SHAPIRO: 14 Leftist Myths On Government Policy

The United States Capitol Building at night.
John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

Americans hate our government. We hate Congress. We usually hate the president. We don’t like our local dogcatcher. But the problem with government isn’t that government doesn’t get enough done — it’s that it gets too much done. And because government has a legacy of growing beyond its Constitutionally-proscribed bounds, Americans have become accustomed to the government taking care of them. That, in turn, leads to calls for government action with every supposed crisis. If we want to restore logical boundaries to government, we can begin by restoring logical boundaries to our desire to rely on the government. To do that, however, we must first understand how the government currently works. Here’s a hint: it has almost nothing to do with the Constitution.

Myth 1: Congress is the problem.

Fact: The executive branch is the problem.

The executive branch now does most of the actual lawmaking in American society. In 1960, the Code of Federal Regulations ran 22,877 pages. By 2014, the Code ran 175,268 pages. The budgetary costs for federal regulation, adjusted for inflation, ran at well under $5 billion in 1960; today, those costs run in excess of $60 billion.1 In one recent year, Congress passed 138 laws, but the federal bureaucrats finalized nearly 3,000 rules. Federal agencies, according to Reason.com, conduct 1 million trials per year, as opposed to the federal judiciary, which conducts just 95,000.2

Virtually every agency of the executive branch now has armed officers at its disposal:

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reportedly bought 46,000 rounds of ammo in 2012.
  • The Social Security Administration bought 174,000 rounds of .357 Sig 125 grain bonded jacketed hollow point pistol ammunition.
  • “There are now 73 federal agencies that have armed officers, often called ‘special agents,’” Buck Sexton of The Blazenoted in 2012. “And all of these agencies now cordon off and enforce a federal fiefdom of more than 4,500 criminal laws at the federal level and thousands of additional regulations that have sprung up in recent decades.”
  • By 2011, more than 25,000 agents worked for such agencies.3

The power of federal agencies is immense. The IRS, for example, has simply been freezing and seizing bank accounts of people without due process of law. If you violate federal law by depositing repeated amounts just under $10,000 in your bank account, the IRS will assume that you are attempting to end-around federal anti-terrorism laws. They’ll then use civil forfeiture to grab your money. As Reason.com reports,

Owners of “guilty” property have no right to counsel. Without ever having to secure a criminal conviction (or even file charges), the federal government is excused from its obligation to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Officials can seize property based on mere suspicion of a crime and effectively force property owners to prove their own innocence to get it back.4

And the IRS can enforce its judgments with its Criminal Investigation Division, which includes 3,500 employees, including 2,500 special agents, who are armed. Obviously, the IRS also works with other federal enforcement agencies when it comes time to crack down on those who do not follow its dictates.5

An enormously powerful federal executive branch is the greatest threat to liberty. That’s because there’s no way to truly fight the bureaucracy. It’s answerable to no one. And the president is only answerable to the public once every four years. That means that the executive branch can attack First Amendment rights, Second Amendment rights, Fourth Amendment rights, and Fifth Amendment rights with impunity.

Myth 2: Supreme Court decisions matter a lot.

Fact: Supreme Court decisions don’t matter very much.

The Supreme Court relies on the executive branch to enforce its judgments — if a president decides to tell the Supreme Court to stick it, there’s nothing Ruth Bader Ginsburg can do about it. That’s been true since the origination of the Court. Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist #78,

The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of society; and can take no active resolution whatsoever. It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgments.6

Historically, Hamilton has been right. In 1832, the Supreme Court declared that the state of Georgia could not seize Cherokee land without violating federal treaties. President Andrew Jackson simply answered, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.” In 1861, Chief Justice Roger Taney issued a ruling that invalidated Abraham Lincoln’s decision to suspend writ of habeas corpus, saying that only Congress had that power: Lincoln ignored him, stating, “Are all the laws but one to go unexecuted, and the Government itself go to pieces lest that one be violated?”

Even supposedly major decisions like Brown v. Board of Education (1954) didn’t really take effect without the intervention of the executive branch. As Gerald Rosenberg wrote in his book, The Hollow Hope,

For ten years after Brown Congress and the executive branch did little to promote civil rights. The Court spoke alone. Yet words are not action…. Over fifty Court-curbing bills were introduced into Congress… in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Court action appeared to back away from the kind of decisions that had so angered Congress. In the area of desegregation, the Court appeared to heed these attacks by avoiding major civil rights decisions until well into the 1960s.7

Furthermore, the Supreme Court has little interest in challenging the other two branches of government. The Court has even created a doctrine found nowhere in the Constitution: the so-called political question doctrine, which states that the Court should not intervene in disputes between the branches that it deems “political.” Naturally, the definition of the word “political” can be stretched and clipped to fit whatever the political persuasion of the Court.

If that doesn’t work, the Court will rewrite law to meet the needs of the president. Most obviously, the Court did that with Obamacare, rewriting the statute itself to make it a Constitutional tax rather than an unconstitutional penalty — and then did again to allow President Obama to unilaterally rewrite the law and give states subsidies blatantly illegal under the text of the law.

It’s even worse than that. The Court has basically stated that it will not intervene to force the legislature to do its job, either, in curbing the executive branch. Administrative agencies, which now comprise the vast majority of federal authority, are essentially their own courts of final judgment. In 1984, the Supreme Court found in Chevron USA Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. that the federal judiciary did not have the capacity to review decisions made by administrative law bodies unless the administrative agency was entirely unreasonable. This turned the Constitution on its head: the legislature could simply refuse to do its job and hand the judiciary’s job over to the executive branch, and the Court would stand by and do nothing.8

Myth 3: Defense bankrupts the country.

Fact: Failing to cut entitlements bankrupts the country.

While the Left pretends that the greatest threat to America’s budget springs from tax cuts and military spending, that’s nonsense: we spend the vast majority of our money on social safety-net programs. In 2015, the federal government spent $3.7 trillion, or about 21 percent of all the goods, products, and services created in the United States. Social Security counted for 24 percent of the budget; Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Obamacare clocked in at another 25 percent; social safety net programs, including the earned income tax credit and child tax credit, counted for another 10 percent. That doesn’t include the 8 percent for federal retirees and veterans. And all that spending means that we have to borrow cash, too — another 6 percent of our federal budget goes to just paying the interest on that debt. In case you were wondering, just 16 percent of the federal budget goes to defense.9

That $3.7 trillion doesn’t count state spending, either. Unfunded pension debts — mostly contracts the government signed with public sector unions to pay the bills of the aging retired — amount to over $3 trillion at the state level. That figure doesn’t include cities or counties.10

But it’s actually much worse than that, too. The country’s nearly $19-trillion debt, the interest on which is eating up over 5 percent of the federal budget, is only the debt as it currently stands. That doesn’t take into account the debt as our retiring population balloons outward.

According to Laurence Kotlikoff and Adam Michel of The Mercatus Center at George Mason University, actual federal unfunded government liabilities expanded over the coming decades amount to $210 trillion. As Kotlikof and Michel write, “To eliminate the shortfall solely through tax increases, the government would have to immediately and permanently raise all federal taxes — personal and corporate income taxes, excise taxes, and Social Security taxes — by 58 percent.” The increasing debt is because “tens of millions of baby boomers are drawing closer to retirement.”

If America waits until 2023, we’ll have to increase taxes 63 percent across the board; another ten years, and we’ll have to increase taxes 69.3 percent.11

It’s even worse than that.

Remember, tax percentages only apply to a growing, powerful economy — if our economic base shrinks, we’ve really got problems. And with a heavily taxed, far smaller working population, we’ve really, really got problems. Older people don’t tend to invest in start-up companies; they can’t afford to lose the cash. So there goes the working capital for innovation. Consumption drops, too, as older folks save up for their retirement; even if they’re keeping the money in banks, banks aren’t likely to be lending it out to start-ups for new technologies, given that the most dynamic consumers are young. There go the jobs we need in order to generate tax revenue, if you’re in favor of this insanely large welfare state.

Jonathan Last uses the example of Japan, where birth rates have now sunk below replacement levels for years. He concludes, “No one surveying Japan’s situation envisions a sunny economic future, because even if the country does bounce back from what were essentially two lost decades, its aging population, increasing public burdens, shrinking workforce, and dwindling population will continue to be a drag on every area of the economy.”12

Myth 4: Social Security privatization hurts Americans.

Fact: Social Security is bankrupt already.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Social Security into law in 1935, the goal was to provide for widows and orphans and the disabled. The plan kicked into place at a time when the retirement age was 65, but life expectancy at birth was 58 for men and 62 for women. Even if you removed infant mortality from those calculations, just 54 percent of American men could expect to live to age 65 if they reached age 21.13 In other words, Social Security was indeed a pyramid scheme — it required younger workers to pay into a fund to be raided by retirees — but the pyramid was right-side up because the older Americans died before drawing on Social Security, and had enough kids to pay into the system. In 1940, for every beneficiary, there were 159 workers.14 There were a quarter-million people on the program.15

Then people stopped having babies and started living longer.

Today, there are fewer than three workers per Social Security beneficiary and benefits have increased dramatically. In 2010, there were 55 million beneficiaries; by 2030, there will be 86 million; by 2040, more than one in four Americans will be on Social Security. By 2030, fully 6 percent of our GDP will be going to pay Social Security. Today, things aren’t much better. We spent $750 billion on Social Security in 2010.16

That’s why 2010 marked the first time since the program’s revision in 1983 that Social Security took in less money than it paid out.17 And it’s about to get worse. By 2030, there will be just 2.2 workers for each Social Security beneficiary. Taxes have escalated dramatically for all Americans, given both inflation and the increased number of elderly Americans. When Social Security began, workers paid 1 percent on a low threshold income; today, workers pay 12.4 percent of their first $117,000 in Social Security tax if they’re self-employed.18

There won’t be any children to pay future Social Security bills. By 2050, Americans’ median age will be 40 years old; in 1950, it was 30. As Jonathan Last points out, that’s the average age of people living in Florida.19 Some of this is because Americans’ life expectancy has increased dramatically — in 1900, it was 47, by 1960, it was 69.7, and today, it’s about 76 for men and 81 for women.20 People above the age of 50 comprise over one quarter of all Americans; by 2050, we’ll have 30 million Americans between ages 75 and 85.21 America’s dramatic aging means that our tax base is about to collapse. We have fewer earners, and more people drawing from government programs like welfare, Social Security, Medicare.

And there’s no trust fund where payroll taxes are held for their dotage. The Associated Press reported, “If you retired in 1960, you could expect to get back seven times more in benefits than you paid in Social Security taxes, and more if you were a low-income worker, as long you made it to age 78 for men and 81 for women…. Not anymore. A married couple retiring last year, after both spouses earned average lifetime wages, paid about $598,000 in Social Security taxes during their careers. They can expect to collect about $556,000 in benefits if the man lives to 82 and the woman lives to 85, according to a 2011 study by the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank.”22

That means you would have been better off taking your money and stashing it in a bank rather than handing it to the government.

But Social Security is a political third rail, as George W. Bush found out. Any attempt to slash benefits meets with concerted resistance from older Americans. Any attempt to slash future benefits is quickly demagogued by the political left — and met with outrage by workers who believe (half-rightly) that they are owed money they paid into the system. In the end, either a massive tax increase or a huge austerity cut will be the only solution; as Mark Levin writes, “the federal government’s biggest program will stop with a crash, taking down the older recipients and the younger payers alike.”23

Myth 5: Medicare is thriving.

Fact: Medicare is already bankrupt.

When Medicare was founded in 1965, the goal was to ensure that older Americans were covered for their health care. The staff of the House Ways and Means Committee thought that it would cost $5 billion in the first year, and $12 billion in 1990. By 1970, the cost of hospital spending had jumped 37 percent. By 1990, the cost of Medicare was instead $110 billion, almost ten times the projected cost.24

And it continued to skyrocket. By 2014, the program cost $612 billion. Without getting into the complicated laws surrounding Medicare, suffice it to say that the waste and fraud inherent in any government run system are especially pernicious here — as the General Accountability Office reported in 2013, “improper payments in the Medicare program were almost $50 billion in fiscal year 2013, about $5 billion higher than in 2012.”25

Taxes concurrently rose to pay for all of this — but didn’t come close to reaching the necessary amount. When Medicare was instituted in 1965, the federal government placed a 2.9 percent tax on income to pay for it. That’s still the number. But the burden of cost has shifted to the income tax, which stood at just 17.3 percent for the median income family in 1955. Today, it’s 37.6 percent for one-earner families, 40.9 percent for two-earner families.26

That’s with 54 million Americans eligible for the program as of 2014. By 2035, more than 85 million Americans will be eligible.27


Myth 6: Social Security and Medicare are the best solution for the elderly.

Fact: Social Security and Medicare created a perverse incentive not to have children and not to save money.

Ironically, programs like Medicare and Social Security, designed to care for the elderly, will go bust at least in part because those programs decrease incentive to have children. As Jonathan Last points out, “children were no longer needed to look after their retired parents…. This new system undermined the ancient rationale for childbearing. In a world in which childbearing has no practical benefit — the government will care for you if you don’t have children to do so — then parenthood becomes a simple act of consumption.” But it’s worse than that: because people can’t survive on Social Security and Medicare, and because their prospective children would be tapped out by the government to pay for social safety net programs anyway, would-be parents are better off skipping the kids and stocking that cash in the bank for retirement.28

That’s what everybody’s been doing.

Or worse, people are skipping kids but not saving. Because they’ve been guaranteed an income by the federal government, they’re using their disposable cash for everything but retirement planning. Burton Abrams of The Independent Institute points out that if Americans were to buy health insurance themselves, the cost of future care would be baked into the cake of their premiums. But when the government picks up the check, they’re not forced to save. So they don’t. And the workers pick up the tab. The same is true of Social Security — Americans aren’t saving because they think the government will bail them out. They’re retiring early, working different jobs, and making worse financial decisions. According to Martin Feldstein of Harvard University, Social Security may have “reduced private savings by as much as 60 percent.”29

If you don’t think that matters, remember what happens during a financial crisis when people don’t have savings: they turn to the government. Which, as we’ve said, will be broke because there are no taxpayers.

Those crises are likely to happen more often as government grows. As Abrams also points out, big government kills jobs and takes cash out of the economy. “Medicare is responsible for decapitalizing the United States,” Abrams writes. “The amount is likely to be in the trillions of dollars.”30

So, no more jobs.

Myth 7: Gun control prevents crime.

Fact: Good people with guns prevent crime.

The Left constantly argues that gun control prevents crime. This ignores the fact that gun control also removes power from individuals to band together to defend themselves against tyrannical governments — democracies have an ugly tendency to go tyrannical from time to time, so weapons in the hands of the populace help guarantee against that, as the founders well knew. But restricting the conversation to gun crime itself, the Left generally bases its beliefs on two things: first, gun crime statistics rather than general crime statistics; and two, comparing non-comparable populations.

First, the Left argues that nations like Great Britain have nearly no gun deaths. That’s true in many countries with heavy gun laws because there are fewer guns. But that neglects the fact that Great Britain also has far higher violent crime rates than the United States — which makes sense, since guns deter crime. According to PolitiFact, a leftist source, for England and Wales, the rate of violent crime was 775 per 100,000; for the United States, the rate was 383 violent crimes per 100,000 people. The UK has double the rate of the US. (Worth noting: PolitiFact then called the fact that the UK “has far higher violent crime rate than US does” false. Yes, really.31 But no, there’s no media bias!) It’s also worth noting here that if more guns equal more crime, then it’s odd that the United States’ rates of gun ownership have skyrocketed in recent decades, while our rate of violent homicide by gun has sliced in half.32

Second, the Left makes comparisons between non-comparable population groups — populations that differ in terms of age and culture. So, for example, the Left will claim that European countries that are largely homogenous and middle class have lower gun violence rates than the United States. But let’s take a look at Vermont. Vermont has the lowest incarceration rate in the United States, and always has the lowest levels of murders in the United States — as Charles Cooke of National Review points out, “In 2012, there were eight murders there — just two of which involved firearms.” With those statistics, you’d assume there are no guns in Vermont. You’d be wrong. Vermont has virtually no gun laws, and nearly three quarters of all Vermonters “own firearms.” As Cooke points out, “What we can absolutely say, however, is that a) an abundance or firearms and a set of loose regulations do not inevitably lead to more crime, and b) that the widespread suggestion that they do is dishonest.”33

Myth 8: Gun control would have stopped mass shootings.

Fact: Better measures for mental illness would have stopped mass shootings.

On January 8, 2011, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner drew a pistol and shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in the head. He then shot eighteen other people. Giffords survived, but was grievously wounded.

On July 20, 2012, James Holmes rigged his apartment with explosives, then walked into a movie theater with a shotgun, a rifle, and a handgun and opened fire into the crowd. Before he was captured, Holmes murdered 12 people and wounded another 58.

On December 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, with a rifle and two handguns. He proceeded to murder 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7, as well as six teachers. Before his unthinkable spree, he’d shot his mother to death in her bed.

In each case, Democrats quickly called for more gun control. The gun, they said, was the common factor in the shootings. The media leapt to push a so-called “assault weapons” ban despite the fact that Loughner used a pistol and both Holmes and Lanza were armed with handguns as well as long guns. As President Obama said, tears rolling down his face, in January 2016, “we are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency…. Every time I think about those kids it gets me mad…. So all of us need to demand a Congress brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby’s lies.”34

Of course, none of the gun control measures Obama pushed — or that Democrats routinely push — would have stopped any of these massacres. That’s because there’s another common factor Obama ignores: the similarities between the shooters.

Holmes began experiencing mental health issues at an early age and tried to kill himself at age 11; his defense argued that he suffered from severe schizophrenia. Loughner was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Lanza’s father suspected his son suffered from undiagnosed schizophrenia; he’d been diagnosed with sensory-integration disorder and Asperger syndrome from a young age, developed obsessive-compulsive disorder, and was anorexic when he died (he was six feet tall but just 112 lbs. when he died).

Mental illness, in other words, was the problem.

These were just the most spectacular cases of mental illness, the ones that captured the media’s attention. In June 2016, The Boston Globe’s renowned Spotlight unit released a massive expose on Massachusetts’ closing of its mental health facilities. They found that “at least 17 parents with signs of mental illness allegedly killed their children from 2005 through 2015… at least 18 sons and daughters with signs of mental illness were accused of killing their parents…. From 2005 through 2015, 116 people in Massachusetts were accused of killing 139 victims.” For people to truly understand the difficulties of mental illness, they must first understand that many of the most severely mentally ill do not stay on their medications. One of the symptoms of severe mental illness is anosognosia — inability to understand you are sick and act accordingly. Many of those who suffer with mental illness also don’t like how they feel on medication. Even if they’re hospitalized temporarily, they come out better — on meds — and then leave and relapse. Thanks to standards that require patients to be a threat to themselves or others — rather than the looser standard of “requiring care” — it’s incredibly difficult to keep severely mentally ill people in a hospital where they are given their medication routinely.35

Myth 9: Democrats support free speech.

Fact: Democrats want to significantly limit free speech.

According to a YouGov poll from 2015, 51 percent of Democrats support the idea of a law that would “make it a crime for people to make public comments intended to stir up hatred against a group based on such things as their race, gender, religion, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.” Even 37 percent of Republicans agreed; overall, 41 percent of Americans, a plurality, were in favor of such a law.36 When it comes to American universities, 53 percent of Americans said such speech should be punishable on campus, including 71 percent of Democrats (compared with just 9 percent who opposed such punishment).37

Here’s the problem: who decides what constitutes hate speech?

Typically, the answer has been bureaucrats who crack down on free expression in order to protect perceived victim groups. For example, the New York Human Rights Commission has now issued orders that employers and landlords who address transgender employees and tenants by “improper” pronouns instead of the made-up silly-words “ze/hir” will be subject to fines that could run up to $250,000. “Gender expression,” the city says, “may not be distinctively male or female and may not conform to traditional gender-based stereotypes assigned to specific gender identities.” The Commission spokesperson Seth Hoy stated that the goal was to punish people who “intentionally and repeatedly target transgender and gender non-conforming people with this type of harassment.”

So refusing to abide by the subjective self-definition of biological males as female would be punishable by life-destroying penalties.38

How far are we from such ordinances becoming law across America? And how long will it be before religious Americans who refuse to comply with the social engineering of the Left find themselves on the wrong side of the law?

Myth 10: Federal spending makes education better.

Fact: Federal education has not improved public education.

Until 1965, the federal government had almost no input in state and local education. Then President Lyndon Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, designed to provide federal aid to low-income schools. In 1964, the federal government spent $6.7 billion on elementary and secondary education; by 2010, the number had multiplied to $80 billion. As the National Center for Policy Analysis reports, the federal Department of Education exponentially increased its regulations from 2,000 to 10,800 from 1980 to 2010.39

What have we gotten for all of that? We certainly haven’t gotten better school performance. As Marc Tucker of Education Week writes, “the United States led the world in educational attainment from the middle of the 19th century well into the second half of the 20th century.”40

Then the federal government kicked in. From 1971 to 2012, Americans have not increased their math or reading scores. High school students have actually shown a decline in math performance.41 In 1955, the practice SAT national average score in math was just below 420. The National Defense Education Act was passed in 1958; by 1966, the score had dropped below 400, and it hadn’t recovered to its prior highs by 1980. Andrew Coulson of the Cato Institute testified before Congress,

Math and Reading scores at the end of high school are unchanged over the past forty years, while Science scores suffered a slight decline through 1999…. We spent over $151,000 per student sending the graduating class of 2009 through public schools. That is nearly three times as much as we spent on the graduating class of 1970, adjusting for inflation. Despite that massive real spending increase, overall achievement has stagnated or declined, depending on the subject.

Federal efforts haven’t even been successful in closing performance gaps between black students and white students.42

America has fallen further and further behind the rest of the world. More accurately, while we’ve been stagnant, other nations have been passing us. American students didn’t become less educated between 1995 and 2009, but other nations improved their performance. In international tests in 2012, for example, American students charted 25th globally in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading. In 2006, only 6 percent of American students counted as “advanced.” America’s rate of educational improvement is lower than other developed countries ranging from Germany to the United Kingdom to Israel to New Zealand to South Korea.

Harvard found that throwing money at the problem would have no effect, either.43 American workers between the ages of 16 and 34, are third from the bottom of the industrialized world in literacy, dead last in mathematics, and second-to-last in technical problem-solving. And those numbers are headed in the wrong direction.44

Because the education system is not designed to educate but rather to socialize, both the federal government and states have decided to jettison actual educational standards in favor of watered-down requirements. That’s also due to the rising cost of education — the government must simultaneously pretend to educate its children and throw them out of school without educating them. To that end, we’ve been dumbing down all of our curricula. Tucker explains: “the typical high school text is written at the 7th-or 8th-grade level, four to five grade levels below the community college text, which is itself written at one grade level below where it should be… a large fraction of high school graduates, perhaps a majority, are unable to do the work required in a typical college math course.” Those college math courses have been dumbed down to middle school math.45 All of this is designed to create the illusion of educational progress — hey, more kids are going to college! But college kids are dumber than high school kids used to be. At least 20 percent of college kids nationally will need some form of remedial learning to be up to standard.46

The children may be ignorant, but there’s good news: they feel good about themselves. While students in the late 1980s said they studied at least six hours per week, only a third did by 2009 — and yet as of 2004, 52 percent of teens said they were “near the top” or “above average” in their class, as opposed to just 9 percent who said they were below average.47

Myth 11: Teachers’ unions help children.

Fact: Teachers’ unions make education worse.

The dirty little secret of the American education system is that it’s a major racket on behalf of the Democratic Party, which funnels more and more cash into teachers’ unions; those unions then donate money back to Democratic candidates, with whom they then negotiate their contracts. The state even goes so far, in many cases, as to take union dues out of teacher paychecks, ensuring that the cash keeps flowing to the unions. The result: unfireable bad teachers, unhireable good teachers, and school districts in debt up to their eyeballs. Oh yes, and ignorant kids.

The two major teachers’ unions in the United States are the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Both are dedicated to the proposition that teachers and administrators ought to draw more pay for doing less work. That’s not their fault, per se — that’s what all unions do. The difference is that teachers’ unions are unionized not against a private business owner, but against the taxpayer. And the people in charge of the taxpayer money are elected by those teachers’ unions. This naturally leads to massive debt. Of the top ten states in the nation in long-term debt per capita, all have heavy public sector union organization.48

Like most unions, the teachers’ unions have certain rules. One of them is seniority. Seniority means that if a teacher has been around for a long time, that teacher is given priority over a new teacher, regardless of skill level. In 2012, for example, Michelle Apperson, a teacher at the Sutterville Elementary School in Sacramento, was named “teacher of the year.” Unfortunately, she was then fired thanks to budget shortfalls — and union seniority rules.49 In Wisconsin, the winner of the Nancy Hoefs Memorial Award for the Outstanding First-Year Teacher from the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English also found herself out of work in 2010 thanks to layoff notices handed to the newest teachers, regardless of record.50

When teachers are rotten, however, teachers’ union contracts make it incredibly difficult to fire them. It’s so difficult to fire teachers in New York City that teachers in controversy are exiled to so-called “rubber rooms” — holding rooms where they’re paid to show up and not teach, and they spend each day listening to music and doing crossword puzzles. As The New York Post reported in January 2016, “In 2010, the DOE and the teachers union trumpeted a major agreement to close the centers holding more than 700 idled educators accused of misconduct or incompetence.” But unfortunately, nobody obeyed the agreement, so the rubber rooms are back: “The DOE refused to say how many removed teachers and other tenured staffers remain in limbo, but sources estimate 200 to 400 get paid while awaiting disciplinary hearings. Their salaries total $15 million to $20 million a year.”51

And teachers aren’t paid additionally for being better at their job than their colleagues. Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, instituted a system of incentives for public school teachers by which they could earn more money for better performance. Performance was gauged based on test scores — 50 percent of teacher evaluations were based on such standardized tests — but only for teachers in subjects covered by the tests. Most teachers were gauged through a combination of factors, including observations by principals and master teachers, teacher impact on school community, and other more subjective elements. If teachers received “minimally effective” reviews twice in a row, they were fired; if they did well, they could earn bonuses and raises that could add up to over $50,000 in the first year. Professor Thomas Dee of the Stanford School of Education and Professor James Wyckoff of the University of Virginia found that Rhee’s incentive system worked impressively.52

In order to implement her system, Rhee had to take on the unions. In one exchange, she told AFT head Randi Weingarten, “You cannot say you support effective teachers and then send me lawsuits when I fire teachers. You cannot say you support good schools and then work to cap the number of charter schools.”53 Weingarten does just that — one of her former school principals said, “Weingarten would defend a dead body in the classroom. That’s her job.”54 Weingarten, by the way, earns $425,000 per year as the head of her union.55

Rhee was fired within two years of entering the job.56 Today, says New York Magazine, “For teacher unions and their supporters, Rhee remains the premier antagonist, where her name remains a curse word… here is an odd thing that none of these sources mention: Rhee’s policies have worked. Studies have found that Rhee’s teacher-evaluation system has indeed increased student learning. What’s more, the overall performance of DC public school students on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) has risen dramatically and outpaced the rest of the country.”57

None of that matters. All that matters is the money. No wonder we lag behind Japan, Korea, Germany, and the UK, but pay 33 percent more per student than Japan, 84 percent more than Korea, 14 more than the UK, and 68 percent more than Germany.58

Myth 12: Free college for everybody is a great idea because college education makes you better qualified.

Fact: College degrees are just a stand-in for IQ tests, and a useless degree doesn’t help you.

Americans who graduate from college are significantly more likely to find a job; they’re significantly more likely to earn higher pay.59 The unemployment rate for students with bachelor’s degrees was 8.9 percent as of November 2014; it was 22.9 percent for high school graduates.60 So if our lower education system is doing a terrible job, presumably the professors boost them to greatness. That’s the supposed rationale behind the Bernie Sanders proposal to make college “free” — meaning that the taxpayer should subsidize every college student who wants to major in Lesbian Dance Theory. If we just subsidize everybody to go to college, then they’ll certainly be able to get a job afterward!

There are two major problems with this. First, this mistakes correlation for causation. People aren’t getting jobs because of what they learn in college. Some students do obtain new skill sets. But many don’t. One study found that 45 percent of students showed no increase in critical thinking skills during their first two years in college, and the rest barely showed improvement.61 So why do college graduates have better job opportunities? Because thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Griggs v. Duke Power Company (1971), it is essentially illegal in the United States for any company to use general aptitude tests in hiring. The Court found that such tests could lead to racial differentiation in hiring, and thus were inadmissible. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Court found, “The Act proscribes not only overt discrimination, but also practices that are fair in form, but discriminatory in operation.”62

So companies responded with a simple eyeball test: where did you go to school? It’s not illegal for colleges to use SAT scores for admissions purposes. So we can tell that if you went to Harvard, there’s an excellent chance that you’re smarter than if you went to Boston University. More simply, if you got into college at all — and if you finished, which shows you didn’t get in on a lark — there’s a decent shot you’re a superior job candidate to the high school graduate in terms of pure intelligence.

There’s another reason that deeming college graduation the universal precursor to hiring is foolish: depending on your major, you may end up unemployed:

  • Fine arts majors had an unemployment rate of 12.6 percent as of November 2014, even though the overall unemployment rate nationally was 5.8 percent.
  • Film students clocked in at 12.9 percent unemployment.
  • Area ethnic and civilization studies majors had a 10.1 percent unemployment.
  • Philosophy students had a 10.8 percent unemployment rate.

By contrast, students majoring in hard science and mathematics had far lower unemployment rates fresh out of school. Naturally, students with graduate degrees — degrees geared toward actual careers rather than “broadening horizons” — have a significantly lower unemployment rate than college graduates.63

But colleges keep on filling up with students who aren’t necessarily interested in pursuing useful majors. They’re subsidized by the government to follow their hearts, even though a private loan system would certainly incentivize them to follow their brains instead.

All of this because, as we know, everyone must go to college. And the colleges have an interest in that: they want to keep the money train rolling. Which means that they invest more and more heavily into non-educational facilities meant to recruit students. Simultaneously, they drop admissions standards; grades must be inflated, too, to ensure that everybody continues to feel good about the degrees for which they pay hundreds of thousands of dollars.64 Harvey Mansfield of Harvard University has famously fought grade inflation — unsuccessfully — for years. The most common grade at Harvard is now an A.65 Mansfield charts the rise of grade inflation to the 1960s, when political leftists insisted that objective measures like grades were intended to “subjugate students.”66

None of this makes students smarter. As The Economist reports, “a federal survey showed that the literacy of college-educated citizens declined between 1992 and 2003. Only a quarter were deemed proficient, defined as ‘using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals and to develop one’s knowledge and potential’. Almost a third of students these days do not take any courses that involve more than forty pages of reading over an entire term.”67

It doesn’t make college graduates richer, either, given the rising level of indebtedness accruing to students who have been promised the moon if they graduate college, only to find that they’ve received a ball of moldy cheese instead. The cost of university has risen five times the rate of inflation over the past two decades; debt per student “has doubled in the past 15 years. Two-thirds of graduates now take out loans.” Further, only 57 percent of American students graduate from a four-year university within six years of enrolling. And 9.1 percent of college borrowers had defaulted within two years of graduation as of 2011. At hundreds of colleges, more than 30 percent of borrowers had defaulted within three years of receiving a diploma. Graduates now earn no more than they did in 1979.

Myth 13: The homeless have a right to live on the streets.

Fact: Leaving the homeless on the street is cruel to the homeless.

Homelessness is a nexus of factors: drug use, single motherhood, economic dislocation, disability. But to truly understand the homeless problem, we must begin with the chronic homeless — not the people who fall into and out of homelessness on a short-term basis. There are approximately 112,000 Americans defined by the federal government as chronically homeless. According to Dennis Culhane of the University of Pennsylvania, somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of them are severely mentally ill.68

That’s a low-ball estimate. As E. Fuller Torrey, author of The Insanity Offense, writes, “Multiple studies have reported that at least one-third of homeless men and two-thirds of homeless women have serious psychiatric disorders, often exacerbated by alcohol and/or drug abuse.” Torrey places the number of severely mentally ill homeless Americans at 175,000. They are far more likely to be chronically homeless than the non-mentally ill. As Torrey points out, one 2003 Miami study found that every single permanent homeless person they could interview was mentally ill.

People who are discharged from mental facilities routinely turn to homelessness: 27 percent of such people in Massachusetts were homeless within six months, 36 percent in Ohio, and 38 percent in New York. Such homeless people are also significantly more likely to commit crimes against others. One study in New York found that the homeless mentally ill, who almost never take medication, were exponentially more likely to commit serious and violent crimes than non-homeless mentally ill people. Forty-one percent of people who pushed strangers onto subway tracks in New York were homeless, and 59 percent were psychotic. One study in California found that homeless people who had been hospitalized for mental illness were three times more likely to be convicted of a felony than their counterparts.69

It wasn’t always this way. In 1955, the federal and state authorities housed 558,000 people in mental hospitals. Today, there are just 40,000 people in mental hospitals — even though our population has increased by well over 40 percent. That’s not due to medical advances. That’s due to terrible public policy decisions. More than forty state mental hospitals have totally disappeared in recent decades.70

The result: a homelessness explosion. In 2015, the city of Seattle declared a state of emergency. A one-night count of the homeless in the city found 3,772 individuals living outside in King County — a spike of 21 percent over the previous year. Dozens of homeless people died in Seattle that year while sleeping on the streets.71 It’s not just Seattle. San Francisco has suffered a massive increase in the homeless problem — over 17,000 people were living on the streets as of November 2019.72 So does Los Angeles, where by June of 2020 over 40,000 homeless were residing in the city and over 66,000 in the county.73

Myth 14: Homelessness is Republicans’ fault.

Fact: Homelessness is a bipartisan failure.

First, John F. Kennedy pushed the creation of community mental health centers, rather than mental hospitals. That decision came from love — JFK had watched his sister Rosemary, who suffered from mild mental retardation, devolve into violence and misery and then suffer near-total loss of ability to function thanks to Joseph Kennedy’s decision to frontally lobotomize her. But JFK’s policy was awful. JFK hoped that his plan would end “reliance on the cold mercy of custodial isolation” in favor of “open warmth of community concern and capability.” Instead, his Community Mental Health Centers Act effectively destroyed state hospitals in favor of federally-funded clinics that ignored the severely mentally ill in favor of the “walking well.” The most severely mentally ill ended up on the streets.74

Second, the federal government created Medicare and Medicaid — but these benefits were unavailable to those in mental hospitals. So states simply began throwing people out of mental hospitals and onto the federal dole.

Third, politicians across the political spectrum decided that involuntary commitment for the mentally ill represented a civil rights violation. Many conservatives were paranoid that the government would forcibly incarcerate those with whom they disagreed politically; leftists, meanwhile, simply said that everyone was kooky in his or her own way. Popular culture pushed this leftist point of view, too: Thomas Szasz wrote a bestseller in which he determined that mental illness didn’t exist; Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest posited that those in charge of the system were more mentally ill than those in the system; reporters began covering the shocking conditions inside state mental institutions. The combination ended up wreaking havoc: states began passing laws making it virtually impossible to involuntarily commit anyone.75



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  30. Burton Abrams, The Terrible 10: A Century Of Economic Folly (The Independent Institute: Oakland, California, 2013), 99.
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  35. The Spotlight Team, “The Desperate and The Dead: Part I,” The Boston Globe, June 23, 2016 https://apps.bostonglobe.com/spotlight/the-desperate-and-the-dead/series/families/?p1=BGMenu_Article
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  61. Marc Tucker, “Are We Just Fooling Ourselves? Is American Education a Colossal Failure?,” Edweek.com, April 16, 2015 http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/top_performers/2015/04/are_we_just_fooling_ourselves_is_american_education_a_colossal_failure.html?r=1712163358&preview=1
  62. Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971), 401 U.S. 424.
  63. Anthony P. Carnevale, Ban Cheah, and Jeff Strohl, “Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal,” Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, November 2014 https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Unemployment.Final_.update1.pdf
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  68. Dennis Culhane, “Five myths about America’s homeless,” The Washington Post, July 11, 2010 https://works.bepress.com/dennis_culhane/96/
  69. E. Fuller Torrey, The Insanity Offense (WW Norton & Company: New York, 2012), 124-128.
  70. E. Fuller Torrey, The Insanity Offense (WW Norton & Company: New York, 2012), 2-3.
  71. “FAQ: State of Emergency on Homelessness,” Seattle.gov, November 2, 2015 http://murray.seattle.gov/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/11.2.15-Homelessness-FAQ.pdf
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  73. Jill Cowan, “What Los Angeles’s Homeless Count Tell Us,” The New York Times, June 12, 2020 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/12/us/la-county-homeless-population.html
  74. Sally Satel, “Book Review: ‘American Psychosis’ by E. Fuller Torrey,” The Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2013 http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303382004579125380173519434
  75. E. Fuller Torrey, The Insanity Offense (WW Norton & Company: New York, 2012), 28-30.
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