Author: Cascade Policy Institute

This Thanksgiving, Are You Part of the One Percent?

This Thanksgiving, Are You Part of the One Percent?

By Steve Buckstein

You may not have learned this in school, but prior to the 1623 Thanksgiving celebration in the Plymouth colony it had the equivalent of a modern-day socialist economy. Land and crops were held in common; and food was distributed based on need, not on production. Able young men were often unwilling to work hard for the benefit of other men’s families.

After several disastrous harvests, each household was given its own plot of land. They could keep what they produced, or trade their crops for things they needed. Private property and a free market economy resulted in a truly bountiful harvest in 1623 and beyond.

Today, most Americans are actually rich, thanks in large part to retaining those private property and free market traditions. Perhaps not rich in relation to other Americans, but rich in relation to people around the world.

If your family earns more than $32,400 per year, you are in the top one percent of all income earners worldwide. Recently, half of all American families earned more than $59,039, and the average family earned $73,298. Even the lowest family income group by race, African Americans, had a median income of $39,490. Looked at this way, most Americans are part of the world’s one percent.

Things are far from perfect, but most of us have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Click here for the PDF version:

11-22-17-This_Thanksgiving_Are_You_Part_of_the_One_Percent

Read Blog Detail
Vote NO on Health Care Tax Measure 101

Vote NO on Health Care Tax Measure 101

By Steve Buckstein

Oregonians will have the opportunity in January to vote No on Ballot Measure 101, thus rejecting new taxes that the state legislature and the governor tried to impose on health insurance premiums and hospital services. While these and other taxes are meant to shore up state funding of Medicaid services to low-income Oregonians, it has become clear that the state has been misspending such funds for years.

Voters’ Pamphlet statements for and against Measure 101 were due by November 13, and Cascade Policy Institute submitted an Argument in Opposition which you can read below. In it, we noted three ways that the state has mismanaged over $650 million in health care funds entrusted to it by state and federal taxpayers. But, that may be far from the final number.

On November 17, four days after the Voters’ Pamphlet deadline, Oregonians learned that the state may have “erroneously paid, allocated, inaccurately recorded or over-claimed $112.4 million in health care funds, according to a letter Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Director Pat Allen sent to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. Allen also told state legislators that “the state was likely to see more processing problems come out of the state’s health agency.”

These revelations were too late for Cascade, or anyone else, to include in our Voters’ Pamphlet statements. So voters will need to keep up with all the reasons to vote No on Measure 101. More reasons may emerge when the Secretary of State releases an expected audit of the OHA by early December.

An early version of the Voters’ Pamphlet for Measure 101, including the full text of the Measure and Arguments in Favor and in Opposition can be found at the Secretary of State’s website.

Here is Cascade’s Argument in Opposition:

STOP NEW SALES TAXES ON HEALTH INSURANCE PREMIUMS
AND HOSPITAL SERVICES

Vote No on Measure 101.

Oregon state government has a long history of mismanaging “other people’s health care dollars,” including:

  • Wasting $300 million federal tax dollars building a website, Cover Oregon, that wasn’t able to sign up a single person for health insurance.
  • Paying $280 million a year for nearly 55,000 Medicaid recipients recently found to no longer qualify or who failed to respond to an eligibility check.
  • Overpaying health care organizations $74 million over three years to provide expanded Medicaid coverage to some Oregonians. The state initially only asked for $10 million of those overpayments back, and under political pressure eventually asked for the rest.

As one Oregon economist notes about the taxes in Measure 101:

“The law explicitly allows the new taxes on health insurance providers to be passed on to consumers. With these new taxes, that Silver ACA plan will cost about $625 more in 2019 than in 2018. It’s not just 40-year-olds who will get hit with the insurance tax. Nearly 12,000 college students…will pay the tax. Small group employers…will pay the new tax.

“Taxes on hospitals will raise the costs of care across the board….The cost of these taxes also will be passed on in the form of higher deductibles and premiums. Even if you don’t go to the hospital, you will be paying the hospital tax through higher insurance prices.”*

The cost of health care is already too expensive for many Oregonians. Don’t let the state add even more taxes onto services that are expensive enough already, especially when it has such a poor track record spending the health care tax money it already gets from us.

Say No to these new health care sales taxes.

Vote No on Measure 101.

*source: Health Care Tax Would Hurt Middle Class
at: CascadePolicy.org/Health-Care

(This information furnished by Steve Buckstein, Cascade Policy Institute.)

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Click here for the PDF version:

17-21-Vote_NO_on_Health_Care_Tax_Measure_101

Read Blog Detail
Tolling People on to Portland’s Highways

Tolling People on to Portland’s Highways

By John A. Charles, Jr.

Earlier this year the state legislature passed a bill requiring the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) to apply for federal authorization to implement “value pricing” on two regional highways: I-205, and I-5 from the Washington border to the intersection with I-205. The OTC must apply by December 31, 2018.

Although value pricing may sound vague or somewhat ominous, motorists should be happy with this new policy. It has the potential to eliminate traffic congestion and create a revenue stream that will allow us to build the new highways and bridges that we need.

First, some background. “Value pricing” is a bureaucratic term for electronic tolling of highways where the toll rates vary based on the density of traffic. Usually, the rates change based on time of day, direction of travel, and day of the week. The rates are set to ensure 45 MPH driving conditions at all times of the day, hence the “value” offered to motorists.

There are many possible variations on this theme. In most cases, value pricing is used on new highway lanes, allowing drivers the option of staying in the unpriced, general purpose lanes. That probably will not be feasible in the Portland region because there is no room for an entire new network of priced lanes on I-5.

In some ways this is a blessing, because variable tolling will make our current lanes more productive. If priced properly, it’s possible that new lanes will not even be needed, saving us the expense of construction.

Value pricing is necessary because our current system cannot address congestion. Our highway network is an open access system, where each trip appears to be “free.” Of course, it’s not free—it’s being paid for by various back-door mechanisms such as motor fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees, and random federal grants. But we think it’s free, so during peak hours we see a “stampede” effect.

When too many people try to get on at the same time, per-lane throughput drops substantially. The carrying capacity for most highways is roughly 1,800 vehicles per-hour in each lane. At times of hyper-congestion, this can drop to 900 vehicles or fewer.

By using variable pricing, we can clear up the stampede and get per-lane travel back to 1,600 or 1,800 vehicles per-hour. In essence, value pricing allows us to “toll on” more people than we “toll off.”

The effect of this was seen recently when tolls on the Port Mann Bridge in Canada were removed on September 1. The Port Mann is a 10-lane bridge over the Fraser River near Vancouver. After tolls were removed, the result was a huge increase in congestion. One driver saw her daily commute increase by 25 minutes each way. She told a news reporter, “Absolutely, it’s terrible. It’s selfish but I want those tolls back on.”

In addition to the benefits of free-flow driving conditions, variable tolling will also create the dedicated revenue stream we need for future highway expansion. There is no doubt that we need several new bridges over the Columbia River, plus additional highway lanes elsewhere. Value pricing will tell us where to build, when to build, and who is willing to pay.

Fortunately, the Oregon Constitution does not allow toll revenues to be siphoned off for non-highway uses such as light rail construction. Therefore, money paid by motorists will benefit them directly.

The new law mandates value pricing on two specific highways but also authorizes the OTC to implement pricing anywhere else. Since the Portland highway network is an integrated system including I-84, I-5, I-405, HW 26, HW 217, and I-205, it would be better to implement value pricing region-wide to ensure that motorists get what they want: free-flow driving conditions, at all times of the day.

Most new highways being built around the world are using electronic tolling with variable rates. The new Oregon law is an opportunity for us to learn from that experience and to implement a Portland highway pricing system that truly delivers “value” for motorists.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. A version of this article appeared in the Wilsonville Spokesman on November 1, 2017.

Click here for the PDF version:

17-20-Tolling_People_on_to_Portland’s_Highways

Read Blog Detail
QuickPoint! – Military Families Want Education Options for Their Kids

Military Families Want Flexible Education Options for Their Kids

By Kathryn Hickok

EdChoice recently conducted a groundbreaking survey of military-connected families seeking to understand their perspectives on K-12 education and school choice. EdChoice is a nonpartisan research organization that promotes expanded educational options for all children.

The survey found that families connected with the military highly value access to better educational environments for their children, want more freedom and flexibility in choosing their children’s schools, and overwhelmingly support school choice programs like Education Savings Accounts. Eighty percent of children in military households currently attend public schools, but only 34% of survey respondents said a public school would be their first choice. Military parents are much more likely than the national average to take “costly and inconvenient steps to secure and accommodate their children’s education.” That includes taking extra jobs, moving closer to schools, and taking out loans.

The military lifestyle presents unique challenges to families. The EdChoice report noted that “the quality of educational options available to military families can play a major role in whether a family accepts an assignment or even decides to leave military service altogether.” As a nation we should consider that providing military families with meaningful school choice programs could be a significant boost to the morale of service members by improving the well-being of their families. Making it easier for military kids to get their educational needs met is the right thing to do.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Click here for the PDF version:

11-15-17-Military_Families_Want_Education_Options

Read Blog Detail
Kate brown attention deficit disorder

Kate Brown’s Attention Deficit Disorder

By John A. Charles, Jr.

The most serious problem facing Oregon right now is the exploding costs of the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS). The PERS crisis is so severe that the Oregon Legislature should make it the only issue addressed in the February 2018 legislative session.

But Governor Brown isn’t interested in reducing the PERS liability. That would take too much work and might offend her public employee union campaign contributors. So instead she has signed two Executive Orders purporting to address “climate change,” ahead of her jaunt to Bonn, Germany next week to attend a United Nations conference on global warming.

Her Executive Orders impose a blizzard of costly requirements on new buildings, including requirements for new homes to meet energy efficiency guidelines by 2023, and mandates for new homes to be solar-panel-ready by 2020. New buildings will also have to accommodate electric vehicles, regardless of whether the owners ever intend to own such vehicles.

The Governor is also setting a fantasy policy goal that Oregonians own 50,000 electric vehicles by 2020, more than three times the current ownership level.

Oregon desperately needs political leadership to avoid a PERS-induced death spiral. Unfortunately, all we’re getting is a Governor flying halfway around the world to escape reality.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

11-8-17-Kate_Brown’s_Attention_Deficit_Disorder

Read Blog Detail
Oregon’s affordable housing crisis can be attributed to restrictive land use policies

Oregon’s affordable housing crisis can be attributed to restrictive land use policies

By Lydia White

Affordable housing advocates are quick to criticize Portland City Council’s use of the $258.4 million affordable housing bond, but their criticism is fundamentally misdirected. Advocates should turn instead to Oregon’s state and local governments to demand an overhaul of restrictive land use policies.

Vanessa Brown Calder of the Cato Institute has produced a report which demonstrates a correlation between increased zoning and land use regulations and more expensive housing.

One of Oregon’s most restrictive land use policies is the urban growth boundary, a simulated border created to reduce urban development. The Portland Tribune recently reported that, according to Christopher Herbert, the managing director of the Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, UGBs “have the downside of raising land prices” by restricting access to developable land. While some proponents claim that UGBs protect farmland, most fail to acknowledge the extent of their negative externalities.

Calder also suggests government housing subsidies undermine the incentives for states and localities to address what underlies the housing problem—an artificially scarce supply of land—because the aid serves as a substitute for substantial solutions.

Advocates continue to underestimate well-intentioned policies’ unintended consequences. To have an effective impact on housing affordability, they should call on legislative officials to address Oregon’s state and local land use policies.

Lydia White is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

11-1-17-Oregon’s_Affordable_Housing_Crisis

Read Blog Detail

Win $15,000 for a video telling your school choice story

Choices in Ed Video Competition
Entry Deadline is December 1, 2017

Dear School Choice Supporters:

Some of you entered Cascade Policy Institute’s 2009 Oregon School Choice Video Contest; sharing your stories of how school choice helped you or your children, or why you wanted more choices in education.

Now, the Foundation for Excellence in Education has launched a nationwide Choices in Ed Video Competition.  Based on the sincerity and passion of the videos, eight winners will receive cash prizes from $5,000 to $15,000 each. Enter, and you might be one of them!

You’re eligible to enter if you’re a student, parent or guardian, or alumnus of existing choice programs (public school/open enrollment, charter, magnet, private school, virtual/blended, or homeschool), or a person who wants more educational choice in your state.

Videos must be under two minutes long, and must be successfully uploaded by 11:59pm EST (8:59pm Pacific time) on December 1, 2017.

Be sure to read About the Contest, the Rules and How to Enter. Then, ENTER TODAY.

We hope one or more of you will be winners. We would like to share your videos with other Oregonians whether or not you win this national competition. That way, we can help tell your story and use it to move toward more School Choices in our state.

Here are three of our favorite videos submitted to our Contest in 2009; two from students and one from a parent

Shoes

Rylee’s Choice

School Choice Coffee Analogy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can see many other videos submitted to our contest here. They may give you some ideas for framing your Choices in Ed Video Competition submission.

Sincerely,

Steve Buckstein
Senior Policy Analyst and Founder
Cascade Policy Institute ▪ School Choice for Oregon
Portland, Oregon
Office Phone: (503) 242-0900
Email: steven@cascadepolicy.org

Read Blog Detail
Metro's New Plan to Keep Voters out of Chehalem ridge nature park

Metro’s New Plan to Keep Voters out of Chehalem Ridge Nature Park

By John A. Charles, Jr.

On October 19 the Metro Council adopted an Access Master Plan for the Chehalem Ridge Nature Park. This is a former industrial tree farm of 1,230 acres that Metro bought from Stimson Lumber Company in 2010.

Chehalem Ridge is Metro’s largest land purchase financed through the bond sale program approved by voters in 1995 and again in 2006. However, it’s not clear why it was ever a priority. Located just east of Gaston, Chehalem Ridge is outside the Metro boundaries and far from any urban population. The roads leading to it are narrow and winding, and there is no public transit. The entrance is gated, and the land has never been open to the public.

Chehalem Ridge is supposed to be the “crown jewel” of the Metro parks system, but the land itself is unremarkable. According to the Master Plan, prior surveys found “no significant natural areas on site.”

Surveys also showed “no historic or archeological materials” and “no cultural resources were found.”

In short, this is a generic parcel of overgrown timberland with minimal ecological value and almost no recreational appeal.

Nonetheless, the Access Master Plan treats it like the second coming of Yellowstone. Of the 1,230 acres, more than 99% are in some kind of “conservation zone” that limits or prohibits active use by the voters who paid for it. The Plan notes that the property could easily accommodate 29.5 miles of recreational trails, in four different separate-use categories—hiking, cycling, equestrian, and multi-purpose—but only three miles are being planned for by Metro. This will create conflicts between cyclists, horseback riders, and walkers.

In comparison, Portland’s revered Forest Park totals 5,157 acres and offers 90 miles of trails. After adjusting for size, Forest Park has seven times more trail miles than Chehalem Ridge will have.

Moreover, dogs are allowed in Forest Park, as they are in virtually all local parks in the metropolitan region. Metro has a strict policy prohibiting dogs.

Chehalem Ridge will have a single parking lot for 80 vehicles, public restrooms, parking for equestrians, a multi-use shelter and picnic area, and a small lawn area for family activities. If you want greater access to nature itself, it will be disallowed or discouraged.

This is consistent with Metro’s over-arching philosophy of buying up vast tracts of green spaces far from where most people live, and then limiting taxpayer use. Other Metro properties near Chehalem Ridge—including Carpenter Creek Natural Area, Wapato View Area, and Penstemon Prairie—are not open to the public, nor is there any plan to do so.

Metro went through a multi-year public outreach effort ostensibly designed to learn what people would like with this new property. According to Appendix C of the Master Plan, comments from the Spanish communities emphasized the importance of “gathering places, places to eat, security and most importantly, places for kids to play, exercise and cool off during the summer.”

Comments for the English-speaking community emphasized “wanting to hike or walk with their dogs, and both advocacy for more bike-specific trails as well as comments around not wanting to mix bikes, pedestrians and horses on the same trail.”

Metro’s Master Plan ignores virtually all these concerns. There will be no playgrounds for kids, few places for families to eat, the trails will create user conflicts, and dogs will be banned.

At the public hearing, I was the only witness to criticize the Plan. I encouraged Metro to build at least 30 miles of trails, with separate facilities for hikers, cyclists, and equestrians. I suggested that a long hiking loop be created with possible campsites for use by Scouting groups and others desiring an easy backpacking experience.

I also encouraged Metro to plan for more family-friendly elements such as disc golf, sand volleyball courts, picnic areas, and playgrounds for young children. These are the kinds of facilities found at Blue Lake Park, one of the region’s most popular recreational destinations.

The Metro Council had zero interest in these ideas. As far as Councilors are concerned, they are letting us use 5.5 acres of the Park and we should be grateful. In his celebratory speech before dropping the gavel, Presiding Officer Tom Hughes proudly defended the status quo by stating, “There will be no ivy and no dogs; both are invasive species.”

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

10-26-17-Metro’s_New_Plan_to_Keep_Voters_out_of_Chehalem_Ridge

Read Blog Detail
Why Protesters of Betsy DeVos Can’t Understand What She’s Talking About

Why Protesters of Betsy DeVos Can’t Understand What She’s Talking About

By Steve Buckstein

What would you do if you read an article about an Oregon public high school whose students seemed to be performing well above state averages? If you’re U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, you’d hop on a plane and come sit in on three senior classes at the school─McMinnville High School. That’s exactly what DeVos did on October 11. She also met privately with some students and friends, including Cascade Policy Institute School Choice Outreach Coordinator and 2012 Oregon Mother of the Year Bobbie Jager.

Her visit didn’t go unnoticed by those who incorrectly believe she’s out to destroy public education. Some 200 protesters, including teachers union officials, stood outside the school and let anyone who would listen know that they don’t want the school choice policies DeVos advocates anywhere near what they apparently see as the only educational institutions worthy of taxpayer support.

Betsy DeVos is a long-time advocate for letting parents choose where their children get their educations. Time and again she’s tried to make clear that she’s not against public education; she just believes that educating the public isn’t always done best in traditional government schools. Sometimes students do better in public charter schools, private schools, online schools, or even in home school.

So why can’t the protesters who showed up in McMinnville last week see what Betsy DeVos sees? Perhaps it’s because, for whatever reasons, their worldviews simply don’t include an understanding of how consumer choice and markets can work together to provide better services at lower prices than can government monopolies.

Cascade Policy Institute published a thought piece on these concepts sixteen years ago that still stands as a seminal introduction to these perplexing concerns. Called “Choice Thinking,” here’s the abstract:

A powerful, yet flawed perspective grips the public mind such that it ignores, distorts, and rejects school choice facts and arguments. Just as the Church rejected Galileo’s scientific findings, this public school ideology rejects choice supporters’ educational findings and analysis. The public simply cannot fit a market perspective into its understanding of how the world works. We will not make major strides toward school choice if we continue to believe that simply teaching the public about the benefits of market education or tinkering with choice proposals will be enough. A new market perspective can’t be simply taught. It must develop, like any living system develops, out of its more primitive pro-government form. Our challenge is to understand this transformation. We cannot change the public’s thinking if we do not understand it.

 So, there you have it. School choice supporters, by and large, don’t understand why people like the Betsy DeVos protesters can’t comprehend what we see as obvious truths.

Of course, some of the protesters may very well understand what we are talking about. They have a vested interest in keeping the status quo, so that all the billions of taxpayer dollars being spent to educate the public only flow into the government buildings where they work and teach. The fact that this status quo isn’t working for many children is the reason Betsy DeVos and countless school choice supporters advocate for letting the money follow the child to the school of their family’s choice.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

View the PDF version here: 17-18-Why_DeVos_Protesters_Can’t_Understand_School_Choice

Read Blog Detail
Choice Thinking: Why does the public ignore, distort or reject school choice facts and arguments?

Choice Thinking: Why does the public ignore, distort or reject school choice facts and arguments?

by

Richard Meinhard, Ph.D. and
Steve Buckstein

September 10, 2001
(contact information updated in 2016)

 

Abstract

A powerful, yet flawed perspective grips the public mind such that it ignores, distorts, and rejects school choice facts and arguments. Just as the Church rejected Galileo’s scientific findings, this public school ideology rejects choice supporters’ educational findings and analysis. The public simply cannot fit a market perspective into its understanding of how the world works. We will not make major strides toward school choice if we continue to believe that simply teaching the public about the benefits of market education or tinkering with choice proposals will be enough. A new market perspective can’t be simply taught. It must develop, like any living system develops, out of its more primitive pro-government form. Our challenge is to understand this transformation. We cannot change the public’s thinking if we do not understand it.

 

The Problem

Voters in state after state continue to defeat school choice initiatives by large margins. Choice supporters respond by debating strategies such vouchers or tax credits, whether large or small steps should be attempted, how we should deal with the critics, and what kind of information and examples should be given to the public.

But what if such strategic decisions by themselves have little to do with successfully changing the public’s fundamental point of view regarding choice? What if facts and evidence alone aren’t enough for the public to accept our ideas? What if our principles of choice and competition are not only misunderstood by the public but also actively rejected as dangerous to public education?[1]

In his research Andrew Coulson found that five factors lead to excellence in a market education system: choice and responsibility for parents, freedom and competition for providers, and the profit motive.[2] These make wonderful sense to him, to us, and probably to you. But what if they don’t make sense to the public? We believe something quite fundamental, what we call the pro-government perspective, organizes the thought processes of most people and renders them incapable of understanding the facts and evidence that a coherent free market mental perspective provides. Markets simply don’t make sense to them.

The logic of market principles is compelling to us but obviously not to most other people. And it’s clear that it does not matter what type of program is proposed. Small tax credits and limited voucher programs for low-income families are tolerated by the public as ways to solve particular problems but they do not convert people to an understanding of a market-based system.

Americans enjoy one of the freest and most bountiful market systems in the world yet few can explain how it works. An understanding isn’t necessary to reap its benefits. But markets promise nothing except opportunities and choices, while government can promise much.

With little understanding of markets and government monopolies, government promises and market fears can be enough reason for the public to reject market proposals. Neither critics nor choice supporters actually change the public’s underlying perspective on free markets and government. The critic’s rhetoric simply triggers already felt sympathies and a comfort with the government school system. The burden of changing public opinion rests with choice supporters. As a result, critics find it easy to defeat choice initiatives simply by playing on public fears and misunderstanding.

The real problem facing choice advocates has more to do with the public’s lack of understanding of governments and markets than it does with how to package choice proposals or what information to provide. We don’t yet fully understand the nature and depth of this problem. Support for choice clearly depends upon changing an underlying pro-government perspective that organizes the public’s thinking. We need to understand this pro-government perspective so we can find ways to transform it into a market perspective.

 

The Public’s Pro-Government Perspective

Choice supporters must admit a hard truth ¾ the public doesn’t yet believe in vouchers or tax credits let alone separation of school and state. We must also admit that we don’t understand much about the pro-government perspective, much less how to change it. We don’t know what controls and protects pro-government thinking, what it is about the logic of pro-government thinking that makes market principles incomprehensible.

More importantly, we don’t understand how and why some individuals change their pro-government perspective to adopt a market perspective. Did you always believe in market education, or did you begin with some pro-government notions and then change your views over time? If you think it was simply exposure to new facts, programs, and examples, stop and ask yourself about your underlying values. Did something fundamental change regarding your perspective, or did you always understand the logic and power of markets?

Pro-government beliefs form themselves into a self-protective whole; a perspective that is resistant to change in spite of facts or explanations about markets. The pro-government perspective, like any perspective, shapes what people see, think about, decide, value, and advocate about public policy. Here are some recent examples.

A newspaper article reported on the congressional debate over reforming federal education policy. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle asserted, “We cannot have reform without resources.” A letter to the editor about energy deregulation asserted: “So who could ever suggest it should be priced by an open market just like anything else?” Another letter advocating taxing the wealthy to support affordable housing said, “Opposition to this bill has nothing to do with its effectiveness. The true reason for opposition is simple greed.”

The pro-government perspective controls the thought of these people, the facts they observe, and the assumptions that they make — if there is a problem, government should correct it; social problems exist for lack of money for government remediation; some goods and services are privileged and can’t be provided through the market; and so on.

On the other side of the debate, a free market perspective carries different assumptions—free markets create opportunity for everyone, the individual is fundamentally responsible for self, free markets create a diversity of goods and services, market exchanges produce increasing efficiencies, and so on. The two perspectives talk different languages, use different code words, see different facts, reason differently, hold different values, and work for different programs. We all recognize these two perspectives. They form one of the most fundamental divisions between people in our society today.

Those of us trying to change the pro-government, anti-market perspective need to understand this system of thought just as physicians understand various systems of the body, scientists understand physical and biologic systems, and mathematicians understand math systems. The understanding of systems allows a scientist to explain them and how they arise, and it allows practitioners to change them. Yet surprisingly, there is very little good literature that describes and explains how the pro-government perspective operates or arises in people’s thinking.

The pro-government perspective is the problem because it is so compelling that it grips and holds much of the public’s thinking. Unless we discover why this is so and how this perspective evolves into pro-market thinking, the pro-government public will continue to reject our positions, distort our facts, and trounce our initiatives.

 

Perspectives at Work

Let’s look at three examples of how perspectives grip and control thought. The first comes from history; the second from our current educational research; and the third from the perspective many school choice supporters have but many opponents lack.

1. The Aristotelian Perspective

Aristotle’s science of falling bodies persisted for 2,000 years, even though scholars contested it with facts some 400 years before Newtonian science finally replaced it. Even the classic experiment of dropping different weights from the Leaning Tower of Pisa was conducted much earlier but ignored and then misattributed to Galileo. While the experimental facts showed that bodies of different weights fell at the same velocities, the Aristotelian scientific perspective was so powerful that these findings were ignored, distorted or rejected as the old perspective protected itself from change. This denial of fact and logic by Aristotelian mechanics forms a famous chapter from the history of science. It is only one of many demonstrations of the gripping power a scientific perspective, even a faulty one, can hold over thought.

2. The Child’s Perspective of weight

Even for individual concepts, we can see a gripping power at work that shapes the facts observed and the reasoning used. In experiments famous to educators, psychologists showed how students under the age of seven thought the weight of a clay ball changed when it is rolled out.[3] Young students’ ‘perspective’ of weight convinced them that because the clay was now longer, it must weigh more.

When the researchers continued to roll the clay out, astonishingly some of these same youngsters suddenly changed their minds and asserted the weight was now less. When asked why, they said because it is now thin. Teaching, demonstrations, weighing the objects, nothing worked to change their mind. They knew as a fact that they observed that the two objects were a little bit different in weight.

Yet months later, they reasoned and saw things differently. Now they knew as a matter of logical necessity that the two clay shapes weighed the same regardless of changes in length and thickness. The two balls had to be the same because nothing was added or taken away. The students’ perspective at first distorted and misperceived facts, but then the development of a more advanced perspective allowed the students to use a different logic and to see different facts in the same experiment.

3. The Perspective of Profit

Conduct this inquiry. Ask the typical adult if the profit motive has any place in education. You’re likely to get a resounding, “No!” Then try any manner of facts or examples of for-profit companies providing quality education and see if you have persuaded the person. The pro-government perspective will not let the adult understand that both sides benefit in an economic exchange. Just as young children can’t observe that the weight hasn’t changed in a flattened ball of clay, many adults can’t comprehend that both buyer and seller gain value when they enter into a voluntary exchange.

But the logic of the pro-market perspective makes an adult see that a buyer values the good or service received more than the money spent, and that the seller values the money received more than the good or service delivered. The logic of market principles compels us to make these observations, but for those with a pro-government perspective, it makes no sense.

In this example profit is what psychologists call a centration. Just as the child centers only on the clay’s length to perceive a change in its weight, adults may center on the producer’s profit to perceive a loss for the consumer. Centrated thought lacks a larger system of reasoning that groups several factors together in order to organize its mental operations. As a result, thought is centered on isolated elements without the necessary relationships among the elements. The relationship of a two-way mutually beneficial exchange is but one of several market and system concepts that seem to be missing from the thinking of many. School choice supporters need to understand both why this is the case and how these concepts develop in people.

 

When a Perspective is Important

As we said, people can use and benefit from markets without understanding them. However, compare the reform of public utilities and government franchised industries with reform of public schools. No basic change in the public’s understanding of system arrangements was required for the deregulation of telecommunications, airlines, trucking, energy, etc. The basic structural relationship between consumer and provider within those markets remained constant under deregulation—consumers still paid the provider for their services. From the public’s point of view, consumers were simply given more choices, basically a good idea. The providers were already economically tied to their customers, and deregulation did not upset the thinking of the general public. No change in perspective was necessary.

School reform, however requires changing the basic consumer/provider relationship. In our system of public education, consumers don’t pay for services received, the public does. Families are not really customers. Society purchases educational services on behalf of families using a system of democratically run government schools.

For the public to accept market principles in education it must understand and accept a new consumer/producer relationship, a huge change given the public’s low level of market understanding. The public must abandon its rather thoughtless belief that education is a public good, an individual entitlement, and that it is the public’s responsibility to provide education to all children for the common good of society. Within the public’s traditional way of thinking (or lack of thinking) about services, market reforms have no place. The pro-government perspective is the public school ideology at work.

Market driven reforms make sense only within the market perspective. Voters realize that vouchers, for example, are not a mere improvement within the box but a fundamental change in the box itself, the very structure of a basic institution. The public seems to sense that vouchers are a basic change and that makes them uneasy; it seems too large, too risky, and possibly hurtful. Advocates underestimate the conceptual change in the public’s perspective that real reforms require.

Most previous education reform efforts stay comfortably within the government system box. Take for example the nationally recognized 1983 report on the state of American education, A Nation at Risk.[4] Neither its findings nor the recommendations addressed in any way the failures of central planning, monopolies, government as a method of service delivery, third party funding, lack of consumer voice or choice, or any other system aspects of government versus market systems of delivery. The report took the system itself for granted and only attempted improvements in the performance properties of the system—content, standards, teaching, leadership, fiscal support, etc.

However, school choice is not another program improvement. It’s a systemic change, and it requires a huge change in the perspective that takes a government delivery system for granted.

 

The Think Tank Role

Choice advocates can continue to hammer away with think tank papers and media campaigns, oblivious to the nature of the pro-government perspective, or we can turn to research and development in an attempt to first understand the perspective and then to change it. This R&D is a natural function of think tanks. The very heart of the free-market think tank mission — to work toward a free society — brings with it two tasks. First, think tanks must be expert in markets and government systems. Second, as society’s teachers, think tanks must also be expert in understanding and changing the public’s thinking and misconceptions. These tasks form two quite different challenges.

As teachers we must not ignore the learner’s current level of understanding and ability to grasp complex concepts. We cannot teach algebra to young children who have yet to understand the whole number system. Likewise, market teachers must understand how market understanding develops out of elementary concepts of producers and consumers to the more advanced explanations of self-regulating, self-elaborating systems of exchange.

As teachers of school choice, our job is not simply a matter of presenting new facts or the history of government schooling. It is the public’s pro-government perspective itself that stands in the way of understanding the facts and explanations of how markets would work in education. The public is rejecting our advanced concepts because the pro-government perspective is compelling; it grips thinking and shapes what is seen as fact; it shapes the values and organizes the policy choices in educational systems. The public makes the wrong choices, from our point of view, because it cannot fit market understanding into its pro-government perspective of how the world works.

 

What Should We Settle For?

We don’t yet understand how to change the current pro-government perspective to a free market perspective. But we have clues, we have seen it happen in individuals, and we know how to study the problem and work toward a solution. If fact, there will likely be more than one optimal solution. And we can all contribute something to the effort.

Without a shift in the public’s perspective, we may have to settle for the limited successes that Moe’s recent work suggests.[5] Yet years ago Chubb and Moe told us that the intellectual debate about school choice was over. We won. But for the public, the policy debate is far from over.

When we understand how the public’s perception of government and markets develops, we will be in a far better position to win the policy debates. Then no teacher union money or old political rhetoric will stop the evolution to a market education system.

 

ENDNOTES

[1] Terry Moe found that information didn’t make much difference in people’s evaluation of vouchers. On p.228 of his new book, Schools, Vouchers, and the American Public (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 2001), he says, “As a result, the impact of information on support for vouchers may be positive, or it may be negative, depending on how these other variables come into play.” What he is saying is that there is an underlying “structure of thinking” (pp. 227,234, 253), a “genuine substance” (pp. 350, 358), “surprisingly effective at linking these things together” (p. 244),

[2] Andrew Coulson, Market Education: the Unknown History (New Brunswick: Social Philosophy and Policy Center and Transaction Publishers, 1999) pp. 293-306.

[3] Jean Piaget and Bärbel Inhelder, Child’s Construction of Quantities, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans (New York: Basic Books, 1974) p. 22-46. This experiment is one of a series. These were not intended to simply describe these amusing misconceptions of students in their early stages of development, but to uncover the cognitive systems that organize and produce them.

[4] A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform was guided by the 18-member national Commission on Excellence chaired by David Gardner, President of the University of Utah. The Commission, appointed by Secretary of Education T.H. Bell, released its report in April of 1983 after 18 months of work. Its report was based on commissioned papers and testimony from professional groups, parents, public officials, and scholars.

[5] Moe (Schools, Vouchers, and the American Public) uses a variable he terms “the public school ideology” to measure the effect of this perspective on people’s positions and views of vouchers.

 

Cascade Policy Institute
4850 SW Scholls Ferry Road, Suite 103
Portland, Oregon 97224
(503) 242-0900
info@cascadepolicy.orgcascadepolicy.org

 

Richard Meinhard, Ph.D. is a developmental psychologist who specializes in the development of cognitive, instructional, and organizational systems. He is a Cascade Policy Institute Academic Advisor.

Steve Buckstein is a founder Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free-market think tank. In 2001 he was President and in 2016 he is Senior Policy Analyst. He can be contacted at steven@cascadepolicy.org.

Choice_Thinking

 

Read Blog Detail