John Locke Foundation
BURLINGTON — Parental choice in education is popular. About a fifth of North Carolina students are educated outside of district-run public schools, and this share will probably grow to a quarter or more in the coming years.
The North Carolina Institute of Political Leadership, a nonpartisan organization that schools candidates in how to run for and serve in public office, is sponsoring a series of “Hometown Debates” on education. Its Oct. 16 forum at the historic Paramount Theater in Burlington focused on the question of whether tax-funded schools of choice, chartered public schools or scholarship-accepting private schools, ought to be more heavily regulated by the state.
Two of the panelists at the debate, State Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Orange) and North Carolina Justice Center policy analyst Matt Ellinwood, said yes. They argued that because taxpayers are footing at least some of the bill, their representatives in state government are entitled to ask more questions, demand more measurements, and exercise more oversight.
“We don’t have any way of assessing student performance in voucher-funded schools right now,” Meyer said during the debate, broadcast on television by Spectrum News and on radio by the North Carolina News Network. “And so we can’t even do an apples-to-apples comparison on the very limited basis of the state testing that we use. So we don’t know whether that’s a good investment for our kids or for our public.”
The other two panelists at the IOPL debate, state Rep. Jeff Elmore (R-Wilkes) and John Locke Foundation Vice President Terry Stoops, opposed heavier regulation.
Elmore argued that while private schools accepting state-funded opportunity scholarships don’t have to administer North Carolina’s own end-of-grade exams, they are required to administer a nationally normed test. “So in a way, really, what privates are allowed to do, it gives us a better nationwide comparison as a policymaker looking at the bigger numbers,” said Elmore, who works as a public-school teacher when the legislature isn’t in session.
Many private-school parents appreciate this fact. They often lack confidence in state-generated tests, for good reason, and find their annual reports from the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or other independent national assessments to be useful and reliable.
During his remarks, Stoops argued that top-down accountability based on tests isn’t the only answer. Bottom-up accountability based on parental choice employs scores along with information about other concerns such as school safety, discipline, shared values, or post-graduation success. “We shouldn’t just narrow it down to test scores,” Stoops said.
Do parents always make the best choices? It depends on your definition of “best.” Perfection is impossible. And as Ellinwood pointed out, some innovations in such fields as virtual learning haven’t always delivered on their initial promises.
On balance, however, there is likely no better mechanism for identifying and replicating successful schools over time than allow parents to make choices — and for education dollars to follow those choices.
The knowledge problem here is enormous. Some educational approaches work better than others in general, but not for every child or in every situation (such as when teachers aren’t trained or don’t really believe in the curriculum or techniques in question).
In my view, the right model for the tradeoff between school autonomy and regulation is a spectrum. District-run public schools receive the most money from government and thus merit the most oversight by public officials. Chartered public schools get somewhat less tax money and deserve more freedom. Private schools in which some students enroll with government subsidy deserve still more freedom, but a few requirements are necessary to give families useful consumer information. And private or home schools that receive no government appropriations should for the most part simply be left alone.
Imposing tight regulation on scholarship programs won’t deter desperate private schools of dubious quality from seeking to participate. But it may create too high a paperwork burden for high-performing private schools that aren’t hurting for students. That would be a perverse outcome — the kind of outcome in which politicians seem to specialize.
John Hood is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on the talk show “NC SPIN.” You can follow him @JohnHoodNC.
You might expect Libertarians to feel protective of the spot they’ve won as the only third party on North Carolina’s election ballot.
If so, you’ve never discussed the issue with Brian Irving.
The immediate past chairman of the N.C. Libertarian Party, Irving has spent years advocating changes in state law that would lower the threshold for other parties seeking easier ballot access.
The Republican-led General Assembly responded this fall by approving Senate Bill 656, the Electoral Freedom Act of 2017. Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the measure, objecting to provisions that eliminated primary elections in state judicial races. The state Senate voted Monday evening to override the veto. The House could follow suit today.
The language about judicial primaries represents less than half of the bill. Much of the rest of the measure lowers thresholds for third parties and unaffiliated candidates who want to secure a spot in the November election.
Rather than collect petition signatures topping 2 percent of the number of votes cast for the most recent gubernatorial election, new political parties would see that requirement drop to 0.25 percent. Using the 2016 election’s 4.7 million votes as an example, the requirement would drop from 94,221 petition signatures to 11,778.
The law also loosens a geographic diversity requirement. Rather than requiring at least 200 signatures from registered voters in four congressional districts, S.B. 656 assumes that three distinct congressional districts would suffice.
And political parties can avoid the petition process altogether if they can prove that they placed a candidate on the general election ballot in at least 35 states (70 percent) during the previous presidential election.
These new parties could keep their ballot slots if they win at least 2 percent of the votes in North Carolina’s presidential or gubernatorial races. That’s a holdover from current state law.
As John Locke Foundation Chairman John Hood noted recently, “it’s remarkable and praiseworthy that Republican lawmakers would support these ballot-access changes, which are unlikely to advance their partisan interests.”
Equally noteworthy is the fact that a leading state Libertarian supports the changes. Libertarians used the existing, more stringent, petition signature requirement to gain ballot access in 2008. They secured access that year by surpassing the 2 percent vote total requirement. Libertarians have maintained access through similar electoral performances in 2012 and 2016. (Libertarian Lon Cecil won 102,977 votes, or 2.2 percent, in the 2016 governor’s race.)
No other third party has followed the same path successfully in North Carolina. Irving hopes they can avoid that costly, time-consuming process.
In 2011, for example, he served as a primary proponent of the Free the Vote Coalition. In addition to Libertarians, that group included members of the Conservative, Constitution, Green, and Modern Whig parties. (Then-JLF legal and regulatory expert Daren Bakst also endorsed the group’s goals.)
More recently, Irving offered the only public comments during a June 21 N.C. House committee meeting on an earlier version of S.B. 656. “Now this is an issue — access to the ballot — that Greens and Libertarians agree on,” Irving said at the time. “When you have people from different political perspectives — we have Democracy NC and the John Locke Foundation also supporting ballot-access reform — when you have an issue like that, then that tells you that this is something people want.”
“Thirty-six of our 50 states have a lower requirement for getting third parties and independent candidates on the ballot,” Irving added. “So North Carolina is No. 1 as being the most restrictive.”
A common objection to loosening ballot access involves fear of an overly long election ballot. “For most of North Carolina’s history, the requirement for an independent candidate or a party to get on the ballot was around 10,000 signatures,” Irving countered. “At most, North Carolina had eight candidates on a ballot. So the problem with ballot clutter is not the number of candidates; it’s the number of offices that we elect.”
“Democracy is about choice,” he concluded, shortly before the committee endorsed the measure and sent it to the full House.
Most lawmakers chose to support some version of S.B. 656 earlier this year. The Senate approved the original proposal, 49-0, in April. The House approved its own version, 107-7, two months later.
Once the final version of the bill incorporated measures eliminating judicial election primaries, votes fell along party lines. Only two Democrats voted with the majority that approved the measure, 70-44, in the House (with two Republicans voting no). No Democrats voted yes in the Senate, while a single Republican voted no as the measure secured a 30-16 tally in that chamber. (Monday’s veto override carried by a 26-15 margin in the Senate.)
Despite the earlier Democratic support, Irving sees another reason for that party to oppose change. “It is the most significant ballot access reform bill in [North Carolina]’s modern history,” Irving wrote to Carolina Journal after Cooper vetoed the final bill. “Opposition to the judicial primary provision is just a diversion. The Democrats fear opposition from the Greens, as Democratic leader Darren Jackson said on the House floor during the debate.”
Nor does Irving buy Cooper’s veto message that S.B. 656 “takes away the right of the people to vote for the judges of their choice.”
“The governor’s veto reasoning is contradictory,” Irving responds. “This bill expands the right of the people to vote for people of their choice for all offices.”
And if Irving has his way, the people will see many more choices on their ballot in the years to come.
Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation.
State Sen. Rick Horner can quip with the best of them. During a recent debate about school construction needs in North Carolina, the Wilson County lawmaker and former school-board chairman argued that the state lottery ought to fulfill its original mandate by producing more money for local facilities.
“There’s nothing more important than running a casino honorably,” Horner deadpanned.
It was a funny line, and got lots of laughs from his audience of educators, community leaders, journalists, and parents assembled at the Booker T. Washington Theatre in Rocky Mount. Horner, a Republican, joined Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram (D-Northampton), John Locke Foundation analyst Terry Stoops, and North Carolina Justice Center analyst Matt Ellinwood on the panel for the debate, which was hosted by Loretta Boniti, a reporter and anchor for the statewide cable channel Spectrum News.
But Horner’s point was a serious one. For decades, advocates of a government-run lottery for North Carolina promised that its net revenues would boost education spending in the state.
Opponents, including me, predicted that whatever the original language of a lottery bill might be, future legislatures would find it convenient to redirect money to whatever budget hole lawmakers wanted to fill at the time — even if that meant supplanting current education funding, derived from generally applied taxes, with gambling proceeds.
I don’t think the government should prohibit gambling, mind you. I believe in individual freedom, including the freedom for individuals to make incredibly bone-headed decisions coupled with the responsibility of living with and learning from the results of those decisions.
What I and others objected to was putting state government in the gambling business, with a monopoly that would manipulate its marks into bearing a disproportionate share of the cost of government services. The propensity to play the lottery isn’t equally distributed, and the resulting tax bite is a regressive one — poorer households spend a larger share of their incomes buying tickets than wealthier ones do.
To swap broader taxes on sales, income, or property with a narrower revenue source was, of course, one of the main attractions of the state lottery for some proponents, who didn’t plan to play themselves but welcomed the idea of someone else paying government’s bill. This was and is bad public policy, however.
One way to lean against it — and one that Horner, Smith-Ingram, Stoops, and Ellinwood all endorsed in some form — would be to restore the share of net lottery proceeds dedicated to school construction to the original 40 percent contained in the 2005 law that created the lottery. In recent years, that percentage has dropped into the teens, although state leaders already seem to be headed in the direction of pushing it back up.
As the lawmakers and policy experts emphasized during the Rocky Mount forum — the first in a series of “Hometown Debates” on education hosted by the North Carolina Institute of Political Leadership and its local partners — school construction has traditionally been the primary responsibility of local government, not the state. Thus dedicating more lottery funds to it poses less of a risk of supplanting other state funding streams, at the very least.
During the debate, which was broadcast on television by Spectrum News and on radio by the North Carolina News Network, the panelists disagreed about other funding approaches for school facilities. Smith-Ingram and Ellinwood said the legislature ought to place a $2 billion school-construction bond on the statewide ballot in 2018.
Stoops said the 2016 Connect NC bond package should have included K-12 capital needs, while Horner questioned the wisdom of statewide borrowing for local school construction, arguing that local communities are in the best position to determine and address their own needs and that putting out lots of capital projects for bid at the same time across the state would bid up the price tag, given the limited number of contractors available.
I don’t think a radical rewrite of the division of labor between the state and localities is warranted. But a more-honorable government casino would be welcome.
College students are fighting an uphill battle when defending themselves against accusations. Today, students accused of misconduct are subjected to long and invasive investigations without the right to legal representation, to question witnesses, or to be presumed innocent until proven guilty — all basic due process procedures to which every student should be entitled.
These abuses have been fostered by the Title IX adjudication policies from the Obama administration’s 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter. It provided rigid and authoritative “guidelines” requiring colleges to employ a “preponderance of the evidence” standard when judging cases of sexual misconduct.
That standard meant students could be penalized, suspended, or expelled if it “is more likely than not that sexual harassment or violence occurred”— a far cry from the “clear and convincing” or “beyond a reasonable doubt” standards employed in courts of law.
Fortunately, protecting due process may become easier since Betsy DeVos announced the Education Department will rescind the Dear Colleague letter. On Sept. 22, the Department of Education released interim guidance allowing colleges to use the “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which eliminates many of the perverse incentives to find accused students guilty.
Still, even with the Education Department ending the requirements, universities may keep their Obama-era policies.
To shed light on the lack of due process on college campuses, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education released a report, “Spotlight on Due Process,“ analyzing disciplinary policies in the top 53 American universities. The results were dismal.
FIRE defined “10 fundamental elements of due process” and graded each university.
None of the adjudication policies got A grade, and FIRE reported just 42 percent of universities require that investigators or “fact-finders” be impartial. When investigating sexual misconduct cases, 79 percent of universities met few due process standards and received D or F grades.
Even in North Carolina, which has one of the strongest due process laws in the country, major universities fared poorly. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill received a D for its handling of sexual misconduct cases; Duke University got a C and Wake Forest University received an F.
North Carolina’s 2013 Students and Administration Equality Act protects public university students’ right to legal counsel and requires universities to report the number and type of investigations conducted. Yet Duke and Wake Forest, as private universities, aren’t subject to its protections. Even UNC-Chapel Hill is exempt in non-sexual misconduct cases because it uses student courts, the only exempt public institution. Consequently, students at Duke and Wake Forest — and, in some cases, at Chapel Hill — have no right to consult a lawyer in their defense.
According to a new provision in the Duke student conduct handbook, students who have already been exonerated of any wrongdoing can still be subjected to ongoing accusations and investigations. Many have argued this sort of policy subjects students to “double jeopardy,” the absence of which has been a cornerstone of our legal system.
Individual cases suggest that other North Carolina institutions not covered by FIRE’s report have similar procedures. In 2014, a student accused of sexual assault at Appalachian State University filed a lawsuit against the school and three of its administrators for denying him his due process rights.
Such incidents have become almost commonplace since the Dear Colleague letter was issued.
The president of Davidson College, Carol Quillen, openly rationalizes the abuse of due process. She suggested in the Charlotte Observer that:
“When a woman tells you she’s been assaulted, believe her. … Nothing about due process says to a rape survivor, ‘I believe you’ … How can we assure each survivor that we believe her while also insisting on an impartial investigative process?”
Quillen overlooks an important difference between showing compassion to an alleged victim and unconditionally accepting an accuser’s claims. And she is hardly alone in academia.
Despite the radical academic climate that rejects reasonable due process protections, steps can be taken to prevent future violations. Alumni, trustees, student groups, and legislators should pressure administrators to consult FIRE’s report to see where improvement is needed and make policy changes accordingly.
Second, students can help by participating in FIRE’s student network. Students will have the resources to educate themselves about current threats to their due process rights.
In North Carolina, it may be appropriate for the General Assembly to revisit House Bill 777. If passed, the bill would permit the cross-examination of witnesses and require a “clear and convincing” standard when determining whether a student is culpable of sexual assault.
A willingness to compromise the fundamental rights of students should not be condoned. State and university officials have the responsibility to rectify injurious policies and provide all students with “basic procedural protections.”
Shannon Watkins is a policy associate at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.
Republican legislators have generated criticism for ignoring voters’ race when drawing North Carolina’s latest congressional and legislative election maps. But recent electoral redistricting rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court could support their decision.
An attorney who has represented GOP lawmakers in redistricting cases explained why during a recent appearance on Capitol Hill.
That attorney — Thomas Farr — has been nominated to serve as a U.S. District Court judge. During a Senate committee meeting tied to the judicial confirmation process, Farr tackled the issue of addressing race when drawing district lines.
“You pointed earlier to the tension between compliance with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and meeting other constitutional protections,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, referencing a key portion of 1965 federal legislation that was designed to help combat the impact of Jim Crow laws. The Voting Rights Act continues to serve as the basis for taking racial impacts into account when drawing election maps and changing other election laws.
“Is it permissible in your view, under federal law, for a state legislature to engage in gerrymandering that takes race into account?” Coons asked. “How would you suggest we move forward to a place where district lines are drawn in a way that respects the fundamental rights of all Americans?”
Before sharing Farr’s answer, it’s worth noting that federal courts have demonstrated inconsistency in rulings linked to race and redistricting. During a recent Carolina Journal Radio interview, constitutional scholar Ilya Shapiro of the libertarian Cato Institute offered this technical legal assessment: “These redistricting cases are really weird.”
“You kind of apply the Goldilocks standard when race comes to bear,” Shapiro added. “You can’t use race too much, but it turns out you can’t use race too little with the Voting Rights Act.”
Shapiro doesn’t consider the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the recent N.C. congressional redistricting case, Cooper v. Harris, to be groundbreaking. Nor does he believe it sets a significant legal standard. “At a certain point, the court’s just going to have to throw up its hands and say, ‘We can’t police this any more.’”
Farr offered a different take on the issue while addressing Coons’ question on Capitol Hill. “I think that’s an evolving area of the law that’s taken different turns over the last 30 years,” Farr testified. “My understanding of the law today is the courts have pretty much said that any time a state redistricts, there’s a consciousness of race.”
“But based upon the most recent decisions, a legislature cannot take race into account until they have essentially the same type of evidence a plaintiff would have to have in a Section 2 case to show that remedial districts were necessary,” he added.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibits voting practices of procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language minority group spelled out in the act. People who file suit based on Section 2 often call for “remedial districts,” or new election maps, to replace those that are deemed to have violated the VRA.
“The legislature would have to have evidence that the minority group was politically cohesive, that it was geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district, and then you would have to have evidence of what’s called legally significant racially polarized voting,” Farr said.
“That was what was at issue in our cases in North Carolina,” he continued. “We had tons of evidence of racially polarized voting. In fact, I don’t think that anyone disputes that in North Carolina there is racially polarized voting.”
Farr then turned to a key element of the latest redistricting rulings. “The Supreme Court has now clarified that the standard is much higher,” he said. “You have to have evidence that the white majority votes in a bloc typically to defeat the ability of the minority group to elect the candidate of their choice,” he said. “So I think the Supreme Court has very healthily clarified the standard that legislatures now have to follow before they take race into account.”
“Absent that type of evidence, they should not take race into account in drawing districts,” Farr concluded.
In summary form, Farr simply restated a key element of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s opinion in Cooper v. Harris. In striking down a congressional district as an example of unconstitutional racial gerrymandering, Kagan wrote for the court’s majority:
“North Carolina can point to no meaningful legislative inquiry into what it now rightly identifies as the key issue: whether a new, enlarged District 1, created without a focus on race but however else the State would choose, could lead to [Section] 2 liability. … To have a strong basis in evidence to conclude that [Section] 2 demands such race-based steps, the State must carefully evaluate whether a plaintiff could establish the … preconditions — including effective white bloc-voting — in a new district created without those measures. We see nothing in the legislative record that fits that description.”
In the Cooper case, this finding ended up helping Democrats and their allies. But it’s not clear that this new standard will generate long-term benefits for ideological foes of the Republican-led General Assembly.
The GOP legislature’s latest congressional map, drawn without taking race into account, already has survived one court challenge and the 2016 election cycle. Legislative maps drawn without taking race into account face legal scrutiny now. They head back to federal court today.
If the nation’s highest court confronts this issue again, we’ll learn whether Farr’s assessment of the latest Supreme Court “clarification” proves correct.
Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation.
Back when I used to commission regular surveys of North Carolina voters, one of my favorite questions had to do with tax fairness.
The wording varied over time, but here’s essentially what we asked. If someone earns twice as much as income as you do, what do you think is the fairest system: that person ought to pay less than twice as much in taxes as you do, that person ought to pay about twice as much as you do, or that person ought to pay more than twice as much in taxes as you do?
Almost no one offered the first response. Some people agreed with the third response. But most people agreed with the second approach, in which one’s tax burden rises in proportion to one’s income.
In policy speak, these alternatives are called regressive taxation, proportional taxation, and progressive taxation. Politicians and analysts debate them all the time, but the terms don’t always adequately serve to convey the underlying meaning or assumptions. And if you use these terms in survey questions, you aren’t likely to get useful insights.
“Progressive” sounds good and “regressive” bad, for example, because we certainly all want to go forward and not backward. But in this context, the terms really refer to horizontal lines on a distribution chart. As you go left to right in household income, does the share of income paid in taxes progress upward or regress downward?
The reason people tend to respond favorably to proportionality as a standard, I believe, is that it comports with their intuitions and experience. The religiously minded are familiar with the concept of tithing. Those who have more are expected to give more. But the tithe — the “tenth” of one’s income — is a proportion.
In the voluntary context of a religious institution, to be sure, it’s a guide rather than a mandatory floor or ceiling. Government is different. You “contribute” — or else. Unless you are an anarchist, you believe that people ought to be compelled to help pay for government services. You probably also believe that the taxes people pay ought to be levied “fairly,” even if you haven’t explicitly defined the term for yourself.
Tax fairness exists in two directions: horizontal and vertical. If you and I have the same incomes but pay significantly different tax bills, that’s a question of horizontal fairness. I happen to think some such differences are entirely fair and necessary, because they correct for what would otherwise be biases in the tax code over time.
For instance, if government taxes money that is invested and then also tax the return on that investment, it biases the tax code. The ultimate return on that investment is taxed twice — once by reducing the original principal available, and then again by reducing the interest, dividend, or capital gain on it. One or the other ought to be taxed, but not both. That’s the rule for individual retirement accounts. It’s a good one.
The other form of fairness is vertical. What shares of income should people at different incomes pay in taxes? In this case, I’m in favor of proportionality after an initial exemption of some income from tax — the policy governments already follow in offering standard deductions as well as personal exemptions or credits (which adjust for the size of the household). In effect, then, I think the overall tax system ought to be modestly progressive.
What system do we actually have? I’ll use statistics from left-of-center think tanks, just to be fair. Among taxpaying households, the bottom 20 percent pays about 15 percent of their income in federal, state, and local taxes. The next quintile pays about 19 percent. The middle quintile pays 23 percent. The fourth quintile pays 27 percent. The highest-income quintile pays about 32 percent, with the top 1 percent of taxpayers in income paying 40 percent of that income, on average, in taxes of all kinds.
Whatever you think about this, our tax system is clearly not biased against poor- and middle-income taxpayers.
John Hood is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on the talk show “NC SPIN.” You can follow him @JohnHoodNC.
What if a product could save lives and millions in health-care costs? Imagine that product had undergone extensive tests and trials providing undisputed data showing it was safe. But what if a government agency with an anti-tobacco agenda from a previous administration made that product unavailable?
It’s happening now, as the Food and Drug Administration considers an application for a modified risk tobacco product submitted by the tobacco industry.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 480,000 people in the U.S. die each year from smoking. It’s the leading preventable cause of death and disease. Even with countless regulations, heavy taxation, anti-smoking campaigns, and numerous cessation programs, 37 million Americans continue to smoke. In North Carolina, 19 percent of the state’s adults smoke cigarettes. Medication, behavioral counseling, gum, patches, government programs, and support groups are available to people trying to quit.
Why do people smoke? Because they choose to.
The addictive nature of nicotine makes it hard for people to quit, even though they may want to. Choices for reduced risk and less harmful products based on extensive research and viable health outcomes should be options.
Economic freedom has provided us with unlimited choices. It has helped to unleash technology and innovation that has improved our lives, our health, and the opportunities before us.
Recognizing the health risks and cultural shift away from smoking, America’s tobacco industry has invested heavily in research, technology, and development of reduced-harm tobacco products, offering consumers a choice outside traditional combustible cigarettes. The market has produced alternative vaping products, nicotine-reduced cigarettes, nicotine replacement patches, and electronic cigarettes.
The newest products are based in part on technology developed by Duke Professor Jed Rose — co-inventor of the nicotine patch — and others. Commercially marketed as iQOS, one new technology uses a controlled heating mechanism with a specially designed tobacco stick inserted into what looks like a short cigarette holder. Because the tobacco is heated and not burned, the harmful toxics found in cigarette smoke are reduced by 90 percent or more. The user gets nicotine through an aerosol but without the harmful smoke and toxins.
The iQos smoking platform is available in 20 countries, including Japan and Italy, but not to U.S. consumers, because the Food and Drug Administration must approve it. The FDA mandates extensive health and safety testing, requiring years of work from hundreds of experts and mounds of paperwork, reports, data, and statistical analysis. Research and development on the iQOS platform began in 2003 and cost millions to bring the product this far.
Two application processes exist. Pre-market tobacco application would allow a company to sell a reduced-risk product — better than conventional cigarettes — but without health claims to the consumer. By statute, the FDA is supposed to review the applications within 180 days. It will probably exceed that for any new product application, but we could see IQOS on the market early next year if the feds follow those timelines.
Modified-risk tobacco product applications could take a year. This isn’t in statute, so it probably will take much longer. There are more hurdles — an FDA advisory committee and a comment period. FDA will also negotiate and discuss any “claims” with the producer before clearing it for the market.
According to the FDA, the agency “can issue an order authorizing the marketing of a product only if the evidence submitted in the application meets the requirements … including, among other things, showing that the product will or is expected to benefit the health of the population as a whole.”
While churning through the administrative bureaucracy, smokers who seek a less harmful alternative are left without one. It’s not just the health risks that are at stake, but it’s also the millions of dollars invested in the next generation of products. It’s the jobs that could be created. It’s the boost to North Carolina’s tobacco industry with the new supply that will be required for the production of the iQOS tobacco sticks. And it’s the message our federal government sends to every entrepreneur, every industry willing to invest in the new innovation, every engineer and systems technician, and researcher in groundbreaking disciplines. The FDA is a barrier to new innovations that save people’s lives, create jobs, and boost economies.
President Trump has called the FDA’s approval process “slow and burdensome.” His appointment to head the FDA, Dr. Scott Gottleib, a former FDA deputy commissioner, has pledged to “make certain the FDA is striking an appropriate balance between regulation and encouraging development of innovative tobacco products that may be less dangerous than cigarettes … .”
The John Locke Foundation was pleased to submit a public comment to the FDA in support of the approval of the application for a reduced-risk tobacco product. We believe in public safety supported by facts, personal responsibility, and individual liberty. Let’s hope the FDA does, too.
Democrats, progressive activists, and left-leaning editorialists haven’t liked past ideas from Republicans to change the way North Carolina’s elections are run. They haven’t liked voter-identification laws, they haven’t liked reattaching partisan labels to judicial elections, and they don’t like a new set of judicial districts proposed by House Republicans.
GOP majorities in both chambers have just passed a set of voting changes, however, that I think Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and his partisan and ideological allies ought to like. Could we be dangerously close to bipartisan consensus? I hope so.
Earlier this year, then-Sen. Andrew Brock of Davie County introduced legislation, Senate Bill 656, that sought to make it easier for third parties and unaffiliated candidates to get listed on North Carolina ballots. In June, Brock resigned from the state Senate to accept appointment to the state panel that reviews unemployment claims. But other lawmakers continued to champion his ballot-reform measure.
During a recent special session, both legislative chambers passed a modified version of S.B. 656. While not quite as accommodating to third parties and unaffiliated candidates as before, it still lowers the threshold — the number of signatures they must obtain or votes they must earn in past elections — in order to acquire or maintain a position on future ballots. I think it’s remarkable and praiseworthy that Republican lawmakers would support these ballot-access changes, which are unlikely to advance their partisan interests.
Another change in the bill, likely a more consequential one, reduces the threshold for winning an electoral primary in North Carolina to 30 percent of the vote, down from 40 percent. At first glance, you may think this change is less praiseworthy, or even alarming. But please think again.
Only 10 states require candidates to receive more than a plurality of the vote in order to win a primary. Does that mean a candidate can win a Democratic or Republican nomination in those states with, say, 35 percent of the vote? Yes. That’s the rule in most of the country. It’s hardly a novel idea.
Moreover, the history of runoff-primary requirements isn’t a pretty one. Most of the states that have them are in the South, and adopted their rules in the early 20th century, when the Democrats were overwhelmingly the majority. This was the Democratic Party of the past, of segregation. Establishment white Democrats were happy to accept the votes of blacks or white populists, but did not relish the idea that blacks or populists might win Democratic primaries.
So Democratic lawmakers instituted the requirement that a primary candidate get 50 percent plus one vote in order to avoid a runoff. Its primary purpose was to exclude blacks from the general-election ballot. It usually worked.
In 1989, North Carolina actually took a step in the right direction by lowering its runoff-primary threshold to 40 percent. Lowering it further today is a good idea.
Is it troubling that candidates can qualify for the general election with less than a majority in the primary? Perhaps. But the alternatives are worse. Runoff primaries are expensive, low-turnout affairs. Most of the time, the top vote-getter the first time wins the second time. And in cases where the initial second-place finisher ends up winning the runoff, it’s not so obvious that’s a more “democratic” outcome, given that the runoff turnout is often tiny. The “winner” may end up with many fewer total votes, first and second primaries combined, than the “loser” gets.
Another alternative, a ranked-choice or “instant runoff” primary, would address the turnout problem. Primary voters indicate which candidate they’d prefer if their top choice was mathematically excluded from winning. Such a system makes sense conceptually but can be confusing. North Carolina has already dabbled with it. Many voters didn’t like it.
The bill in question also modifies filing and eliminates primaries for judicial candidates in 2018, possibly in advance of a proposed change in North Carolina’s judicial-selection process, so Gov. Cooper may decide to veto it. Still, increasing ballot access and discouraging runoffs are worthy reforms.
John Hood is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on the talk show “NC SPIN.” You can follow him @JohnHoodNC.
A good percentage of North Carolinians think charter schools are private schools.
A SurveyUSA from earlier this week found just 37 percent of the people surveyed believe charter schools are public schools, which they are. But 44 percent don’t, and 19 percent are not sure.
That’s quite a disconnect. But it isn’t atypical, says Terry Stoops, vice president of Research and director of Education Studies at the John Locke Foundation.
“It usually does not impede legislation, because state think tanks and charter advocacy groups do a good job of educating lawmakers about charters.”
It’s another story when we talk about educating parents, who, says Stoops, are used to thinking about schools is dualistic terms, meaning public and private.
“Charter school boards, teachers, and administrators need to take the lead here. By far, they have the greatest incentive to explain to parents and their communities what a charter is and what it has to offer. Indeed, the sustainability of their enterprise depends on their ability to educate parents and their communities.”
The media is usually good about telling people charters are indeed public schools, says Stoops.
“The problem is that they have a tendency to leave out charters in discussions of public school policy generally. The class-size debate is one example of this.”
Charter schools, according to the state Department of Public Instruction, are public schools of choice authorized by the State Board of Education and operated by independent nonprofit boards of directors.
“State and local tax dollars are the primary funding sources for charter schools, which have open enrollment and cannot discriminate in admissions, associate with any religion or religious group, or charge tuition. Charter schools operate with freedom from many of the regulations that govern district schools, but charter schools are held accountable through the state assessment and accountability system.”
To be clear, charter schools get public money, albeit not as much as traditional public schools. State law prohibits charters from receiving state and local capital funding.
Charter schools are growing exponentially, nevertheless.
North Carolina has 173 charter schools with some 102,000 students.
While the state legislature removed the cap on the number of charters schools that may operate in the state, a cap on student enrollment growth remains. The enrollment cap forces schools that could otherwise accommodate more students to limit the number of seats available, necessitating the lottery selection process.
“In the past year,” the Charlotte Observer wrote in January, “charter schools gained 9,630 students while district schools lost about 3,400, the average daily membership reports show. Seventy-five of the state’s 115 districts reported fewer students this year than last year.”
Charter schools, to stay relevant and viable, largely depend on the schools’ parents, who must ensure their children can get to and from school — most charters don’t have buses — and fund the enterprise in myriad ways, including both with their time and their money.
Raleigh Charter High School, for instance, is widely considered one of the best — if not the best — public high schools in North Carolina, and one of the top charter schools in the U.S.
Yet getting in is no easy feat, regardless of a students’ academic acumen or any connections their parents may have. For the 2017-18 school year, 1,252 students applied for admission to Raleigh Charter. Through a lottery, the school accepted 71 rising ninth-graders, as well as 79 rising ninth-grade siblings.
Ponder, if you will, those numbers.
It’s a competitive process that begins with the lottery and continues in the classroom. Courses are challenging and rigorous, and students have at least a couple hours of homework each night. But students are there because, most honestly, their parents want them to be. The parents realize — as do most students after a time — that life consists of a series of challenges and obstacles, uneven parameters, and an incessant need to shift and to adapt.
Though difficult at times, it’s a necessary lesson in life, giving students a veritable jump toward college or other pursuits.
Parents have a stack of reasons for choosing the schools their children attend, but many times they don’t choose at all, an outcome that often presents itself in the form of frustrated, disengaged, distracted — and even unruly — students.
On a personal level, our children — now high school freshmen — have attended either magnet or charter schools since kindergarten.
Because we wanted them to.
My wife and I often shook our heads in unison when, while talking about our children and their school, our friends would say, “Yes, but you pay for them to go there.”
We all pay for public schools, we would say. If only more people realized they have a choice. If only more people really cared that they do.
Last spring, Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly, filed a bill that would establish new judicial and prosecutorial districts throughout the state and specify the number of judges and prosecutors for each While House Bill 717 didn’t come to a vote during the regular session, Burr has indicated he would try to have it considered during this week’s session. Commenting on the bill recently in Carolina Journal, Becki Gray offered, “Kudos to Rep. Burr … for bringing the issue forward.” But she also warned that, “[C]hanges to the judicial system that affect every North Carolinian deserve careful thought, advice from experts, thorough review, tough scrutiny, and thorough debate.”
She is surely right on both points.
Regarding the need for comprehensive judicial and prosecutorial redistricting, Burr may well be correct. For more than 50 years, the legislature has been making piecemeal, ad-hoc adjustments to existing judicial and prosecutorial districts in an attempt to keep up with legal, demographic, and political changes. But, despite those efforts, imbalances still exist in terms of resource allocation and access to justice. There are several reasons why that, instead of attempting to redraw judicial and prosecutorial districts itself the way it does with legislative districts, the General Assembly would be well-advised to assign the task to a nonpartisan commission.
Unlike legislative redistricting, where the standards to be applied are at least clear in principle — i.e., “one person one vote,” compliance with federal voting rights laws, etc. — the standards for judicial and prosecutorial redistricting have never been formally articulated. Before such redistricting begins, therefore, there needs to be some sort of formal consideration of the principles that are to guide the effort and of the standards that are to be met.
In addition, judicial and prosecutorial redistricting is a technically challenging problem. Unlike legislative redistricting, it’s not simply a matter of ensuring each district has about the same number of people (and a racial breakdown that will meet federal standards). Instead, it requires detailed projections of future caseloads across districts, in terms of numbers and types of cases, and a detailed analysis of how best to allocate judicial and prosecutorial resources to ensure that North Carolinians have equal access to an efficient court system.
Moreover, accusations of racial and political gerrymandering have already been made regarding H.B. 717. It’s all too easy to imagine these leading to the same kind of controversy and litigation that has followed each of the General Assembly’s recent attempts at redrawing legislative districts, with all of the attendant costs, disruption, and bad publicity. As the John Locke Foundation has frequently pointed out, all of that could be avoided if the task of redistricting was assigned to a nonpartisan commission, but neither Democrats nor Republicans have been willing to give up the opportunity to engage in political gerrymandering when in power. Judicial and prosecutorial districts, however, are much less important politically, which ought to make a nonpartisan commission more palatable.
Finally, there already exists a nonpartisan commission that would be ideally situated to undertake the task of judicial and prosecutorial redistricting — the N.C. Courts Commission. When it created the commission in 1979, the General Assembly declared that:
It shall be the duty of the Commission to make continuing studies of the structure, organization, jurisdiction, procedures and personnel of the Judicial Department and of the General Court of Justice and to make recommendations to the General Assembly for such changes therein as will facilitate the administration of justice.
In fulfilling that duty, in recent years the commission has been preparing to undertake the task of redistricting. In 2015, James Drennan from the UNC School of Government made a presentation to the commission about “the reconfiguration of judicial and prosecutorial districts,” and, last year, Brad Fowler, who is a planning and organizational development officer with the Administrative Office of the Courts, presented “information on criteria for consideration by the Commission in any future effort to study the reorganization of judicial and prosecutorial districts.” All of which suggests that the Courts Commission is ready and willing to undertake the task.
Curiously, in June the following provision was added to H.B. 717:
SECTION 4. The Administrative Office of the Courts, the Courts Commission, and the Legislative Services Commission shall study and determine quantifiable workload assessments, by county, for prosecutorial, district, and superior courts to assist the General Assembly in dividing the State into a convenient number of districts and divisions for the administration of the judicial branch. The Courts Commission shall make a report to the 2019 Regular Session of the General Assembly on or before December 15, 2018, with any recommendations of the study.
While this provision is hard to reconcile with the preceding sections that provide detailed definitions of the new districts and divisions, it nevertheless sounds like the way to go.
Also, the process of redistricting has gone through the House committee process with much less fanfare and on a much faster timetable than it should have. These changes could affect every North Carolinian’s access to justice for decades and deserve a more deliberative process.
Why not expand Section 4 of the bill to give the Courts Commission clear instructions about how to proceed and scrap the rest of the legislation?
Jon Guze is director of legal studies at the John Locke Foundation.
Most North Carolina voters, regardless of registration, cast their ballots consistently for either Democrats or Republicans. And the swing voters who often determine electoral outcomes tend to cast their ballots against what they dislike more than they cast ballots for what they like.
If you follow politics, these are pretty good rules. They have a lot of empirical support. They make conceptual sense. They are useful in predicting the future. And they are all you need to understand why Donald Trump won the electoral votes of North Carolina — and of enough states in the union to become president.
As you may already know, I’m hardly a Trump fan. But I don’t think you have to come up with elaborate conspiracies, race-conscious heuristics, or savage attacks on the Hillary Clinton campaign to explain the outcome of the 2016 elections.
By traditional political (and conservative) standards, Trump was a horrible candidate. Clinton was a horrible candidate, too. Most Republican-leaning voters, whether they liked Trump or not, voted for him because they strongly questioned both the character and the policies of the Democratic nominee. Most Democratic-leaning voters, even if they didn’t much like Clinton, could never have brought themselves to pick Trump.
As for swing voters in the final weeks of the campaign, more of them swung to Trump in key states — such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin — than swung to Clinton in those or other battlegrounds. I suspect news about the email investigation played a role, as did some tactical mistakes by the Clinton team and good tactical calls by the Trump team. It was a close election. It was consequential. But the election result hardly represents something brand new and inexplicable in our politics.
I was mistaken in expecting Trump to lose the key states he ended up winning. But I always figured that, if he won, his victory wouldn’t bring a strong Republican wave. It didn’t. The GOP lost ground in both houses of Congress, although it did better in state and local elections where the races were less connected to the national narrative.
I also figured that, if Trump became president, he’d struggle to maintain public goodwill and support, even in his inaugural year. So far, that is precisely what has happened.
Consider two newly released surveys of North Carolina voters. In an Elon University Poll, 34 percent said they approved of President Trump’s job performance as president, with 58 percent disapproving. In a Survey USA poll for the statewide Spectrum News cable channel, the figures were 37 percent approval and 49 percent disapproval.
When I looked more closely at the crosstabs — the results broken out by voter groups — the discrepancy between the two polls shrank a bit. Republicans, Democrats, and unaffiliated voters expressed similar sentiments across the two surveys. But the Survey USA sample had more Republicans than the Elon sample did.
The Survey USA poll produced another fascinating result. Respondents were asked whether, if they had it to do over again, they’d vote the same way for president as they did last fall. The vast majority of Republicans, Democrats, and independents said their votes would be the same. Somewhat more of the minority who would switch their votes — or who didn’t vote in 2016 — said they’d choose Clinton over Trump, but not enough to change the outcome.
In other words, the poll suggested that if the election of 2016 were restaged in North Carolina, Trump would probably still win the state.
Surprised? Confused? Outraged? Well, yes, Trump’s approval ratings are low in North Carolina (as in the nation as a whole). But again, elections are about comparisons. Most voters are partisans. They believe their parties offer the best ideas for governing the country. They think the other party’s ideas are wrongheaded or even dangerous. It takes an awful lot to get them to overlook that, at least when it comes to federal elections where the stakes are highest.
And many swing voters still, it seems, dislike and distrust Hillary Clinton. They get to do that.
The N.C. Supreme Court handed down twice as many 4-3 decisions Friday as it had during the rest of the year. Yet it would be a mistake to jump to the conclusion that the 4-3 splits show signs of a new partisan divide within the state’s highest court.
Just one of the four new 4-3 decisions pitted the court’s four registered Democrats against its three Republicans. A closer look at the numbers shows constantly shifting coalitions from case to case. It also shows general agreement in most cases among all seven justices.
The state Supreme Court has issued opinions in 42 cases this year. Thirty-two of those cases (76 percent) generated unanimous agreement. In only one of the 32 did more than one justice author an opinion. That was Justice Paul Newby’s concurrence to fellow Republican Chief Justice Mark Martin’s June opinion in State v. Jones. Newby did not disagree with his colleagues at all. He used his somewhat lighthearted concurring opinion to compare the case to a fictional crime in the classic Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
One other case among the 42 decided this year yielded a unanimous result, though justices split 5-2 on the reasoning. In the Catawba County ex rel. Rackley v. Loggins opinion handed down Friday, Martin and Democrat Sam Ervin IV diverged from the reasoning Democratic Justice Mike Morgan offered for reversing a lower court ruling. It doesn’t make sense to label this case as a unanimous ruling, though all seven justices agreed on the same outcome.
The remaining nine cases offer examples of more clear-cut splits in legal outcomes. What is not clear is any sign of consistent voting blocs.
Both of this year’s 5-2 decisions, with two justices dissenting rather than concurring, involved coalitions of two Democrats and three Republicans in the majority versus two Democrats in the minority. In both cases, a Democrat wrote the majority opinion.
In June’s State v. Miller, Democratic Justice Cheri Beasley joined Morgan’s dissent from Ervin’s majority opinion. In August’s Wray v. City of Greensboro, Beasley joined Ervin’s dissent from the majority opinion drafted by Democratic Justice Robin Hudson.
The court’s lone 4-2 ruling this year involved Republican Justice Barbara Jackson joining three Democrats, including opinion author Ervin, in King v. Bryant. Martin and Newby wrote separate dissents. Morgan, the court’s newest member, took no part in this case. The court issued its ruling in January.
That leaves us with six 4-3 splits. That’s one out of every seven cases, or 14 percent. The majority coalitions have shifted from case to case.
Many political observers expected Morgan’s 2016 election to signal a potential ideological shift for the Supreme Court. Morgan unseated incumbent Republican Bob Edmunds. The election flipped the court’s partisan makeup from 4-3 favoring Republicans to 4-3 favoring Democrats.
But the year’s first 4-3 split, in March’s Old Republic Nat’l Title Ins. Co. v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., involved a case of Morgan siding with the court’s Republicans against his fellow Democrats. Newby wrote the majority opinion. Ervin penned the dissent.
Three of the 4-3 rulings handed down Friday also involved coalitions that defy partisan analysis. In State v. Hammonds, Martin and Newby joined Ervin’s dissent from Hudson’s majority opinion. In Dep’t. of Transp. v. Adams Outdoor Advert. of Charlotte Ltd. P’ship, Ervin joined with the three Republicans to form a majority. The In re Estate of Skinner ruling involved Newby and Jackson joining Morgan’s dissent from Ervin’s majority opinion.
The fourth 4-3 ruling from Friday, State v. Murrell, represented just the second case this year in which the justices’ divisions fell along party lines. (The first was June’s State v. Romano. In that case, justices wrestled with the admissibility of blood test results in a drunk-driving case.) In Murrell, justices diverged over whether an indictment intended to charge a defendant with armed robbery was “fatally defective.” Ervin wrote the majority opinion for the court’s four Democrats. Jackson wrote a dissent joined by her fellow Republicans.
Every justice on the N.C. Supreme Court has voted with the majority at least 88 percent of the time. It’s true that the justice who has dissented most often — Newby, with five — is a Republican. But Democrat Beasley has dissented more often (four times, matching Republican Martin) than Republican Jackson (three). Democrats Ervin and Morgan also have dissented three times. Democrat Hudson holds the highest percentage (95) of cases voting with the majority. She has dissented just twice this year.
A Democrat — Ervin — has written the most dissenting opinions (three). Martin, Morgan, and Newby each have written two dissents. Hudson and Jackson each have written one. Beasley has not written a dissenting opinion this year.
It’s important to point out that the N.C. Supreme Court has yet to issue a ruling in any cases pitting Gov. Roy Cooper or other Democratic partisans against the Republican-led General Assembly or its allies. It’s entirely possible that those cases will generate more partisan 4-3 splits favoring Democrats.
But the historical record of this court’s first nine months doesn’t make party-line votes a foregone conclusion.
Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation.
John Locke was wrong. You might be surprised to see the chairman of the John Locke Foundation make that admission, but venerating a historical figure and applying his ideas to modern problems requires neither perfection in that human being (which is impossible) nor slavish devotion to his every utterance (which is foolish).
Locke’s ideas about politics, liberty, economics, and education remain highly influential — and deservedly so. America’s Declaration of Independence is, in part, an adaptation of John Locke’s theories about natural rights and the legitimacy of government. His advocacy of religious toleration was a critical moment in the movement toward freedom of conscience.
But when it comes to how human beings learn, Locke’s idea that we are “blank slates,” fully open to be written on by experience, has proven to be erroneous, at least in the form he stated it. We now know that human nature is real — the product of either divine providence or evolutionary adaptation, take your pick.
Part of our human nature is that we are born with a mental architecture. We are “pre-wired” to interpret the evidence of our senses in certain ways. While this wiring proved critical to our survival before the advent of civilization, it sometimes trips us up as we navigate our modern world.
For example, we are strongly oriented to detecting and analyzing patterns. That’s great. It’s the key to humanity’s success and makes both art and science possible. But often, our pattern-recognition system leads us away from evidence that contradicts what we already believe. We either don’t take notice of contrary evidence (selection bias) or we place a greater but unwarranted value on evidence that supports our preexisting belief (confirmation bias).
Want an example? You need look no further than recent political debates about North Carolina’s economy.
From 2013 to 2016, we had a Republican-dominated state government and a Democratic president. Every time an agency released new economic data, Republicans would find reasons to argue that any good national news must be fraudulent or exaggerated while at the same time arguing that any good news about North Carolina’s economy was true or even understated.
North Carolina Democrats did the reverse. During most of this period, North Carolina’s economy outperformed the national average on most growth measures. Democrats somehow managed to convince themselves either that this meant North Carolina was merely benefitting from President Obama’s wise policies (which was an illogical interpretation of the evidence) or that North Carolina was underperforming the national average (which was contrary to most evidence).
A few days ago, the Census Bureau released 2016 data on median household income. In past years, North Carolina’s performance on this measure was unimpressive — and Democratic politicians and progressive commentators made sure North Carolinians heard incessantly about that.
The 2016 trend, however, was quite different. North Carolina’s median household income was $50,584, up 4.5 percent from last year after adjusting for inflation. That was the 4th-highest growth rate in the country, and far above the 2.4 percent national average. Have you seen headlines or heard news broadcasts about this? Why do you think that is?
A large one-year gain will never be the full story, of course. From 2013 to 2016, North Carolina’s median household income rose about 7 percent by my count. That’s a better growth rate than that of most states in the Southeast, and of the nation. But it’s not in the top 10.
How do other growth measures look over the same period? In per-capita income, a somewhat-different measure, North Carolina ranked 12th in the nation. In gross domestic product, North Carolina’s growth rate also ranked 12th, but drops a bit to 16th if you use a measure that adjusts for price differences, including what our exports sell for overseas. On the labor market, North Carolina’s decline in unemployment and underemployment was 5.3 percentage points — a tie for the 5th-largest improvement.
We can and should lean against our mental biases. If he’d known about modern brain science, John Locke would have strongly approved.
Newspapers refuse to die. On a superficial level, that’s a good thing.
For as long as I can remember, newspaper publishers, editors, and the large corporations that pull the proverbial strings have made innumerable and mostly ill-fated attempts to revive an industry and business plan that began cracking around the edges some 30 years ago.
Now it’s crumbling in chunks.
Newspapers, as we know, were once the gatekeepers that ejected corrupt and vile public officials. They exposed graft and theft. They told us who died and how. They were — and still must be — crucial in maintaining the ideals of individual freedom and liberty and in upholding the tenets of our Constitution.
Newspapers are necessary and indispensable.
But they are failing badly. I shudder to think what local governments and officials are getting away with as major dailies in our own state end city hall and school board beats. As they lay off reporters and not replace them.
Still, newspapers must be saved, but the “how” isn’t close to clear, as opinions about resuscitating this long-suffering patient are as numerous and as disparate as were newspapers in 1920s New York City.
The business model hasn’t changed much since then, really. Newspapers will ultimately become news sites, online-only outlets that make only a fraction of the once-staggering profits produced by the now long-dead print advertising cash cow.
Any and all life-saving strategies must be fluent and sustainable.
A program announced at the Google News Lab Summit, writes Gracy Olmstead of The Federalist, “aims to place 1,000 enterprising young journalists in local newsrooms around the country.”
Report for America, projects architects Charles Sennott and Steven Waldman call it.
Here’s how it would work, Olmstead writes: Emerging journalists will apply to be part of RFA, and newsrooms will apply for help. “RFA will pay 50 percent of that journalist’s salary, with the newsroom paying 25 percent and local donors paying the other 25 percent. That reporter will work in the local newsroom for a year, with the opportunity to renew.
“After the first year, the local news organization will have to pay a larger share of the journalists’ income. But ‘corps members’ in the RFA program will receive continued mentorship and support from the organization after their placements.”
Support comes from the GroundTruth Project and the Google News Lab, The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, Knight Foundation, Galloway Family Foundation, Center for Investigative Reporting, and Solutions Journalism Network.
As Olmstead rightly points out, local journalism is painstaking and oftentimes mind-numbing work, sometimes requiring preternatural tenacity and patience. It’s about covering drawn-out meetings and rec league soccer matches. It’s about covering horrific crimes and accidents at 2 a.m. before falling out of bed a few hours later for a hollow and obligatory speech or an innocuous community parade.
It’s about navigating petty office politics and corporate rules and mandates. It’s about working 14-hour days with the promise of comp time that never comes. It’s about watching capable colleagues leave for no reason other than a corporate demand to streamline and “rightsize.”
And doing all of this for $25,000 a year.
RFA has a ‘service requirement for corps members. “’We think much journalism is public service but we also want RFA corps members to go the extra mile and do service projects in the community,” Olmstead writes, quoting the group’s website. “’In particular, we’re looking to have them work in high schools and middle schools to help start or strengthen student-run news websites, feeds, TV shows, or newspapers.’”
Here’s my worry: The idea flies in the face of the free market. Newspapers are dying because classifieds, real estate ads, etc., have gone online, and they aren’t coming back to print. Dropping nascent reporters in to do a job few want isn’t a long-term strategy, because the core problems with newspapers will continue.
What will happen when the papers come to depend on this newsy Peace Corps? Will publishers turn to government grants and outright appropriations, and, as a consequence, will liberal opinions and bias become unquestioned byproducts of the news-gathering process?
RFA may be a serviceable lifeline, as Olmstead says. But how long will it be before that rope frays and unravels, too?
One of the most common misconceptions about the free market is that it encourages people to pursue their own “narrow self-interest,” usually interpreted as caring only about one’s self while ignoring the needs and desires of others. But in fact, the truth is quite the opposite. In a market, the surest route to economic failure is to focus strictly on one’s own wants and ignore the wellbeing of others. Indeed, this is the fundamental message about markets that Adam Smith, in 1776, was trying to convey when presenting his famous metaphor of the invisible hand. In any economy based on voluntary cooperation and trade, as opposed either private or governmental force, it’s impossible to simultaneously advance one’s own economic wellbeing while at the same time ignoring the desires and wishes of others.
This stems from the nature of exchange, which is the defining characteristic of a market economy. As Smith pointed out:
Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of.
In other words, when one operates within a system where we get what we want from trade we are actually forced to ignore our narrow self-interest. The only way to improve your lot is to persuade others to make exchanges with you, to buy what you are offering. Those who are particularly good at figuring out what others want and how much they value it will end up increasing their own well-being the most. They increase their incomes not by focusing on their “narrow self-interest” but by looking outside themselves and determining what others want. This is why, in a system based on the principle of free exchange, Smith argued that:
“[I]t is only for the sake of profit that any man employs a capital in the support of industry; and he will always, therefore, endeavour to employ it in the support of that industry of which the produce is likely to be of the greatest value, or to exchange for the greatest quantity either of money or of other goods.”
By value with the quantity of “money or other goods” that he can receive in exchange for his produce, he is making it clear that he means value to others. In fact, what the successful profit seeker is producing is of greater value to others than it is to himself, otherwise he would not be willing to trade it away. This is why he goes on to argue that “every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can.” This is the consequence of those individuals looking outward to society in an attempt to determine what others value the most.
Of course, Smith was quick to note that it is not because the producer cares, in an altruistic sense, what those others want, but because the fulfillment of his wants depends on his ability to fulfill theirs. Again, in the words of Smith:
“He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it… by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value [to others], he intends only his own gain…”
While for most people this would be a positive feature of and exchange based economy, there are those who see this aspect of the market as an unfair obstacle to success. And of course, if your success depends on thwarting rather than fulfilling the desires of others, it is.
There is the “starving” avant garde artist who believes there’s an injustice in the fact that very few people want to buy his concert tickets or paintings while a pop artist, who, in an objective sense, may have much less skill or talent, is in high demand and earns a great income. It’s not uncommon for that person to attempt to gain prosperity, not by pleasing those others who would buy the art but by reverting to non-voluntary means, possibly by applying for a taxpayer funded NEA grant. Such grants in fact do allow people to pursue their “narrow self-interest” without having to pay much attention to the desires of others.
At the other end of the same continuum from the avant garde artists are full-fledged political entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, CEO of the heavily subsidized electric car company, Tesla. Musk, like the starving artist, has done a rather poor job at producing what others want. On the other hand, unlike the artist, he has done a better job than maybe anyone ever has of persuading those who can help him avoid this market constraint; namely politicians, who can force people to pay for what they don’t want. Clearly, in a free market, if Musk insisted on producing his Tesla automobiles, i.e. pursuing his own narrow self-interest, he would be going broke rather than amassing a fortune.
In the real world, political institutions and the incentives they create often do allow people to thwart the interest of others while pursuing their own. Markets are in fact an anathema for those who care only about their narrow self-interest. Without the pathway provided by government and the legal use of force, narrow self-interest will ultimately be the kiss of death for anyone seeking true prosperity.
Roy Cordato is senior economist and resident scholar at the John Locke Foundation.
When North Carolina is competing with other states and nations for investment, business startups and expansions, and high-value professionals, we start out with some important advantages. Our tax code, for example, is now one of the most growth-friendly systems in the country.
In another area, land-use regulation, North Carolina also ranks above average — but not by much. We ought to strengthen property-rights protections in our state, not only because North Carolinians deserve more freedom but also because such protections appear to boost growth, job creation, and income gains.
A new study posted at the National Bureau of Economic Research by Kyle Herkenhoff of the University of Minnesota, Lee Ohanian of UCLA, and Nobel Laureate Edward Prescott of the University of Arizona found that heavy regulations on land use increase the price of housing, thus chasing away investors, entrepreneurs, and workers from the states and localities that impose them.
The effects of rent control, rigid zoning laws, density and parking limits, eminent-domain abuse, and other land-use policies aren’t just negative for the jurisdictions that impose them. Herkenhoff, Ohanion, and Prescott found that the American economy as a whole suffers from the distortions created by differential regulations and housing costs. If just California and New York alone had kept their regulatory burdens the same since 1980, rather than increasingly them dramatically, the nation’s productivity would be substantially higher than it is.
I wouldn’t count on California and New York getting the message. Their politicians seem, if anything, to be intent on regulating more. But even as North Carolina continues to welcome highly productive economic refugees from these higher-cost places, our leaders still need to do more to strengthen property-rights protections in our state.
According to the Cato Institute’s “Freedom in the 50 States” index, North Carolina ranks 21st in the nation for land-use freedom. While clearly superior to the regulatory policies prevalent in the northeast and Pacific coast, only Virginia (#26) among the states of the southeast has a worse ranking than we do on this measure. Tennessee (#7) and Florida (#11) are particularly strong protectors of property rights.
The right to own, control, develop, and sell land and other real property is not some limited civil right, granted under certain conditions by governments only to fulfill public needs. It is a natural right, derived from the rights of human beings to own their own labor and the fruits of that labor, including the land people live on and develop for their needs.
Governments do have a legitimate power to regulate what people do on or with their land — but only to the extent that such private actions directly impinge on the rights of others, by imposing nuisances or polluting either their own private property or the air and water “commons” that all share. You don’t have the right to use government to force other people to conform to your aesthetic preferences, or to prop up the market value of your property by restricting development or competition, or to keep “those people” out of your neighborhood.
North Carolina has authorized local governments to impose certain kinds of land-use regulations. Some are justified. Others are abusive, and state lawmakers ought to rescind such power to violate individual rights. This may well be an opportunity for some Left-Right alliances, by the way, because some lot-size and zoning regulations prevent the construction of the very affordable housing and high-density projects that many progressives advocate.
We should also amend the state constitution to protect landowners against eminent-domain abuse. Governments should be allowed to condemn and acquire private property only for public use — to construct a public asset — and not for the purpose of transferring property from one private owner to another, on the grounds that the politically preferred owner would be best for “the community.”
If we want healthy vibrant, and growing communities, the best thing to do is to respect the rights of the people who live in them. Freedom, it turns out, is actually good for the economy. Who knew?
The administrators who oversee public university campuses across North Carolina could see a tighter budget in the years ahead. Details about a positive budget development emerged recently during an uncharacteristically fractious meeting of the UNC system’s Board of Governors.
Reports about the meeting tended to focus on rare public disagreement among board members, an unanticipated proposal to put the brakes on student tuition and fee hikes, and even a suggestion that the university system’s General Administration might move out of Chapel Hill.
Lost amid that coverage was the news that the administration has been investigating zero-based budgeting.
“This is the first time we are doing a zero-based budgeting exercise in this organization for not just programs, but personnel,” UNC President Margaret Spellings told the board Sept. 7. “We’ve done time studies with every individual. We’ve allocated their time around a legislative mandate or requirement, a compliance requirement, and on and on.”
“We want to be completely transparent about this organization,” Spellings continued, reminding the board that the General Administration employs roughly 260 people and costs about $65 million per year. The administration oversees the 17-campus system but not any individual UNC campus. “We … look forward to sharing the very detailed information about how we spend our time and taxpayer money.”
Spellings offered those comments minutes after board member William Webb proposed a new 10-member committee “to review the role, purpose, size, and scope of General Administration.” That review would focus on existing administration jobs, the roles of each office within the administration, and appropriate staffing levels. Webb called for a 45-day timeline for the new group’s report.
“One of the things I noticed when I looked at the organizational chart is the … number of vacancies in various offices,” Webb said. “Since I’ve been here, and I think since the president’s been here, she’s been looking at staffing issues.”
The full board will benefit from the detailed zero-based budgeting study, Spellings said. “I think it will be educational for you to see that we have 10 people working on a program the legislature has given us that’s called Go Global,” she said. “That underwrites travel for various people internationally and so forth. We have a lot of things that are given us that we run and manage. And we want to be completely open and transparent about this.”
The goal is increased efficiency, Spellings said. “There’s nobody who has a keener interest in that than I do.”
Board Chairman Lou Bissette suggested that the zero-based budgeting work would help address the goals of Webb’s new committee. “I think your task force here will be off to a good start because they’re going to have an awful lot of information to begin with.”
Bissettte has reviewed much of that budget information. “I learned that close to 60 percent of our General Administration employees are there because they are mandated by statute or regulation,” he said. “It’s a compliance group.”
That comment about employees and compliance prompted board member David Powers to highlight his “pet peeve” about the General Administration. “We might be able to discover some things we might take to the General Assembly to address,” Powers said. “The chair of the [U.S.] House Education Committee is a North Carolina congresswoman [Virginia Foxx]. We may even be able to do some things on the federal level. I think there’s an opportunity there to make some changes in what I view as an extremely overly burdensome regulatory load on the university.”
One suspects that a BOG report emphasizing cost-saving compliance proposals would find a friendly audience within the legislature. Lawmakers already have demonstrated an interest in regulatory freedom. They have enacted a process to weed out unnecessary, outdated state rules. Legislators have taken recent steps to cut administrative costs within other sectors of taxpayer-funded education. They’ve also endorsed zero-based budgeting for selected state agencies.
So while the UNC Board of Governors has been generating headlines in recent months for other reasons, its new effort to help tighten the university administration’s belt deserves more recognition. Zero-based budgeting could produce positive long-term consequences.
The university would see benefits long after today’s headlines are forgotten.
Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation.
The debate about the future of the Affordable Care Act is surging once again. At this writing, I don’t know if Congress will make any progress this year. But I know that is no more important issue in today’s politics, both nationally and right here in North Carolina.
If you are a conservative, in particular, you should understand that progress on just about any other issue you deem important — from taxes and the size of government to job creation, income growth, education reform, social policy, even transportation — is contingent on controlling the growth of health-care costs.
Chris Conover, a health policy analyst at Duke University, has done excellent work in chronicling the scope, finances, and complexity of the health-care system as currently constituted. His 2012 book The American Health Economy Illustrated is an indispensable reference for would-be reformers.
More recently, Conover has updated his analysis to help policymakers and the general public put the reform debate in context. Health-care expenditures per person, for example, have grown at an average rate of about 4.1 percent after inflation since 1929, while the rest of the economy grew at an average rate of about 2 percent.
To some extent, this is neither surprising nor problematic. As market innovations made it possible to deliver food, clothing, and other goods and services at much lower cost than in the past, and often at much higher quality, we’ve chosen to plow some of the resulting savings into purchases of medical (and education) services that make our lives better. By definition, some economic sectors have to grow at above-average rates.
Medical care really is much better and more available than it used to be. Life expectancy, mortality rates after diagnosis, and other quality-of-life indicators have vastly improved over the past century. In medical innovation, the United States is a world leader.
But much of the increase in medical spending, especially in recent decades, is harder to explain with data on higher quality or greater access. Through unwise tax breaks and government programs alike, we’ve insulated ourselves from the real cost of the services we purchase, by pretending that someone else — employers, other customers, “the government” — is footing the bill.
Interestingly, there have been a few periods when health costs didn’t outstrip overall price increases as much. One was in the mid-1990s, when the managed care movement in insurance ratcheted down some prices, mostly one-time adjustments. Another such period was more recent, in the late 2000s and early 2010s, as the higher deductibles and savings accounts associated with consumer-driven health plans led patients to shop more wisely (the Obama administration claimed the ACA caused the trend, but it predated the ACA’s passage).
Conover notes that in 1965, government expenditures at all levels accounted for about 28 percent of our gross domestic product. Now, the share is 34 percent. This entire increase in government’s size is attributable to Medicare, Medicaid, and other government health care programs. The value of off-budget subsidies, such as the tax exclusion for employer-provided health benefits, has also skyrocketed during the same period.
To put the matter bluntly, health-care reform is only worth doing if it will significantly constrain the inflation of health-care costs in the coming years and decades. If Medicare and Medicaid will continue to grow at currently projected rates under a proposed bill, it deserves defeat. If a bill would lower the growth of such spending, it deserves passage.
There are many other necessary reforms, including some North Carolina can adopt on its own such as deregulating the hospital market to encourage competition, removing barriers to direct primary care practices (which get doctors out of the expensive business of filing insurance claims), and allowing nurse practitioners and other providers to deliver routine medical services at lower cost.
But North Carolina can’t be walled off from the rest of the nation when it comes to financing health care. The Affordable Care Act is fundamentally flawed. A government monopoly would be even worse. Act wisely — and act soon.
Earlier this month Amazon announced it was looking for a second headquarters in North America. The company said it would involve 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment. It is unquestionably a big deal.
Nevertheless, some prices are too high, and what Amazon wants in exchange for bringing its headquarters to North Carolina is far too high of a price.
Here’s an indication of just how much: Capital Broadcasting quoted Research Triangle Park Foundation vice president for marketing and communications Michael Pittman on Amazon’s criteria:
“Amazon’s specs also seek information on incentive programs available for the project at the state and local level — for land, tax credits, workforce grants, and other needs. A project of this scale far exceeds the kinds of current incentive limits. Lawmakers need to rethink those limits and seize an opportunity that may not come our way again for years.”
It would take new legislation to boost state incentives to the point of achieving Gov. Roy Cooper’s promise to “relentlessly pursue every opportunity” to bring Amazon here. That means what’s in place still wouldn’t be enough.
The News & Observer discussed what North Carolina already has in place:
- Enhanced incentives under which “transformative projects” like the Amazon project “could receive full refunds on their tax bills and” — there’s an “and”! — ” the state can chip in money to help develop the sites.”
- “Transformative projects also” — there’s also an “also”! — “can receive up to $50 million for a project’s infrastructure such as water, sewer and rail access, with the money coming from a reserve account in the state’s general fund.”
- “In addition” — now there’s an “in addition”! — “the One North Carolina Fund can award up to $5,000 per year, per job, for up to five years.”
Full refunds on tax bills for a quarter-century and this stuff, also that stuff, in addition to this other stuff, but we’re still going to need legislative action to make our incentives package more competitive? It beggars belief.
Plus, it turns out we’re going to need to restructure our entire transportation system. “Access to mass transit” is one of Amazon’s “Core Preferences,” specifically “Direct access to rail, train, subway/metro, bus routes.” The N&O reported:
“We have buses, but the vast majority of Triangle commuters drive; only an estimated 2 percent in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill metropolitan area took the bus to work in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey released last week. …”
Pittman of the Research Triangle Foundation said the fact the Triangle is just getting started on building mass transit could be appealing to a huge employer like Amazon, which might relish the opportunity to help mold the region’s nascent system to meet its needs as it grows.
The expense of rearranging resources in North Carolina to conform to Amazon’s transportation demands would be incalculable.
You may remember how mass transit (especially rail transit) advocates in the Triangle hold up Atlanta’s MARTA as the regional ideal. Guess what else is considered insufficient to suit Amazon’s tastes? Atlanta’s transit options, including MARTA.
Amazon also wants to locate among a “highly educated” populace. I submit that any area foolish enough to give into these demands would necessarily disqualify itself on that score.
Because the simple truth — and the good news — is that North Carolina doesn’t need to debase itself chasing after Amazon.
North Carolina is a national model for growing the economy the right way.
Over the past four years, North Carolina’s leaders have cut taxes, spending, and red tape. Those are empirically backed policies, so it’s no wonder that as the state has lowered the cost of doing business here in general, we’ve seen greater growth, jobs, and investment.
It has worked so well that now North Carolina is considered a national model for tax reform.
Those reforms work like economic incentives, but not at the expense of the rest of the taxpayers, existing businesses, and job seekers. So it’s not a shell game.
Cutting taxes and red tape for all is an all-comers incentive. It’s good for untold numbers of business ventures, jobs, and investment across the state. It’s good for large corporations like Amazon, but more important, it’s good for the little guys, too. And they’re the ones carrying the freight, even if no one notices.
They may be overlooked, but 99.7 percent of all businesses are small businesses, sole proprietorships, and “Mom & Pop” ventures. They create jobs and power the economy — but they do it quietly.
Unlike Amazon, these businesses don’t create big, splashy headlines when they start, grow, expand, make hires, etc. Their effects on the economy, impressive as they are, only become evident over time or in compiled statistics rather than corporate press releases.
Here’s the rub: If we are to believe that North Carolina’s taxes are too high for the likes of Amazon, then we have to believe they’re too high for Mom & Pop, too.
A new Amazon headquarters in North Carolina would be welcome and wonderful in the abstract. It would be great if Amazon were to choose this state on all its merits save one. That one, however, seems to be the one that matters most to Amazon: how malleable its political class is to corporate pressure for government goodies.
In that case, no thanks.
Jon Sanders (@jonpsanders) is director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation.
Teen biology favors the night owl, not the early bird. This reality is prompting educators to reconsider when to ring school’s first bell, even as research on the academic and health benefits of later start times stacks up. A new RAND Corp. study offers yet another upside to sleeping in: Starting school later could generate billions of dollars in future U.S. economic gains.
ZZZ’s to dollar signs? It’s a powerful argument. The corollary is this: Adolescent sleep deprivation is costly. Educators should be commended for working to reverse it. Ultimately, success will hinge on close collaboration between school, community, and home.
First, the economic implications of start times: RAND researchers looked at how school start times affect sleep, which in turn, affects achievement and other outcomes tied to students’ future workforce productivity and earnings. Using a macroeconomic modeling approach, they project that delaying middle and high school start times until 8:30 a.m. nationwide could generate $83 billion over a decade.
Such findings extend already-compelling research on start times. A large-scale study of 9,395 high school students, conducted by researcher Kyla Wahlstrom, found students in schools shifting to a later start time improved grades and attendance. Car crash rates also generally declined.
Later start times may even help close achievement gaps. Kevin Bastian, associate director of the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina, led a study of more than 400 N.C. high schools. Published in 2016, the study examined the association between later start times and two types of outcomes, says Bastian: “classic achievement” such as End-of-Course or ACT test scores, and “engagement,” including absences and disciplinary outcomes. “We actually found more positive results for traditionally disadvantaged students,” Bastian says.
Why is dashing to school in the dark bad? It’s misaligned with teens’ circadian rhythms, says the American Academy of Pediatrics, which supports later start times. Teens are wired to fall asleep after 11 p.m.; rising early fuels sleep deficits, which set teens up for inattention, behind-the-wheel drowsiness, and depression.
Don’t ditch the alarm yet. New federal data show only 13 percent of U.S. high schools ring the first bell at 8:30 a.m. or later. The average high school start time in North Carolina, EPIC found, is 8.
Still, some school boards are taking action. Beginning in 2016-17, Durham Public Schools shifted start times for some elementary and all district high schools to align with students’ sleep habits. High school students, who previously arrived at 7:30 a.m., now come at 9.
Change has its challenges. In mid-September, the Durham Public Schools Board of Education reviewed results of a 2017 survey, conducted by EPIC, showing 62 percent of high school parents and 59 percent of high school personnel rated the later start time negatively for students.
“Any change to routines can create an adjustment period,” says Chip Sudderth, chief communications officer for DPS. The school district has “more work to do” to ensure the shift works for families and schools, says Sudderth. Researchers will also conduct a “deeper dive” on student performance and other outcomes.
Adjustments are real and are felt daily. Delayed start times impact bus schedules, sports practices, and jobs. They affect parents’ routines and work availability. Are schedule changes worth it? It would seem so — but local school boards should decide. Bills mandating later school starts, already introduced in various state legislatures, circumvent essential local community input and buy-in.
Meanwhile, parents can remove chronic sleep-busters — 88 percent of teens in Walhstrom’s study kept a phone in their bedrooms. Savvy teens may claim they need the phone’s alarm. Guess what, kids? There’s an old-fashioned substitute for that. Tick tock.
Kristen Blair is a Chapel Hill-based education writer.