiative, which funded the report, says it is built on the idea that “the economic landscape is changing far faster than our system of workplace protections and benefits has been able to keep pace – requiring fresh ideas for how to revitalize our social contract and restore the promise of work.”

Do you think independent workers are being taken advantage of in the on-demand economy, or is this a refreshing new opportunity to keep capitalism on the front burner of the U.S. economy?

Read the full report on the “On-Demand Economy and Worker Benefits and Protections.”

Freedom House Records Loss of Freedom, Notably in the United States

Liberal democracies on the whole are on the decline in the world, which may not alarm Americans in their cushy first-world homes but for the fact that the United States is listed among those who are experiencing a downward trend away from democracy and toward a loss of freedom.

Freedom House, which publishes an annual report on the ability of individuals to live freely in their nations, reported in its 2016 study that for the 10th year in  row, the number of free countries is on the decline. According to Freedom House, 40 percent of nations are free, 24 percent are partly free, and 36 percent are not free.

It reports:

The number of countries showing a decline in freedom for the year—72—was the largest since the 10-year slide began. Just 43 countries made gains.

Over the past 10 years, 105 countries have seen a net decline, and only 61 have experienced a net improvement.

Ratings for the Middle East and North Africa region were the worst in the world in 2015, followed closely by Eurasia.

Over the last decade, the most significant global reversals have been in freedom of expression and the rule of law.

The United States still ranks as a free nation in the Freedom House report, with a score of 90 on a scale of 100, but Freedom House says that the U.S. should be watched because freedom is receding. Specifically, Freedom House reports:

The United States received a downward trend arrow because of the cumulative impact of flaws in the electoral system, a disturbing increase in the role of private money in election campaigns and the legislative process, legislative gridlock, the failure of the Obama administration to fulfill promises of enhanced government openness, and fresh evidence of racial discrimination and other dysfunctions in the criminal justice system.

Freedom House has been conducting the study for 45 years, and while its results have been questioned before, mostly over whether it views freedom from an American-style left-right political lens, which doesn’t take into account cultural barometers, the results should be a concern to Americans, particularly since the decline appears to be acceptable to many on America’s college campuses.

Writer Rebecca Burgess draws from another study which shows that decreasing support for liberal democracies is evident on college campuses, whether university students and faculty want to admit it or not.

(F)ew scholars or commentators are keen to be the next generational crank and say forthrightly that democracy is in decline. This time, however, Foa and Mounk enlist “the language of survey research” to demonstrate that the young of this era no longer support democracy per se as prior generations of young citizens have.

Not only do fewer than 30 percent of US millennials believe it’s essential to live in a country that’s governed democratically, compared to 72 percent of those born before WWII, in 2011, 24 percent of those born in the 1980s and after considered democracy to be a ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ way of running the country. Among the same cohort of Europeans in 2011, only 13 percent said the similar — itself an increase from the 1990s, when it was 8 percent.

Arguably, these are tenuous because still vague markers. But consider this: the minimal liberal understanding of representative democracy is centered on elections being free and fair. Twenty-six percent of US millennials say that it is ‘unimportant’ for a people in a democracy ‘to choose their leaders in free elections.’

This anchors the more concerning fact that the share of US citizens who believe that having a ‘strong leader’ who doesn’t have to ‘bother with parliaments and elections’ is a better way to proceed has risen to 32 percent from 24 percent in 1995; that 49 percent now approve of ‘having experts, not government, make decisions according to what they think is best for the country’; and that today, one in six of the survey respondents agree that it would be a good or very good thing for the army to rule. (Notably, the proportion in favor of military rule has risen in most mature democracies, including Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.)

To quote “Team America: World Police,” freedom isn’t free. And its loss, disappearing alongside liberal democracies around the world could be much sooner than a generation away if its defenders are not vigilant.

Music As Memory: The 19th Amendment, Schoolhouse Rock Song for Suffrage

Music has long been used as a learning tool, whether as hymnals or nursery rhymes, but one of the most entertaining and engaging methods of employing music for memory is through the work of Schoolhouse Rock, which taught an entire generation about American history.

And what better way to celebrate suffrage and the women’s vote than to rock this jam?

On this day in history, 1920, the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote, was adopted into the U.S. Constitution by proclamation of Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby. The battle for women’s rights has a long history, led by such memorable women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and Sojourner Truth, among others, as well as many men without whom the amendment would never have happened. 

It took more than 70 years and a world war for the Suffragette movement to result in the 19th Amendment, but here’s the short version, courtesy of Essra Mohawk and the Schoolhouse Rock gang.

Maybe the tune will stick in your head, like an ear worm, and you’ll remember a couple of these memorable history makers.

Lyrics for the Schoolhouse Rock song, for those who learn better through reading comprehension.

Now you have heard of Women’s Rights,
And how we’ve tried to reach new heights.
If we’re “all created equal”…
That’s us too!


But you will proba … bly not recall
That it’s not been too … too long at all,
Since we even had the right to
Cast a vote.


Well, sure, some men bowed down and called us “Mrs.” (Yeah!)
Let us hang the wash out and wash the dishes, (Huh!)
But when the time rolled around to elect a president…

What did they say, Sister, (What did they say?)

They said, uh, “See ya later, alligator,
And don’t forget my … my mashed potatoes,
‘Cause I’m going downtown to cast my vote for president.”

Oh, we were suffering until suffrage,
Not a woman here could vote, no matter what age,
Then the 19th Amendment struck down that restrictive rule. (Oh yeah!)

And now we pull down on the lever,
Cast our ballots and we endeavor
To improve our country, state, county, town, and school.

(Tell ’em ’bout it!)

Those pilgrim women who …
Who braved the boat
Could cook the turkey, but they …
They could not vote.
Even Betsy Ross who sewed the flag was left behind that first election day.

(What a shame, Sisters!)

Then Susan B. Anthony (Yeah!) and Julia Howe,
(Lucretia!) Lucretia Mott, (and others!) they showed us how;
They carried signs and marched in lines
Until at long last the law was passed.

Oh, we were suffering until suffrage,
Not a woman here could vote, no matter what age,
Then the 19th Amendment struck down that restrictive rule. (Oh yeah!)

And now we pull down on the lever,
Cast our ballots and we endeavor
To improve our country, state, county, town, and school. (Right On! Right On!)

Yes the 19th Amendment
Struck down that restrictive rule. (Right On! Right On!)

Yes the 19th Amendment
Struck down that restrictive rule.
(Yeah, yeah!
Yeah, yeah!
Right on!
We got it now!)

Since 1920…
Sisters, unite!
Vote on!

Why the EpiPEN Outrage Could Mark ‘The System’s’ Undoing

Updated Aug. 29, 2016:

The makers of the EpiPEN, under intense scrutiny for the increased price of its life-saving epinephrine auto-injector, announced Monday that it would release a generic version of the EpiPEN, which will cost about half of the branded version, now priced at $608 per two injectors.

It’s an unusual move considering that the company’s generic version will in effect be competing against its brand version, but observers say that it’s a smart business decision, not least because it helps drug maker Mylan quell the downward slide in stocks, but also because it potentially ends up paying less to middle men who have a stake in the list price of the branded version, putting Mylan in a better financial position.

The move sheds light on how and why drugmakers end up charging outrageous prices for drugs.  Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb described how a long line of intermediaries between the drug maker and the patient claim a stake in the listed price of a drug.

The reason why (the system) exists is because of a court ruling that said that if the drug makers provide a discount to any one entity in the channel — so if they provided a big discount to a PBM (Pharmacy Benefit Manager) or a health insurance company, and this is a 1990 court ruling, then they had to provide the same discount to the pharmacies, to everyone in the channel. So, therefore, they moved away from providing discounts and went to this rebate system, which is based on some measure of the total sales of drugs. They had to go to this convoluted system or else they would’ve been forced to provide the same discounts to everyone in the channel, because you would think, if you’re thinking in terms of economics, money today is worth more than money tomorrow, so if you’re an insurance company or a PBM, you’d rather get a discount than a rebate, and that’s probably the case but for the fact that then the drug company would have to provide it to everyone and then the rebates would be much lower.”

Gottlieb said, “The scheme will end when drug makers realize that the current selling model is no longer in their economic interest, and when all of the system’s players realize that they’re losing their compact with patients.”

But, he warned, efforts by policymakers to come up with a regulatory or legislative solution is unlikely to lead to a better outcome.

“The system will game around whatever regulatory rituals Congress divines.” 

Original article, Aug. 25, 2016:

The EpiPEN outrage has really taken the public consciousness by storm, with the massive increase — more than 600 percent — in the price of the epinephrine auto-injector. But the question of how its manufacturer, Mylan drug company, came to be public enemy #1 in the space of days is reverberating with little reflection on what circumstances triggered the soaring price hike.

The EpiPEN was considered affordable for the non-insured mainstream when it was first introduced in 2007 at $57 for a two-pack . It has gone up in price to more than $600 per two-pack in the last few months. At the same time, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch has seen her annual salary rise $16 million in the last nine years.

This caused presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to exclaim that the company should be investigated for price gouging.

The product is off-patent, meaning that a generic can make its way to the market, though one hasn’t. TPOH has already brought to light why such failures occur in the generic market, and former Assistant FDA Commissioner Peter Pitts repeated that in a recent discussion on Bloomberg regarding the failure to produce a generic alternative to the EpiPEN.

“When you bring high-quality generics into the marketplace, the prices plummet. So I think it’s opportunity for the FDA to start prioritizing these first-to-market generics.”

While Pitts says “the FDA ban bring competition into the marketplace,” in actuality, Washington has been skewering the free market for years, and this is just one of the unwelcome outcomes, though blame is widely placed at the door of Mylan.

In truth, Mylan spent millions lobbying Congress, which resulted in the 2013 School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, which made it law for public schools to stock the drug, which works as a fast-acting allergy inhibitor. EpiPEN, which can be life-saving in some circumstances, has little competition.

Mylan lobbied for its product to be put in all public schools. Congress passed the bill. Mylan raised its price — a typical supply-demand reaction after a typical Washington swat at open competition.

The schools bill was co-sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, who now wants to investigate Mylan.

Bresch argues Mylan spent hundreds of millions of dollars researching the drug and putting Mylan on the market — costs associated with the research itself,  compliance with Food and Drug Administration rules, and the propping up of the insurance industry as required by Congress’ Affordable Care Act. Reportedly, for every $608 spent on the EpiPen, Mylan gets $270 while the insurer gets $334. Who’s to blame for the price spike now?

As Kevin Williamson notes in a scathing National Review piece to ask who’s really at fault for this shake-up in simple supply-demand economics:

You know how many treatments for anaphylaxis have been produced by politicians over the course of human history? Zero. Congress’s sole contribution to the existence of a handy device that keeps your children from dying from bee stings is the fact that Mylan CEO Heather Bresch is the daughter of a Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Yes, Mylan raised the price of an EpiPen. You know who else raised the price on EpiPens? Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, that’s who, and Joe Manchin, too. You thought Obamacare meant free goodies for you paid for by wicked rich people and evil corporations, right, Sunshine? Remember that medical-device tax? An EpiPen is a medical device. You think the politicians don’t have any self-interest there?

Thought experiment: Your child is dying. Who do you go to for help? Sanders? Clinton? Or one of the research scientists who made the EpiPen possible?

Bresch agrees that health care laws have put an additional burden on the consumer.

“The patient is paying twice,” Bresch told CNBC. “They’re paying full retail price at the counter, and they’re paying higher premiums on their insurance. It was never intended that a consumer, that the patients would be paying list price, never. The system wasn’t built for that.”

Ironically, Bresch says she wants to sit down with Congress and sort out the bad mojo over the price increase as well as determine how close Congress’ relationship to biotech should be. Her solution may just be another version of the problem.

“It’s a complicated system and to get in and understand it takes time, and you know, many people don’t have the time to take the time. Our Congress, our leaders in this country need to get around the table to fix this. … I think we need leadership in this country to make the tough changes.”

Why Drugs Cost So Much, And How to Bring Down the Price

Is the process of trying to ensure overall safety worth the increased cost of manufacturing if the net result is an unknown improvement in safety?

It’s a question facing factories that are being threatened with new emissions control regulations for the sake of global warming. The extra requirements, without an evidence-based benefit, drives up prices, and could force companies out of business.

The same goes for the generic drug market. Everyone wants to know that the drugs they put into their bodies are safe and clean and doing the job they’re supposed to do. But generic-drug makers are being held to regulatory standards despite doubts about a proven need for the extra layers of rules. And these extra rules are making it too costly to create lower-priced alternatives to more expensive, brand name drugs.

From a former Food and Drug Administration official:

(I)n a push to reduce the risk of contamination, the (FDA) in 2009 forced generic-drug makers to retool their sterile manufacturing plants and make production lines less intricate. The abruptness of the change caused many facilities to be shut down, creating drug shortages and driving up prices.

The complexity and cost of completing a generic-drug application has also grown enormously. In 2003, when I began working at the FDA, we estimated that it cost less than $1 million for a firm to file a generic-drug application. A drug would have to fetch about $10 million in annual revenue before it would be subject to generic competition. Today, filing a generic application requires an average of about $5 million and can cost as much as $15 million. This means that a drug may not face brisk generic competition until it exceeds $25 million in annual revenue. Thanks to these changes, infrequently used generics — such as clomipramine for major depression — may now have only one competitor and cost as much as branded drugs.

Author Scott Gottlieb, a physician and clinical assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine, says that the biggest drug-price increases are the result of a small number of old medicines that could be cheaper if more than one generic competitor entered into the market. But with new regulations, including a new draft rule about defensive labeling that exposes generics to costly litigation, generic drug-makers are being driven from the market.

In another example, Gottlieb writes:

Generic-drug makers usually manufacture dozens of different drugs on each production line and hundreds of drugs in a single plant. The FDA is now trying to require production lines to be dedicated to one or two drugs, citing potential safety hazards. But generic-drug makers say this can triple manufacturing costs. While brand companies typically run only one or two products on each manufacturing line, generics run 30 to 50 products. The FDA’s safety concerns could be addressed through better quality controls and improving its inspection capabilities.

Gottlieb notes that if the rules were less burdensome — and that doesn’t mean generic drug makers becoming more irresponsible — generic drug costs in some cases could be driven down by nearly 80 percent. Seems like an area where reducing federal interference could create a robust marketplace that improves Americans’ lives literally.

Read the entire Wall Street Journal article on generic drug regulations here.

Freedom in America: A Comparison of Liberty in the 50 States

Even freedom can be fun!

Because America is built on competition, and nothing spurs competition more than interstate rivalries, especially comparisons of individual freedom, the CATO Institute has released its new report Freedom in the 50 States. It’s chock full of data to rev up that statewide pride.

The top five states for freedom in order:  New Hampshire, Alaska, Oklahoma, Indiana, and South Dakota (notably, in a recent TPOH post, South Dakota also earned a distinction for being affordable, so keep your eye on the Mount Rushmore State, whose very nickname embodies a sense of America’s best).

New York, California, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Maryland were ranked worst in overall freedom.

So what’s freedom?

(Click on the map to try the interactive features.)

According to CATO, it’s a lot of things. More than 230 different variables were measured to come up with an index. The variables are narrowed down to three broad categories: fiscal policy, regulatory policy, and personal choice. They can be further broken down into categories on litigation, insurance, education, marriage, asset forfeiture, incarceration, and labor, among other topics.

In an effort to be as transparent as possible, CATO is offering all the data it used to readers for them to make their own calculations, turning on and off variables that they may not value as CATO does. Nothing says freedom more than that.
How does your state rank?

Rights Vs. Duties: Getting Out the Vote for Better or Worse

None of the freedoms spelled out in our Constitution were put there so people could cast uninformed ballots out of some misplaced sense of civic duty brought on by a celebrity guilt-trip. The right to assemble, to protest, to speak freely — these rights were included to help assure that the best ideas and the best candidates would emerge from the most transparent process possible.

Workhorse Mike Rowe is at it again, milking another sacred cow to expose its infertility. The latest installment in his ever-fresh responses to viewer mail is about rights vs. duties and whether get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts are worthwhile or even potentially damaging, especially when targeted at people who are unaware or incapable of articulating their own political and economic perspectives.

Rowe, the star of “Dirty Jobs” and the founder of MikeRoweWorks, a scholarship program that helps people prepare for jobs that exist (think vocational and trades jobs), rather than prepare for jobs that don’t exist (think “liberal arts careers”), tells reader “Jeremy” that “the truth is, the country doesn’t need voters who have to be cajoled, enticed, or persuaded to cast a ballot. We need voters who wish to participate in the process.”

He compares the “right to vote” to the Second Amendment, which while accurate is often misunderstood, perhaps because the Second Amendment is in the original Bill of Rights enumerated by the Founding Founders whereas “the right to vote” is developed in later amendments, including the 15th and 19th amendments, which gave women and African-Americans the explicit right to cast a ballot.

In the comparison, Rowe alludes to how he would conceivably regulate guns, which is for another discussion, but the point he rolls his argument down to is, in short, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

I’m afraid I can’t encourage millions of people whom I’ve never met to just run out and cast a ballot, simply because they have the right to vote. That would be like encouraging everyone to buy an AR-15, simply because they have the right to bear arms. I would need to know a few things about them before offering that kind of encouragement. For instance, do they know how to care for a weapon? Can they afford the cost of the weapon? Do they have a history of violence? Are they mentally stable? In short, are they responsible citizens?

Rowe also suggests putting GOTV pushers to the test.

Remember – there’s nothing virtuous or patriotic about voting just for the sake of voting, and the next time someone tells you otherwise, do me a favor — ask them who they’re voting for. Then tell them you’re voting for their opponent. Then, see if they’ll give you a ride to the polls.

In all, the moral of the story is if you’re going to exercise your right to vote, make sure you know what you’re voting for, not just what you’re voting against.

Read Mike Rowe’s entire response to voting rights vs. duties.

Making America Great Again: The Olympics Team and National Pride

With the U.S. team crossing over the 1,000th gold medal mark for U.S. Olympic sports since the start of the modern games 120 years ago, even some of this year’s participants are amazed by how well the nation’s athletes have consistently performed.

“It really makes me think about all the generations of Olympic teams and athletes I watched and the inspiration that I have had,” swimmer Dana Vollmer said. “We’re here getting that 1,000th medal for the U.S. and it seems absolutely incredible.

Many countries take pride in celebrating their athletes’ prowess at the games, a semi-annual event that reignites a competitiveness otherwise shunned in today’s come-together world. Fiji’s rugby team, for instance, won gold this past week, the first time the country has medaled in the Olympics ever. The prime minister, who attended the games in Rio, ordered a national holiday in honor of the feat.

For the athletes at the games, demonstrating their national pride can make them heroes back home, just as not displaying all the ritualistic flourishes of nationalism can cause problems. American gymnast Gabby Douglas had to issue an apology for forgetting to put her hand on her heart during the U.S. national anthem at the medal ceremony. The mistake only temporarily clouded the years of training for the moment that got her and her teammates to the top of the podium.

For those of us back home, exerting one’s national pride, especially during a divisive presidential election year, is cathartic. Nationalism, after all, doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

An elite globalist may scoff at the arbitrariness of national borders and style himself ‘a citizen of the world,’ as President Obama described himself before a massive crowd in Berlin in 2008. But most people don’t think of themselves that way. Nation-states inspire loyalties in a way the United Nations or the European Union have failed to do.

Nationalism, properly understood, can be a positive force, welding otherwise disparate people together to build a decent society, secure a competent government, and rally to defend themselves against attack. Over the course of history each nation has developed its own particular culture, its own manners and mores, its own rules written and unspoken.

An intelligent nationalist can respect the strengths of other nationalisms, while preferring his own, just as an Olympics fan can appreciate the superb performance of athletes from other countries even while keeping an eye on the scoreboard showing the number of medals each country has won.

What makes the U.S. form of nationalism particularly admirable is no doubt the “welding” of “disparate people” into a decent society. On the world stage, the most striking aspect about the U.S. Olympic team is that its athletes represent just one nation. Its binding similarity is its diversity. The team is composed of people of widely varying ethnicities, races, economic backgrounds, and even ages. The U.S. Olympic team boasts Americans born in other countries as well as Americans born in the U.S. And regardless of their life circumstances, their individual stories — not just their collective athletic performance — make them champions back home.

That every American born or bred here is able to pursue his happiness and achieve a dream — for himself and on behalf of the U.S. — is no small reason to celebrate American nationalism.

Read more from Michael Barone about how nationalism is not necessarily a bad thing.

Good News Story of the Week: Dallas Police Department Applications Triple After Shootings

It’s only Monday, but the good news story of the week has to be that the Dallas police force has seen job applications triple since Chief David Brown challenged people disenchanted with policing to become part of the solution.

The Dallas police came under attack on July 7, when five police officers were struck down and another nine injured by a shooter who said he was targeting white police. The shooting followed two incidents in which two black men were killed by police officers, sparking massive protests organized by the Black Lives Matter movement.

A few days later, Brown held a long, deep press conference in which he was asked about what black men could do to become less fearful of the police. He responded that they could help police their own communities.

“Become a part of the solution. Serve your communities. Don’t be a part of the problem. We’re hiring. We’re hiring. Get off that protest line and put an application in, and we’ll put you in your neighborhood, and we will help you resolve some of the problems you’re protesting about,” he said.

Whether or not more men from those communities have applied, the department is seeing an uptick in applications.

From June 8-20 of this year, the police department was receiving 11.3 applications per day. From July 8, the day after the shooting until July 20, police received an average 38.9 applications per day, a 344 percent increase.

Joining the police force is not an easy task. Brown noted that starting salaries for officers are only about $44,000, and police are asked to do far more than should be requested of them.

What we’re trying to accomplish here is above challenge. It is … We’re asking cops to be too much in the country. We are we are just asking us to do too much. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cop handle it. Not enough drug addiction funding, let’s give it to the cops. Here in Dallas, we have a loose dog problem. Let’s have cops chase loose dogs. You know, schools fail. Give it to the cops. Seventy percent of the African American community is being raised by single women, let’s give it to the cops to solve that as well. That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems, and I just ask for other parts of our democracy along with the free press to help to help us, and not put that burden all on law enforcement to resolve. So you know, just being pretty, pretty honest with you. You know, I have raw feelings about all of what we do and don’t ask me if you don’t want the answer.”

Brown noted that while violence is down in the city over the past decade from decades before, police officers have been leaving the force for better paying jobs. The Dallas Morning News reported that around 240 officers left the Dallas Police Department (DPD) during fiscal 2015, including nearly 50 in June.

The attrition rate in the 3,500-strong department, was 6.8 percent in fiscal 2015, or about 238 officers, the highest since the 1980s. The city only has budgeted for 200 new officers during fiscal 2016.

If anything, Brown, who was cheered for his long, impassioned, and thoughtful conference, has motivated some Dallas citizens to become part of the solution.

Find out more about applying to join the DPD.

Watch the July 11 news conference.

Cognitive Bias and Why We’re Always Right

Everyone has an opinion (like something else) but cognitive bias seems to be edging out debate, fueled in part, no doubt, by the national party conventions.  The various forms of cognitive bias creep into our ability to think critically. They offer validation, and there’s no better feeling than to have someone else’s conclusions reinforce our own beliefs that we are right.

This tendency to bask in the opinions of those whose ideas comport with our own appears to be on the increase (or else we just think it’s more prevalent because of our own biases).

But no place is this trend more evident than on social media, which online tech publisher Sean Blanda points out is probably the worst arena to find validation.

Blanda calls this common byproduct of social media a case of “false consensus bias,” in which people surround themselves with other people who thinks like they do, and are therefore surprised when they found out that not everyone thinks like they do.

Over time, this (bias) morphs into a subconscious belief that we and our friends are the sane ones and that there’s a crazy ‘Other Side’ that must be laughed at — an Other Side that just doesn’t ‘get it,’ and is clearly not as intelligent as ‘us.’ But this holier-than-thou social media behavior is counterproductive, it’s self-aggrandizement at the cost of actual nuanced discourse and if we want to consider online discourse productive, we need to move past this.

What is emerging is the worst kind of echo chamber, one where those inside are increasingly convinced that everyone shares their world view, that their ranks are growing when they aren’t. It’s like clockwork: an event happens and then your social media circle is shocked when a non-social media peer group public reacts to news in an unexpected way. They then mock the Other Side for being ‘out of touch’ or ‘dumb.’ …

When someone communicates that they are not ‘on our side’ our first reaction is to run away or dismiss them as stupid. To be sure, there are hateful, racist, people not worthy of the small amount of electricity it takes just one of your synapses to fire. I’m instead referencing those who actually believe in an opposing viewpoint of a complicated issue, and do so for genuine, considered reasons. Or at least, for reasons just as good as yours.

This is not a ‘political correctness’ issue. It’s a fundamental rejection of the possibility to consider that the people who don’t feel the same way you do might be right. It’s a preference to see the Other Side as a cardboard cut out, and not the complicated individual human beings that they actually are.

Blanda is describing one of many biases that is creeping into our collective conversation. Some others:

Availability bias — The tendency to believe that if something can be recalled, it must be more significant or important.

Confirmation bias — The tendency to only seek out information that confirms our beliefs.

Outcome bias — The tendency to believe that the desired ends justify the means.

Selective perception — The tendency to let our expectations drive how we view events.

(Read a list of 20 cognitive biases in this Business Insider infographic)

This “other sided”ness, this “us vs. them” mentality is a problem because it prevents progress toward common goals. We as a nation are a stiff-necked people, getting stiffer in our convictions because we feel that we have more to lose if we compromise.

But compromise enables progress and solutions to be devised. We may think we have the answer, but if we can’t get enough people – those outside our echo chamber – to work with us toward our goal, then we merely play a game of one-step forward, two-steps back.

As for the false consensus, Blanda offers an exercise to test one’s predilection toward this bias.

A dare for the next time you’re in discussion with someone you disagree with: Don’t try to ‘win.’ Don’t try to ‘convince’ anyone of your viewpoint. Don’t score points by mocking them to your peers. Instead try to ‘lose.’ Hear them out. Ask them to convince you and mean it. No one is going to tell your environmentalist friends that you merely asked follow up questions after your brother made his pro-fracking case.

Read Blanda’s article on false consensus bias and how it operates on social media.


Who Is the Second Female British Prime Minister? Theresa May’s Outlook

Theresa May becomes the second British female prime minister and Conservative Party leader on Wednesday, following in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher. She also follows the lead of several other women heads of state around the world.

In an editorial in The Washington Post, it is claimed that the ascension of May, who emerged after Prime Minister David Cameron resigned and all the other Conservative Party candidates dropped out, is no coincidence.

“Women often come to power in times of crisis”

That’s the conclusion of the Post, which says Great Britain is in crisis following its vote to leave the European Union. And Britain isn’t the first to turn to a woman in troubled times.

The Conservatives aren’t alone in choosing a woman as leader during moments of crisis or defeat. Thatcher was selected as leader in 1974, after the party had lost two elections in a row. After their incumbent prime ministers died or left office because of illness, the Labour Parties in both Israel and Norway put women in charge: Golda Meir in 1969 and Gro Brundtland in 1981. After her predecessor was tainted by a corruption scandal, in 2000,Angela Merkel took the helm of the German Christian Democratic Party, which had lost power in 1998. More recently, Denmark’s Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Finland’s Jutta Urpilainen came to power when their parties were out of office and losing support.

The editorial is the most fawning support for a conservative leader by The Washington Post in years, maybe because its authors are hopeful it’s a harbinger of a Hillary Clinton presidency. But by the authors’ own argument, Clinton shouldn’t then be the next president because Democrats are already in control of the White House.

A party’s election losses are hardly the reason to hire a woman, but assume that it’s true more women come to power when their party is out of the executive office — by that logic, Republicans should really have nominated a woman this year. At the same time, Democrats would have picked a man.

Also assume that May is coming to power because she’s the most competent, not because of her genetic disposition or the assertion that the entire voting electorate is sexist because it expects women to “clean up” the messes left behind by men. Would that were the case, there would have been a lot more women executives by now.

Nonetheless, what will May stand for? How will she lead? Will she be Thatheresque or Clintonite?

The U.K. Telegraph has some quotes to guide readers to learn more about May, and reaches back into the annals to find some choice bits.

On Conservative Party reform

October 7 2002 to party conference in Bournemouth, when party chairman:

‘There’s a lot we need to do in this party of ours. Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us – the nasty party…

‘We need to reach out to all areas of our society. I want us to be the party that represents the whole of Britain and not merely some mythical place called “Middle England”, but the truth is that as our country has become more diverse, our party has remained the same.’

On Europe

Apr 25 2016 at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in central London:

‘Britain can and often does lead in Europe: the creation of the single market was driven by Mrs Thatcher, the competitiveness and trade agendas now pursued by the Commission were begun at the behest of Britain and Germany, and I can tell you that on matters of counter-terrorism and security, the rest of Europe instinctively looks towards us.  But it shouldn’t be a notable exception when Britain leads in Europe: it must become the norm.’

On poverty and the welfare state

Aug 27 2009 to Policy Exchange when work and pensions spokeswoman:

‘Tax credits do not help people get better jobs; in fact they can create poverty traps that actually disincentivise people from working more hours or finding better-paid jobs.

‘Solving poverty is also about aspiration and skills rather than giving people extra financial help. And solving it is about tackling educational failure, antisocial behaviour, debt problems and addiction, and of course it’s about work.

‘High levels of worklessness have not only created pockets of serious poverty but have crushed the aspirations of whole communities, changing social norms from hard work and discipline to antisocial behaviour and idleness.’

Those are just a few of her stances. Read many more of Theresa May’s quotes at The Telegraph.


Elie Wiesel’s Universal Wisdom

Elie Wiesel died on July 2, 2016, at 87 years old. A Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize winner, novelist, scholar, historian, and human rights activist, Wiesel was 15 years old when he was taken to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland from his home in what is now Romania. He lost his mother, father, and a younger sister to the Nazis, but was later reunited with two sisters.

He married and had one son. Wiesel had a very complex belief system when it came to faith, memory, and despair, but he held an unrelenting willingness to teach and to learn, and was a tireless activist for those seeking freedom of conscience, liberation from despotism, and relief from war.

Wiesel wrote 60 books and gave countless speeches. His quotes span decades, but much of it rings true on this day as when he first uttered his thoughts.

Here are some of his most memorable quotes.

On bigotry:

If someone had told us in 1945 that in our lifetime religious wars would rage on virtually every continent, that thousands of children would once again be dying of starvation, we would not have believed it. Or that racism and fanaticism would flourish once again, we would not have believed it.

Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, Dec. 11, 1986

On hatred:

Hatred is at the root of evil everywhere. Racial hatred, ethnic hatred, political hatred, religious hatred. In its name, all seems permitted. For those who glorify hatred, as terrorists do, the end justifies all means, including the most despicable ones.

Parade Magazine, Oct. 28, 2001

On indifference:

Indifference is not a beginning, it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity we betray our own.

White House Millennium Lecture, April 12, 1999

On God:

I rarely speak about God. To God yes. I protest against Him. I shout at Him. But open discourse about the qualities of God, about the problems that God imposes, theodicy, no. And yet He is there, in silence, in filigree.

Paris Review interview, Spring 1984

On peace:

Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures; peace is our gift to each other.

Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, Dec. 11, 1986

On gratitude:

When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.

Oprah Magazine, November 2000

Read this moving tribute to Elie Wiesel from his friend, Menachem Z. Rosensaft.

Watch Elie Wiesel give his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

Emotional Intelligence and the Case of The Interns Who Didn’t Get It

Every now and then, a news story causes people to snicker with a satisfying sense of knowing others got their comeuppance, even though a more appropriate response would be to use one’s emotional intelligence to consider applying the lessons of the story to one’s own life. Here’s one example of that, with the usual suspects — interns —in the unenviable role of learning a lesson the hard way:

A young reader’s request for advice went viral over the weekend, via a blog post on The reader had received a summer internship with a company that does work in the individual’s desired industry.

‘Even though the division I was hired to work in doesn’t deal with clients or customers, there still was a very strict dress code,’ the person wrote. ‘I felt the dress code was overly strict but I wasn’t going to say anything, until I noticed one of the workers always wore flat shoes that were made from a fabric other than leather, or running shoes, even though both of these things were contrary to the dress code.’

The intern spoke with a manager, who made it clear that there wasn’t any leeway allowed under the dress code, despite the exception made for the other worker.

And that’s where it all goes downhill.

Angered by the ‘hypocrisy’ and having discovered that many of the other interns felt the same way, the reader and the others wrote a proposal stating why they should be allowed to stray from the dress code. The proposal was accompanied by a petition signed by every intern (minus one who refused to sign), and given to the managers. The interns asked for ‘a more business casual dress code,’ outlining the types of footwear they felt were more appropriate, along with a request that the group ‘not have to wear suits and/or blazers in favor of a more casual, but still professional dress code.’

And this is where the sense of comeuppance comes in — when the “should’ve just followed the rules” thought kicks in. Reportedly, the interns were pulled into a meeting the next day and terminated for “unprofessional” behavior. They were told to leave immediately, and it was explained to them that “the worker who was allowed to disobey the dress code was a former soldier who lost her leg and was therefore given permission to wear whatever kind of shoes she could walk in.”

And that’s what we call a ‘welcome to reality’ moment.

But the worst part of it all, and what proves that the interns’ decision to submit a petition lacked emotional intelligence, is the reasoning that comes next. After acknowledging the situation of the colleague who was given an exception due to her physical condition, the reader writes:

‘You can’t even tell, and if we had known about this we would have factored it into our argument.’

Man oh man.

Read the lessons that author Justin Bariso offers up to other newcomers who demonstrate a lack of emotional intelligence (a.k.a. the know-it-alls).

Why Dodd-Frank Was Never Meant to Cure Any Banking Woes


Wow, talk about nailing it on the head:

Dodd-Frank’s ‘too big to fail’ solution … is essentially a speed trap, designed to ensnare more and more firms under greater government control. It was never set up to avoid unsafe behavior in the first place. …

Here’s another reason the government might be inclined to create more SIFIs, and it’s part of the reason why Main Street should care about this issue: There’s money in it. Designating firms, particularly insurance companies, as SIFIs puts more money into the government’s Orderly Liquidation Fund. And since the fund is made up of fees levied on SIFIs, it’s consumers that end up shouldering the burden.

Setting aside the fact that the SIFI regime doesn’t necessarily make the system safer, Main Street gets hit another way: Reduced competition for business loans. GE Capital, in seeking to shed its SIFI designation, sold off most of its business-lending unit to Wells Fargo. This comes at a time when small businesses, especially in rural areas, are suffering from a lack of capital.

Read more about how Dodd-Frank doesn’t make consumers or banks safer.

Zenefits CEO David Sacks on his bold bet: Less than 10% of employees accepted ‘The Offer’

Last week, Zenefits CEO David Sacks made one of the more daring turnaround moves in recent Silicon Valley history.

Following several months of turmoil over compliance issues that led to the departure of the company’s founder in February, Sacks made what he called “The Offer.” In essence, any employee hired before February could take a generous buyout offer if they didn’t feel they could get behind his plan to save the company.

The deadline for accepting The Offer was last Thursday. So how’d it go?

Read the rest of the article on Zenefits buyout offer.

Life After Prison: Try Ordering a Vente Skim Latte With Extra Foam

Imagine meeting a time traveler who ended up 24 years in the future, arriving in 2016. He doesn’t know how to use a cell phone, an electronic gas pump, a debit card. He has never sent an email, never used Google, never ordered a coffee at Starbucks. He feels pretty helpless.

Would you try to teach him how life works in 2016?

Now imagine that the time traveler ended up in the future not because he was experimenting with some HG Wells-style contraption, but because he had spent the last two-plus decades in prison, locked up with few links to the outside world and left to fend in the wild Serengeti, a jungle where physically fighting off other prisoners was part of the culture of survival.

Would you help him learn to live constructively in the present?

“It’s amazing to go through the arduous trek of prison and get out and realize that I’ve just entered the promised land of freedom and there are giants and armies and battles to be fought that most of the people coming out of prison are not prepared for,” said Bryan Kelley, who was paroled in 2014 after serving 22 years of a life sentence for murdering a dealer during a drug deal gone bad.

Kelley, who recently spoke at the AEI Vision Talks in Washington, D.C., is now an executive relations manager at the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, a program that attracts successful entrepreneurs to help inmates who aspire to rebuild their lives after prison. PEP has helped 1,500 former inmates graduate from a nine-month “refining fire” where they learn to build character as well as how to lead their families, father their children, be good employees, and even build prosperous businesses.

Last year, PEP graduates started 200 businesses, the top six of which had revenues of more than a million dollars each.

A byproduct of their street life is that many prisoners “know a lot about business. They just don’t know that they know it,” Kelley said. “They know things about profit margins, they know about supply chains, they know about risk management, they know about marketing. … They have natural talents. They have got hustle and they are not afraid to use it.”

But, he added, PEP is “not trying to make better dope dealers. We are trying to forge better men.”

Life after prison isn’t easy, even with successful programs like PEP, which boasts a recidivism rate for graduates of only 7 percent — compared to the historical recidivism rate for felons of more than 50 percent.

One of the biggest challenges ex-inmates face, Kelley said, is that hardened criminals are shunned by society.

“The jobs available to me are laughable. The jobs I’m barred from are immense. My application gets thrown in the trash because I have checked the box that says I have a felony on my record. Housing is impossible. … Apartment complexes will not lease to me unless they are something really akin to a chemical redistribution zone,” he said.

“There are so many policies out there that encumber us and hold us down. I’ll tell you what, me and my guys that I work with, we feel like everywhere we go you’re looking at us like, ‘We don’t want you here.'”

Such an instinct may be natural, especially after Kelley confirmed that prison life is something akin to how it’s portrayed in the movies. Living in prison is a constant fight, he said, whether over what TV show to watch, how much food to eat, even whether someone can beat someone else in a fight. Race riots and tear gas and lockdowns are all part of the experience.

“If you won’t fight, it’s ugly. You become property to be used, a resource to be used and traded. I have counseled many young men who came to prison, and I told them, ‘Go down to that day room and meet this head on, and you fight like there’s no tomorrow, and if you do, the members of your own race are going to back you and they’re going to make sure that you don’t get beat down too badly. But if you don’t fight, nobody else will either. You’ll be on your own. That is a lonely place to be in prison.”

That may sound like incendiary advice, but Kelley has had a long time to think about how to help hurting people heal. And PEP has helped by showing prisoners that they are not “what we’ve done, but who we could be.”

But the truth is, Kelley said, inmates and ex-prisoners can’t do it alone.

“If a man is going to change in prison, there are precious few handholds and even fewer hands reaching down to help pull him up. I was blessed to find some of those hands,” he said. “There are literally thousands of people that are languishing in prison, broken, don’t know the way out. If they knew the way out, they wouldn’t have been there. They need help.”

How an Ex-Con Found His Self-Worth and Paid It Forward

Every once in a while, the security we feel is shattered by a hard truth, or an interaction with someone who takes us out of our comfort zone for better or worse. Bryan Kelley is one of those people.

Sentenced to life in prison for murdering a man in a drug deal gone bad, Kelley was released after 22 years. Why?

Could be what he discovered behind bars — a path to redemption and an opportunity not only for his own rehabilitation and recognition of self-worth, but also the ability to help numerous others as well.

Kelley took the lessons of self-actualization that he learned during his long days and nights incarcerated and figured out a way to implement them, becoming a leader in an entrepreneurship program that helps ex-offenders successfully re-enter society.  The Prison Entrepreneurship Program combines a rigorous classroom curriculum, one-on-one immersion training, and a web of real-world resources to deliver results that not only improve communities where felons return, but create healthy, productive, and transformative changes that enable these ex-cons to realize their self-value and live their accountability to others.

Kelley recently came to Washington, D.C., to tell his story for the AEI Vision Talks, a series of lectures by top scholars, political leaders, and policy-makers inside the Beltway as well as business owners, practitioners, and influencers around the nation. These lectures offer fresh perspectives on key areas of public debate and policy.

The discussions focus on practical solutions, based on real-life experiences. For Kelley, he has experiences that many people don’t wish on their enemies. It’s enough to make you shift in your seat when you’re an audience member at his lectures. But in searching for actionable solutions, Kelley found answers that turned around what could have been a meaningless life in prison into a positive impact that touches families of ex-prisoners, area businesses, and the larger community.

Watch Bryan Kelley’s Vision Talk and see if he can teach you anything. At the very least, it will make you look at life a little differently, or perhaps count your blessings.

Sign up to have this Vision Talk sent to you free via email.


Censorship at Facebook? Maybe Not. Intellectual Diversity? Maybe Not

We all saw the report: Anonymous sources claimed that Facebook employees have deliberately censored stories from the site’s “trending” topics that favored the conservative outlook.

Conservatives across the country were frustrated and angry, and the reason why ran deeper than simple indignation at unfair treatment. The frustration was more intense because media bias is a documented fact that politically and culturally conservative Americans have been grappling with for decades. The traditional press, across both print and broadcast media, famously tilts to the left. This holds both in explicit opinion commentary and in subtler, implicit ways, such as which stories are deemed worthy of straight news coverage and which are seen as red herrings to ignore.

But new media seemed to hold new promise for a level playing field. From the young days of the blogosphere in the early 2000s, conservative- and libertarian-leaning blogs gained huge followings, inflected major debates, and kept the “mainstream media” newly accountable.

As social media such as Facebook and Twitter gained prominence, Americans with views disdained by the traditional coastal media again found cause for optimism and new ways to organize and discuss the news of the day.

This is why the Facebook allegations felt so disappointing to so many. A digital platform that had seemed to determine popular stories by a neutral algorithm was instead running a subjective editorial desk and reportedly staffing it with young, left-leaning college grads who openly put their thumbs on the scale.

That’s why, this past Wednesday, I joined a group of other conservative leaders at Facebook headquarters to meet with Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and others from management. I came in with an open mind, eager to help explain conservative frustrations and discuss future solutions. And the spirit of the meeting was cordial and productive. Personally, I am extremely skeptical (to put it mildly) that there is some top-down conspiracy to weaponize Facebook to intentionally censor conservative views, and I hope that this is the beginning of serious efforts to combat the risk of systemic bias.

Facebook has a tremendous opportunity to out-innovate old media models and win over customers who are hungry for ways to separate the signal from the noise. But questions of editorial oversight and — even more important — intellectual and ideological diversity within Silicon Valley remain important issues that deserve serious solutions.

Facebook and other young, innovative companies have a massive opening to change the status quo in news aggregation by disrupting old patterns and helping citizens bypass “gatekeepers.” They can greatly improve the marketplace of ideas. But to do this, it is vital that new media avoid making old mistakes.I hope that last week’s meetings were just the beginning of serious efforts to combat the risk of systemic bias. Silicon Valley talks a great deal about diversity. Rightly so. But that has to include intellectual, cultural, and religious diversity, or else a golden opportunity could easily be wasted.

Pew Report: 5 Differences Between Americans and Europeans

Yes, Americans and Europeans share a commitment to democratic principles, but differences between Americans and Europeans are notable when it comes to personal liberty and the individual’s role in achieving one’s own success.

And while historically, American sensibilities about the role of government, individualism, and freedom can be drawn from some of the great European thinkers of the past centuries, a recent Pew poll of several nations found that Americans have a much greater affinity for religious worship, freedom of expression, and self-determination.

Pew reached five conclusions from its polling, including that

— “Americans are more likely to believe they control their own destiny,” and

— “Americans tend to prioritize individual liberty, while Europeans tend to value the role of the state to ensure no one in society is in need.”

Read more about the five ways Americans and Europeans are different.


Changing the Conversation on Criminal Justice

A Democratic administration, a major university’s criminal justice center, and a free-enterprise-focused think tank came together this week to discuss mass incarceration. This event might seem a little unusual since this kind of diverse collaboration is not exactly commonplace in Washington, DC.

But collaboration and open discussion are possible across the political spectrum, and it’s important to engage in good-faith dialogue and debate with colleagues of all views on crucial subjects.

White House policymakers, American Enterprise Institute scholars, and The Brennan Center’s experts hold a wide range of views on the substance of criminal justice reform during National Reentry Week. They share a passionate desire to build a system that more effectively serves both the human dignity and human potential of vulnerable people.

And let’s be honest — few subjects in American life are so clearly misaligned with these twin moral goals as the status quo in criminal justice.

Data show that only about one-third of incarcerated Americans get to participate in any educational, vocational, or pre-release programs while behind bars. One professor who studies our prison population estimates that roughly half of all people in prison are functionally illiterate. And partially as a result of these factors, about two-thirds of all parolees wind up back in prison within three years of their release.

To be sure, excessive spending and economic inefficiency are serious consequences of this inefficient system. But the heaviest costs that America bears for this human capital tragedy are not material. They are moral.

When we talk about a person who comes out of prison barely able to read and utterly unprepared for citizenship, we are talking about a person stripped of his basic dignity. When we see a person who is asked to re-enter productive society but has no plausible job prospects, we are looking at someone whose human potential has been badly stunted.

Through action and inaction alike, our society has effectively decided that there are millions of our brothers and sisters, the incarcerated and the formerly incarcerated, whom we simply do not need. At worst, we view them as human liabilities we must coexist with and manage at minimal cost; at best, as people we can tolerate and try to help. But as dormant assets to be enlivened and empowered? Hardly ever.

If we committed ourselves and our society to the moral principle that we need to need everyone, how would criminal justice policy change? Fascinating work on this topic already speaks for itself, and in the year ahead, expect to see more research on inmate education and reentry.

For conservatives and Washington-based Republicans, the mass awakening to the cause of criminal justice reform is a prominent, recent example of ideological-category scrambling that would have been difficult to imagine a decade ago.

For progressives and the Democratic Party, another side of that coin is education reform.

“Predictably, [charter schools] are turning out to be neither a total panacea nor an awful failure. Their successes depend hugely on leadership. So some have done poorly and others have saved kids from failing in traditional schools.

As a general matter, though, charters are really promising. A nationwide study published last year by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that kids in urban charters gained 72 more days of learning per year in reading than in traditional schools, and 101 days in math. Here in Washington, D.C., we have an excellent schools chancellor, Kaya Henderson, who has really gone to bat for charters.
And even though D.C. charters serve poorer kids and more minorities than traditional schools, they’re yielding faster improvement and better results.”
These findings and others paint a picture that is nuanced but still clear. As my AEI colleague Rick Hess explains after an exhaustive review of the research: “For poor parents trapped in dangerous and underperforming urban school systems, it is pretty clear that school choice works.”
So far, the political left has been sluggish to react to this emergent scholarly consensus. But politicians who choose the interests of organized labor over the common-sense recommendations of school choice advocates simply make the wrong choice. And while neither Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders have spoken up yet for the sorts of bold solutions that would really help vulnerable children build their human capital, an immense political opportunity remains within their reach.
Whoever ends up the Democratic nominee, they should deliberately try to re-create former President Clinton’s famous “Sister Souljah” moment by taking on a corner of their own constituency (here, the entrenched education interests that are happy to freeze the status quo in place). It would simultaneously make a bold moral statement and inject some appealing unpredictability into his or her political image.

Why Western Civilization Classes Are Not Passé

Can you answer the following questions?

Who fought in the Peloponnesian War?

Who taught Plato, and whom did Plato teach?

Who was Saul of Tarsus?

Why does the Magna Carta matter?

What are one or two of the arguments made in Federalist 10?

Hard questions, right? Maybe not. Maybe you learned some or all of the answers in school, or you knew them at one time, but have now forgotten the details. Or perhaps you are devoted to a few events that you have internalized and helped form you into the person you are today.

But knowing the answers in great detail may be less important than recognizing the importance of the questions.

Unfortunately, Stanford University students may never realize how significant and meaningful these questions are because the student government earlier this week voted overwhelmingly against requiring students to complete a two-quarter course on Western civilization.

That’s right. Instead, the student leadership, validated by its Pravda-esque mouthpiece, The Stanford Daily, concluded that supporting Western civilization basically equated to “upholding white supremacy, capitalism and colonialism, and all other oppressive systems that flow from Western civilizations.”

Read more about Western civilization classes in U.S. colleges.

Our Dangerous Reality: There Are All Sorts of Threats America Must Prepare For

With the terrorist attacks in Paris, France and San Bernardino, California, Americans are increasingly concerned about the safety of their communities. Daily media reports about the spread of the Islamic State group, its infiltration of the refugees streaming out of the Middle East and its savvy social media efforts to radicalize Muslims across the globe undergird their concerns.

As former President George W. Bush warned us after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, the fight against this terrorist threat will be a long one. For the first phase of this fight, the focus was on preparing for spectacular large-scale attacks that would produce thousands of casualties. While some terrorists groups retain that aim, our national security apparatus has adjusted to meet that threat.

Such an attack could occur, but our capabilities to disrupt their ability to plan, to limit their funding channels, to prevent the movement of material and attackers and, ultimately, to detect and thwart their operations are strong. Plus, the Atlantic Ocean remains one of our best defenses.

So what should Americans be worried about over the next few years? What “grey swans” could occur that would cause loss of life and our economy to falter? To answer that question, it is important to look back at what history has to say on this issue.

Read more about national security threats America should prepare for.

Scalia on Principled Conservatism: Combining Creativity and Curiosity

 Justice Antonin Scalia embodied principled conservatism.

America lost a patriot and unswerving advocate for constitutional government.  There is no need for me to recap the basics of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s amazing career. Instead, I’d like to focus on a few specific facets of his character. [Read more…]

What Is the Fate of Traditional Religion in America?

What is the future of traditional religion in this country? This question is discussed constantly across America, from dinner tables to graduate seminars to think-tank conference centers.

You may remember a 2015 Pew reportthat was advertised as bad news for traditional Christianity. The report helped popularize a now-famous phrase: the “rise of the nones.” It showed a big increase in the number of Americans who identify with no religion at all. Since 2007 alone, the ranks of these “nones” grew from 16 percent of America to almost 23 percent today.

That makes “unaffiliated” the second largest of all religious groups — just behind Evangelical Protestants, just ahead of Catholics, and well ahead of mainline Protestants and all other faiths. A huge sea change, right?

Maybe not.

Late last year, the well-known religion scholar Rodney Stark released a new book titled The Triumph of Faith. As you can guess from the title, he doesn’t agree with the conclusion that many are drawing from the Pew paper. But he doesn’t directly dispute the “rise of the nones” thesis.

Instead, Stark combines that result with another, seemingly contrary trend. He notes that over the same years when the number of officially “unaffiliated” Americans swelled, church attendance did not significantly drop. Furthermore, the percentage of self-declared atheists did not seem to increase. What can explain this paradox?

Stark solves the puzzle by arguing that almost all of the new “nones” were Americans who already weren’t attending church much — they just held on to religious labels. As the broader culture around them secularized, the social pressures that once urged nominal believers to self-identify with faiths they didn’t practice were worn away. So, by Stark’s logic, the dramatic Pew report and the “rise of the nones” actually tells a duller story: people who really weren’t religious just stopped telling pollsters they were religious.

If Stark is right, the recent “rise of the nones” may not imply anywhere near the cataclysmic collapse in the American practice of Christianity as has often been claimed.


This is another area where real life proves more complicated than the conventional wisdom.

Through all my years in academia and more recently inside the Beltway, I’’ve often heard arguments thrown around that a tiny minority called the “extreme religious right” have taken over the conservative movement and made it more intensely faith-focused than the supposed “mainstream.” The political left, by contrast, was declared to be much more in line with most ordinary Americans’ worldview. True?

Here’s what the General Social Survey says about the churchgoing habits of liberal and conservative Americans (and the national average for good measure):

A chart of frequent church goers by political view.

The first fact that jumps out is that no group has upped their churchgoing relative to the 1970s. Put aside all the media chatter about the conservative movement becoming the exclusive domain of intense Christians. What we actually find is that 57 out of 100 conservatives were frequent church attendees four decades ago and 51 out of 100 are now.

The much more dramatic shift actually came from self-identified liberals. Their 12-point decline in regular religious attendance doubled the conservatives’ change. At least when we look at simple church attendance, it is the Left, not the Right, that has seen the dramatic shift in religiosity.

Another interesting note — Back in the early 1970s, conservatives were 12 percent likelier to attend services regularly than the general population average, which was in turn 10 points above the average for liberals. But now, each political wing is precisely the same distance (14 points) away from the national average.

The unusual secularity of the left is reinforced when we look to the next generation of liberals. The same GSS data showed that in 1974, when 93 percent of all Americans identified with some type of religion, so did 83 percent of young liberals (aged 18-29). But in the intervening decades, that gap has swelled to a 21-point chasm: More than three-fourths of Americans still identify with some faith, but the odds that a young liberal citizen will follow suit are now barely better than a coin flip.

Again, these are complicated issues that need more analysis than a simple chart. But I’ve always found that straightforward surveys can offer a lot more insight than many suspect.

Study: Religion and Bank Loan Terms

Wen He and Maggie (Rong) Hu, senior lecturers at the University of New South Wales Business School in Australia, examine whether religion affects the terms of bank loans.

In the paper’s abstract, they write, “We hypothesize that lenders value the traits of religious adherents, such as risk aversion, ethical behavior and honesty, and thus offer favorable loan terms to religious borrowers. Consistent with this hypothesis, we find that corporate borrowers located in counties with a high level of religiosity are charged lower interest rates, have larger loan amounts and fewer loan covenants. These results suggest that the corporate culture of borrowers influences the availability and cost of bank loans.”

According to the introduction, the “study aims to extend this stream of research by investigating whether the market understands and values corporate behavior that is driven by religions. In particular, we study if one important group of stakeholders, namely bank lenders, appreciates and rewards the conservative and ethical behavior of firms located in more religious areas.”

“This study is important for two reasons. First, rational economic agents would expect good corporate behavior to be rewarded by the market, which provides incentives for them to behave ethically. Finding evidence that the markets reward good corporate behavior related to religious social norms would provide economic support to prior studies in social finance and religions. Second, bank loans have become the predominant source of external financing for U.S. companies. In 2007, for example, large U.S. corporations raised a record $2,282 billion new capital from the syndicated loan market, compared with $168 billion from the equity market. Levine and Zervos (1998) find that bank loans are strongly and positively related to economic growth across countries. It is thus important to understand how banks make lending decisions and whether nonfinancial information, such as religious social norms, affects the terms of loan contracts.”

Read the report on religion and bank loan terms here.