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A College Degree Does Not Make You a Million Dollars – Article by Andrew Syrios

A College Degree Does Not Make You a Million Dollars – Article by Andrew Syrios

The New Renaissance Hat
Andrew Syrios
April 13, 2014
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It is becoming substantially less difficult these days to convince people that college is not a sure fire way to the good life. Even Paul Krugman has conceded that “it’s no longer true that having a college degree guarantees that you’ll get a good job.” You can say that again: 53 percent of recent graduates are either jobless or underemployed. Unfortunately, myths die hard. Many people still believe as Hillary Clinton once said, “Graduates from four-year colleges earn nearly an estimated one million dollars more [than high school graduates].” This may sound convincing, but this figure — based on a Census Bureau report — is about as true as it is relevant.

After all, isn’t it true that the most hard-working and intelligent people tend more to go to college? This is not a nature vs. nurture argument, the factors behind these qualities are unrelated to the discussion at hand. If one grants, however, that the more ambitious and talented go to college in greater proportion than their peers, Mrs. Clinton could have just said “the most hard-working and intelligent earn nearly an estimated one million dollars more than their peers.” I think the presses need not be stopped.

For one thing, the Census Bureau estimate includes super-earners such as CEO’s which skew the average upward. Although some, such as Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, didn’t graduate college, most did. This is why it’s better to use the median (the middle number in the data set) than the mean or average. It’s also why Hillary Clinton and other repeaters of this factoid don’t.

Furthermore, just because most smart people go to college doesn’t mean they should. They may earn more money, but what they keep is more important than what they make. Financial columnist Jack Hough created a very illuminating hypothetical scenario with two people, one who chooses college and one who enters the labor force after high school. Hough then uses the average cost of college as well as U.S. Census Bureau data for the average income of college graduates and non-graduates, adjusted for age. He assumes both save and invest 5 percent of their income each year. By the age of 65, how does the net worth of each look?

  • College Graduate: $400,000
  • High School Graduate: $1,300,000

When one thinks about the common narrative of college vs. no college, it truly becomes absurd. Indeed, who exactly are we comparing? We’re not only comparing Jane-Lawyer to Joe-Carpenter, but we’re also comparing financial analysts with the mentally disabled, medical doctors with welfare dependents, building engineers with drug addicts, architects with pan handlers, marketing directors with immigrants who can barely speak English, and university professors with career criminals (whose earnings, by the way, are rarely reported). Many of these troubled people didn’t graduate high school, but it is shocking how they shuffle kids through the system these days. Some 50 percent of Detroit high school graduates are functionally illiterate and it isn’t that much better for the country on the whole. And something tells me that these particular non-graduates need something other than four years of drinking and studying Lockean (well, more likely Marxian) philosophy.

It certainly could be a good thing to earn a college degree. If one wants to be an accountant, engineer, or doctor, a degree is required. And those jobs have very high incomes. But can one really expect to make a killing with a degree in sociology or Medieval-African-Women’s-Military-Ethnic Studies? Pretty much the only jobs those degrees help one get, in any way other than the “hey, they got a college degree” sort of way, are jobs teaching sociology or Medieval-African-Women’s-Military-Ethnic Studies. And that requires an advanced degree as well (i.e., more money down the tube).

Furthermore, a college degree does not even guarantee a particularly high income. CBS News ran an article on the 20 worst-paying college degrees. The worst was Child and Family Studies with a starting average salary of $29,500 and a mid-career average of $38,400. Art History came in 20th with a starting average of $39,400 and a mid-career average of $57,100. Other degrees in between included elementary education, culinary arts, religious studies, nutrition, and music.

These are decent salaries, but are they worth the monetary and opportunity costs? With the wealth of information on the Internet, many skills can be attained on one’s own. Alternatives to college such as entrepreneurship and apprenticeship programs are often ignored. Indeed, apprentices typically get paid for their work while they are learning. The average yearly wage of a plumber and electrician are $52,950 and $53,030 respectively. That’s better than many college degrees and comes without the debt.

And that debt is getting bigger and bigger as college tuition continues to rise. In the last five years, tuition has gone up 24 percent more than inflation. Including books, supplies, transportation and other costs, in-state college students paid an average of $17,860 for one year in 2013 (out-of-state students paid substantially more). And despite all of that, many students don’t even finish. According to US News & World Report,

Studies have shown that nonselective colleges graduate, on average, 35 percent of their students, while the most competitive schools graduate 88 percent. Harvard’s 97 percent four-year graduation rate might not be that surprising … [but then] Texas Southern University’s rate was 12 percent.

12 percent is simply ridiculous, but the 35 percent for nonselective schools is extremely bad as well. Even the 88 percent for competitive schools leaves 12 percent of their students with no degree, but plenty of debt.

Given all of that, it can’t be surprising that the default rates on student loans (which cannot be wiped away in bankruptcy) appear to be much higher than is typically reported. According to The Chronicle,

[O]ne in every five government loans that entered repayment in 1995 has gone into default. The default rate is higher for loans made to students from two-year colleges, and higher still, reaching 40 percent, for those who attended for-profit institutions …

[T]he government’s official “cohort-default rate,” which measures the percentage of borrowers who default in the first two years of repayment and is used to penalize colleges with high rates, downplays the long-term cost of defaults, capturing only a sliver of the loans that eventually lapse …

College is good for some people. If you want to go into a field that has high earning potential (engineering, medicine, accounting, etc.) or you really like a certain subject and want to dedicate your career to it even if it may not be the best financial decision, go for it. But don’t go to college just because as Colin Hanks says in Orange County, “that’s what you do after high school!”

Andrew Syrios is a Kansas City-based real estate investor and partner with Stewardship Properties. He also blogs at Swifteconomics.com. See Andrew Syrios’s article archives.

This article was published on Mises.org and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Charity, Compulsion, and Conditionality – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Charity, Compulsion, and Conditionality – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Libertarians’ opposition to coercive redistribution of wealth does not mean that they are opposed to charitable giving that improves people’s lives.

In this video, Mr. Stolyarov analyzes why private charities are more effective in benefiting their intended recipients than programs which involve coercive redistribution of wealth. Paradoxically, it is the extreme conditionality of many coercive welfare programs that leads them to be less effective than the voluntary decisions of diverse individuals and organizations.

References

– “The Costs of Public Income Redistribution and Private Charity” – James Rolph Edwards – Journal of Libertarian Studies – Summer 2007
In Our Hands: A Plan To Replace The Welfare State (2006) – Book by Charles Murray

Machines vs. Jobs: This Time, It’s Personal – Article by Bradley Doucet

Machines vs. Jobs: This Time, It’s Personal – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
February 5, 2014
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For much of human history, the vast majority of people worked in agriculture. Today, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, that has fallen to about 2% of the population in wealthy countries. But all of us whose ancestors used to produce food have not just been joining the ranks of the unemployed for the past couple hundred years. We’ve been working at other jobs, in many cases doing things our grandparents’ grandparents could not imagine. Luddites were wrong to worry back then, but is it different this time?
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MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson, co-author of The Second Machine Age, thinks it is different this time, but he is qualifiedly optimistic nonetheless. During an hour-long EconTalk with Russ Roberts, he points out that the first wave of machines replaced human muscle, to which we responded by shifting to more cognitive tasks. The second wave, however, is automating cognitive work, which scares people. If machines have both muscles and brains, how can we compete? Are we staring down mass unemployment in the coming decades?
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For Brynjolfsson, the fear itself is a big part of the problem, pushing us to do counter-productive things like “trying to preserve the past at the expense of the future.” He argues that we can’t stop technology, and actually, we shouldn’t try. “What we need to do is embrace the dynamism that helps us adapt to that. The more we do to try to slow down change, I think the more stagnant we become and the worse off we become.”

So how can we best embrace change? Two things Brynjolfsson mentions are education and entrepreneurship. Regarding the former, he argues not only that we need to become more educated, as the future jobs that have yet to be invented will likely require a more educated workforce, but also that education itself needs to be reimagined to take advantage of new technology instead of carrying on lecturing small groups as we have done for millennia. And how exactly we should do that is, like so much else, up to entrepreneurs. We need to make entrepreneurship easier in a number of ways so that millions of new ideas can be constantly battling it out in the marketplace. “A lot of them are going to be really dumb and they are going to fail,” says Brynjolfsson. But some of them are going to be revolutionary, creating jobs we haven’t even dreamed of yet that allow us to work with the machines instead of trying to compete with them.

And yes, we will probably end up working less, just as we now work fewer hours than we did two hundred years ago. But we will work less to produce more, with many goods and services—think Wikipedia—becoming free or almost free. We already get on the order of $300 billion a year in free stuff from the Internet. As long as we embrace the future and focus on being as adaptable as we can, there’s no reason to fear that the increased wealth of tomorrow cannot be widely shared.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.
The Paradox of Public Assistance – Article by David J. Hebert

The Paradox of Public Assistance – Article by David J. Hebert

The New Renaissance Hat
David J. Hebert
January 26, 2014
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Let’s put ideology aside for a moment. One might not think it’s morally or politically justifiable to take from one person in order to help another. But for now, let’s ask another question: Does it help?

A lot of people see the existence of “poverty amid plenty,” wherein a few people have acquired a lot of wealth while the overwhelming majority struggles to make ends meet. The standard call is to provide some means of transferring those resources from the haves to the have-nots, either through a progressive tax policy or via some direct transfer program.

The problem with these policies is obviously not in their stated goals. Who could argue against the desire to help people? Nor is it, entirely, the coercive nature of redistribution. The real problem comes in the ability of welfare advocates to actually reduce poverty in an effective and long-lasting manner.

World Coyne

In his latest book, Doing Bad by Doing Good, Chris Coyne discusses problems with delivering effective humanitarian aid to other countries. Coyne identifies two potential problems: the planner’s problem and the incentive problem.

Briefly, the planner’s problem refers to the impossibility of people outside of a society actually to possess the information required to assist in fostering continued economic development. The incentive problem refers to the idea that the planners may face perverse incentives to go ahead and do something that the planner’s problem suggests is impossible to start with.

These points are all well and good, and should be well received at least by readers of this publication. But I think we can go further to urge that the problems Coyne identifies apply equally to issues related to domestic intervention.

Disconnect

The people who advocate most strongly for poverty relief programs are not, in fact, people who are poor. Rather, they are people who are typically either politicians seeking reelection or wealthy people who have some overwhelming desire to do something (usually they want to get other people to give them money to do something). They are not poor, but rather they simply do not like seeing poor people suffer and feel some desire to help. However, because they are not poor themselves, they have absolutely no idea what it is that poor people actually want.

Do they want shelter, clothing, and food? Yes. Do they want education, hygiene, and employment? Of course. But in what order, how much, and of what type? In a world of scarcity, the answers to these questions are of crucial importance if we are to find ways to help the most people as quickly and effectively as possible. And yet, the answers to these questions are wholly unknowable to outside observers.

Similarly, and perhaps more importantly, the incentive problem that the planners face also applies to domestic intervention. Politicians are people who, just like us, are primarily concerned with helping themselves. Given their position, what is in their interest might sometimes in be the interest of the “general public” (providing genuine public goods, the rule of law, etc.) but as James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock rightfully point out in their groundbreaking book, The Calculus of Consent, this is not guaranteed to be true at all times and in all cases. In fact, it may be the case that as a direct result of political involvement, incentives may direct their behavior in ways that enrich concentrated interests and impoverish poor people even more.

The War on Poverty

One answer is that the disparity might be much, much worse without government intervention—that is, the rich would be even richer and the poor would be even poorer. But another possibility is that the war on poverty directly contributes to a burgeoning underclass. How can we adjudicate between these positions?

On the surface, giving people aid seems like a straightforward proposition. We observe people suffering and then send resources to them to alleviate that suffering. On the other hand, as Buchanan pointed out in 1975, we run into problems in which the aid designed to alleviate poverty actually perpetuates it, creating dependency. This dependency, in turn, means that an increasing number of people derive the majority of their income from aid.

Paid to Be Poor

That some of the poor get most of their income from the government is not to argue that welfare recipients are lazy or don’t wish to work. Rather it suggests that the incentives they face may make them reluctant to accept employment opportunities at offered wages. We can think through this proposition logically: Suppose I offer you $240 per week in financial aid while you are between jobs. You would be receiving that money for zero hours of work per week. Being an honest person, you go out and look for work, eventually finding a job that pays you $8 per hour, or $320 per week working full time. Should you take that job?

On the one hand, you would receive more money by taking that job than you would by accepting the aid. However, economics teaches us the value in thinking at the margin. Doing so reveals that you would only receive an additional $120 per week in exchange for your 40 hours of work. In other words, taking into account your opportunity cost, you would really only be earning $3 per hour! While I certainly cannot speak for everyone, I feel reasonably confident in saying that few people in this country value their time at only $3 per hour. Realizing this, it is no puzzle why people receiving aid tend to stay unemployed for so long. The Cato Institute recently published a study offering evidence of the work versus welfare trade-off, which can be found here.

Politics and Perquisites

Now that we understand why domestic aid programs may lead to the perpetuation of poverty among the poor, we’re ready to discuss how they may lead to the enrichment of the already wealthy. When politicians decide to try to do something about an issue, one of the first things that they do is convene special hearings about the issue. Here, they call upon the testimonies of experts to try to figure out (1) what can be done and then (2) how best to do it.

The problem here is that the very people who are best equipped to detail how to solve the problem will typically explain that they themselves (or the people that they represent) are in fact the best to solve the problem and should be awarded the contract to solve the problem. We see this in government all the time. Take, for example, the company that was placed in charge of rebuilding Iraq after the US invasion in 2006: Halliburton, which was formerly run by then-Vice President Dick Cheney. Is it any wonder why this company was awarded these contracts? Kwame Kilpatrick, when he was mayor of Detroit, would routinely award offices and several perks to his friends and family members. Don’t forget about the legendary William Tweed, better known as “Boss Tweed.” The point here is not that all politicians are corrupt, but that knowing a politician who is in a position to award perks puts you in good stead to be the recipient of largesse. And, of course, if that’s true, you have very good reasons to create incentives for the politician to steer favors in your direction. It is the nature of politics.

What to Do

Evidencing the failure of domestic aid to help combat poverty, Abigail Hall has an excellent article, forthcoming in the Journal of Private Enterprise, detailing the failure of the Appalachian Regional Commission. This line of research might lead one to the sobering conclusion that there is little that can be done to alleviate the suffering of the poor. Nothing could be further from the truth, however.

We can take away a couple of things from this type of work:

1) The limits of what can be directly achieved through political means of alleviating poverty; and

2) The idea that the expansion of opportunity ultimately drives economic growth and helps the poor.

Rather than focusing on giving poor people the resources to live well, we should instead focus on removing the barriers that prevent people from discovering ways to be productive. Doing so would not only provide them with the tools to lift themselves out of poverty, but would also provide the basis of dignity.

David Hebert is a Ph.D. student in economics at George Mason University. His research interests include public finance and property rights.

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.
The Minimum Wage Forces Low-Skill Workers to Compete with Higher-Skill Workers – Article by George Reisman

The Minimum Wage Forces Low-Skill Workers to Compete with Higher-Skill Workers – Article by George Reisman

The New Renaissance Hat
George Reisman
January 4, 2014
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The efforts underway by the Service Employees International Union, and its political and media allies, to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour would, if successful, cause major unemployment among low-skilled workers, who are the supposed beneficiaries of those efforts.

The reason is not only the fact that higher wages serve to raise costs of production and thus prices, which in turn serves to reduce physical sales volume and thus the number of workers needed. There is also another equally, if not more important reason in this case, and it is a reason which is only very inadequately described by reference to the substitution of machinery or automation for the direct labor of workers when wages are increased.

This is the fact that a low wage constitutes a competitive advantage for less-skilled workers that serves to protect them from competition from more-skilled workers. In other words, a wage of $7.25 per hour for fast-food workers serves to protect those workers from competition from workers able to earn $8 to $15 per hour in other lines of work. The workers able to earn these higher wage rates are not interested in seeking employment at the lower wage rates of the fast-food workers.

But if the wage of the fast-food workers, and all other workers presently earning less than $15 per hour, is raised to $15 per hour, then these more capable workers can now earn as much as fast-food workers as they can in any of the occupations in which they had been working up to now.

Moreover, the widespread rise in wage rates to $15 per hour will cause unemployment in all of the occupations affected. The unemployed clerks, telemarketers, factory workers, and whoever, who otherwise would have earned between $8 and $15 per hour, will have no reason not to apply for work in fast food, which will now pay as much as any other occupation that is open to them. And since those workers are more capable, it is overwhelmingly likely that to the extent that they do seek employment as fast-food workers, they will be preferred over the low-skilled workers who presently work in fast-food establishments. Thus, the rise in the wage of the fast-food workers will serve as an invitation to the competition of large numbers of workers who do not presently think of working as fast-food workers and who, being better qualified, will almost certainly take away their jobs.

Between less employment overall in the least-skilled lines of work such as fast food, and the incentive created for vastly increased competition for employment in those lines coming from more qualified workers, the effect could well be to close those lines altogether to the employment of workers at the low end of skill and ability. That, of course, would deprive these people of the opportunity to acquire skills and abilities from work experience that otherwise would have enabled them to become capable of performing more demanding jobs later on.

What the demand for a $15 an hour minimum wage represents is a case of low-skilled workers being led to reach for a high-wage “bird in the bush,” so to speak. Unfortunately, at the high wage, there are both fewer birds in the bush than are presently in hand and most or all of them will fly away into the hands of others, who possess greater skills and abilities, if the attempt is made to reach for them.

This must ultimately be the result even if somehow the present fast-food workers and the like could be enabled to keep their jobs for a time. Even so, practically every time that it became a question of hiring someone new, the new employees would almost certainly be drawn from the ranks of workers of greater skill and ability than those who had customarily been employed in these jobs. Thus, even if not immediately, in time there would simply be no more room in the economic system for workers at or near the bottom of the skills ladder.

No one can question the desirability of being able to earn $15 an hour rather than $7.25 an hour. Still more desirable would be the ability to earn $50 an hour instead of $15 an hour. However, it is necessary to know considerably more than this about economics before attempting to enact sweeping changes in economic policy, changes to be achieved by attempting to organize a mass movement that is based on nothing but a desire for economic improvement and no real knowledge whatever of how actually to achieve it.

George Reisman, Ph.D., is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics and the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996; Kindle Edition, 2012). See his Amazon.com author’s central page for additional titles by him. His website is www.capitalism.net and his blog is www.georgereismansblog.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter.

This article was published on Mises.org and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Inflation Has Not Cured Iceland’s Economic Woes – Article by David Howden

Inflation Has Not Cured Iceland’s Economic Woes – Article by David Howden

The New Renaissance Hat
David Howden
November 6, 2013
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No two countries’ responses have polarized commentators over the past five years more than the contrasting post-crisis policies in Iceland and Ireland.

In a paper published in Economic Affairs (available here as a PDF) I contrast the policies enacted by Iceland and Ireland, perhaps the two countries most affected by the liquidity freeze of 2008. A common conclusion has been that one country did everything right and the other did everything wrong, however, I take a more pragmatic approach. There are some positive aspects in each case, and other aspects we can do without.

At the risk of over-simplifying their situations, the key policy differences are:

  1. Iceland allowed substantial swaths of its financial sector to collapse (mostly foreign-domiciled subsidiaries) while Ireland enacted blanket guarantees to keep its financial sector afloat.
  2. Iceland quickly inflated its krona in a bid to regain international competitiveness through depreciation. By being locked in the euro, Ireland was unable to pursue a similar path and instead had to become more attractive to foreigners by lowering its domestic prices (i.e., disinflation or outright deflation).
  3. Iceland stymied a capital flight by enacting monetary controls aimed at keeping investment within the country. By being part of the European Union, Ireland maintained its commitment to free capital markets, and investors were able to enter or exit as they pleased.

The evidence is mixed as to which solution was more effective. Iceland seems to have softened the immediate blow of its recession, but present growth in Ireland is stronger. In a similar way, unemployment in Iceland was less and still remains lower today.

For our purposes here, I want to focus just on the effects of their respective monetary policies, and how the short-term gains from Iceland’s inflationary response now pale in comparison to Ireland’s more subdued response.

Figure 1: Nominal GDP (2008 = 100) Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Figure 1 shows the common story. Iceland’s inflationary policy stimulated exports, papered over some bad debts, and in general allowed it to exit the storm relatively unscathed. In contrast, Ireland is languishing in slow growth and five years later the country’s income is still 10 percent below its pre-bust peak.

Such an analysis neglects the pernicious effects of inflation on the Icelandic economy. This policy increased the money supply by almost 20 percent in 2008 alone, and lead to an immediate increase in prices.

Figure 2: Real GDP (2008 = 100) Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

In figure 2 we get a better feel for how the situation felt to the average Icelander or Irishman. As the Central Bank of Iceland inflated the money supply, price inflation raged. Icelanders continually felt their financial security worsen as their purchasing power collapsed. This was not apparent to the rest of the world, fixated as it was on the nominal prices the Icelandic economy posted. By its nadir in late 2010, inflation-adjusted income in Iceland was down over 35 percent.

In Ireland this decline was muted because of price deflation. As domestic prices fell it became easier for Irish citizens to make their declining nominal incomes go further. At its worst, the Irish economy collapsed less than 10 percent in real terms.

This seems to suggest that Ireland had the better solution by not pursuing an inflationary monetary policy. Some will note, however, that Iceland’s recovery since 2010 has been quite strong.

Indeed, if we look at the drop in the employment rate for both countries most probably feel more sympathy for the masses of unemployed Irishmen.

Figure 3: Employment rate (2008 = 1) Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Digging deeper, however, we find that not all is as it seems. Many Icelanders work two jobs to make ends meet. This effect was increasingly pronounced through the recession as inflation made it more difficult to get by with one salary. As a consequence, many Icelanders lost one job during the recession but the unemployment statistics did not reflect this as they were still employed elsewhere. This is notably not the case in Ireland, where not only is one job per worker the norm, but falling prices made it easier for an employed person to make ends meet as the recession continued.

A better way to gauge the employment situation is to look at changes in the hours worked.

Figure 4: Annual hours worked (2008 = 100) Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Here we can see the situation is reversed. By the recession’s trough in 2010 the number of hours worked by the average Icelander had fallen 6 percent while in Ireland the corresponding drop was only 3.5 percent — almost half as much.

Both countries still have problems. Iceland’s monetary controls are notably stifling needed investment, while Ireland is left with a large debt from bailing out its banks, and this is stalling growth. One thing is clear though — the effects of monetary policy are stark and the proclaimed benefits of Iceland’s inflationary policy were counteracted by the price inflation that ensued.

Don’t let a good crisis go to waste; learn something from it. As the tale of these two countries demonstrates, inflating one’s currency may give the appearance of recovery, but the truth is somewhat less rosy.

David Howden is Chair of the Department of Business and Economics and professor of economics at St. Louis University’s Madrid Campus, Academic Vice President of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada, and winner of the Mises Institute’s Douglas E. French Prize. Send him mail. See David Howden’s article archives.

This article was published on Mises.org and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Right to Work is Part of Economic Liberty – Article by Ron Paul

Right to Work is Part of Economic Liberty – Article by Ron Paul

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
December 18, 2012
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Many observers were surprised when Michigan, historically a stronghold of union power, became the nation’s 24th “Right to Work” state. The backlash from November’s unsuccessful attempt to pass a referendum forbidding the state from adopting a right to work law was a major factor in Michigan’s rejection of compulsory unionism. The need for drastic action to improve Michigan’s economy, which is suffering from years of big-government policies, also influenced many Michigan legislators to support right to work.

Let us be clear: right to work laws simply prohibit coercion. They prevent states from forcing employers to operate as closed union shops, and thus they prevent unions from forcing individuals to join. In many cases right to work laws are the only remedy to federal laws which empower union bosses to impose union dues as a condition of employment.

Right-to-work laws do not prevent unions from bargaining collectively with employers, and they do not prevent individuals from forming or joining unions if they believe it will benefit them. Despite all the hype, right-to-work laws merely enforce the fundamental right to control one’s own labor.

States with right-to-work laws enjoy greater economic growth and a higher standard of living than states without such laws. According to the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, from 2001-2011 employment in right to work states grew by 2.4%, while employment in union states fell by 3.4%! During the same period wages rose by 12.5% in right to work states, while rising by a mere 3.1% in union states. Clearly, “Right to Work” is good for business and labor.

Workers are best served when union leaders have to earn their membership and dues by demonstrating the benefits they provide. Instead, unions use government influence and political patronage. The result is bad laws that force workers to subsidize unions and well-paid union bosses.

Of course government should not regulate internal union affairs, or interfere in labor disputes for the benefit of employers. Government should never forbid private-sector workers from striking. Employees should be free to join unions or not, and employers should be able to bargain with unions or not. Labor, like all goods and services, is best allocated by market forces rather than the heavy, restrictive hand of government.  Voluntarism works.

Federal laws forcing employees to pay union dues as a condition of getting or keeping a job are blatantly unconstitutional. Furthermore, Congress does not have the moral authority to grant a private third party the right to interfere in private employment arrangements. No wonder polls report that 80 percent of the American people believe compulsory union laws need to be changed.

Unions’ dirty little secret is that real wages cannot rise unless productivity rises. American workers cannot improve their standard of living simply by bullying employers with union tactics. Instead, employers, employees, and unions must recognize that only market mechanisms can signal employment needs and wage levels in any industry. Profits or losses from capital investment are not illusions that can be overcome by laws or regulations; they are real-world signals that directly affect wages and employment opportunities. Union advocates can choose to ignore reality, but they cannot overcome the basic laws of economics.

As always, the principle of liberty will provide the most prosperous society possible. Right-to-work laws are a positive step toward economic liberty.

Federal Student Aid and the Law of Unintended Consequences – Article by Richard Vedder

Federal Student Aid and the Law of Unintended Consequences – Article by Richard Vedder

The New Renaissance Hat
Richard Vedder
July 8, 2012
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RICHARD VEDDER is the Edwin and Ruth Kennedy Distinguished Professor of Economics at Ohio University and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. He received his B.A. from Northwestern University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from the University of Illinois. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, National Review, and Investor’s Business Daily, and is the author of several books, including The American Economy in Historical Perspective and Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much.

The following is adapted from a speech delivered on May 10, 2012, at Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C.

Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.

FEDERAL STUDENT financial assistance programs are costly, inefficient, byzantine, and fail to serve their desired objectives. In a word, they are dysfunctional, among the worst of many bad federal programs.

These programs are commonly rationalized on three grounds: on the grounds that assuring more young people a higher education has positive spillover effects for the country; on the grounds that higher education promotes equal economic opportunity (or, as the politicians say, that it is “a ticket to achieving the American Dream”); or on the grounds that too few students would go to college in the absence of federal loan programs, since private markets for loans to college students are defective.

All three of these arguments are dubious at best. The alleged positive spillover effects of sending more and more Americans to college are very difficult to measure. And as the late Milton Friedman suggested to me shortly before his death, they may be more than offset by negative spillover effects. Consider, for instance, the relationship between spending by state governments on higher education and their rate of economic growth. Controlling for other factors important in growth determination, the relationship between education spending and economic growth is negative or, at best, non-existent.

What about higher education being a vehicle for equal economic opportunity or income equality? Over the last four decades, a period in which the proportion of adults with four-year college degrees tripled, income equality has declined. (As a side note, I do not know the socially optimal level of economic inequality, and the tacit assumption that more such equality is always desirable is suspect; my point here is simply that, in reality, higher education today does not promote income equality.)

Finally, in regards to the argument that capital markets for student loans are defective, if financial institutions can lend to college students on credit cards and make car loans to college students in large numbers—which they do—there is no reason why they can’t also make student educational loans.

Despite the fact that the rationales for federal student financial assistance programs are very weak, these programs are growing rapidly. The Pell Grant program did much more than double in size between 2007 and 2010. Although it was designed to help poor people, it is now becoming a middle class entitlement. Student loans have been growing eight to ten percent a year for at least two decades, and, as is well publicized, now aggregate to one trillion dollars of debt outstanding—roughly $25,000 on average for the 40,000,000 holders of the debt. Astoundingly, student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt.

Nor is it correct to assume that most of this debt is held by young people in their twenties and early thirties. The median age of those with loan obligations today is around 33, and approximately 40 percent of the debt is held by people 40 years of age or older. So when politicians talk about maintaining low interest loans to help kids in college, more often than not the help is going to middle-aged individuals long gone from the halls of academia.

With this as an introduction, let me outline eight problems with federal student grant and loan programs. The list is not exclusive.

(1) Student loan interest rates are not set by the forces of supply and demand, but by the political process. Normally, interest rates are a price used to allocate scarce resources; but when that price is manipulated by politicians, it leads to distortions in the use of resources. Since student loan interest rates are always set at below-market rates, too much money is borrowed for college. Currently those interest rates are extremely low, with a key rate of 3.4 percent—which, after adjusting for inflation, is approximately zero. Moreover, both the president and Governor Romney say they want to continue that low interest rate after July 1, when it is supposed to double. This aggravates an already bad situation, and provides a perfect example of the fundamental problem facing our nation today: politicians pushing programs whose benefits are visible and immediate (even if illusory, as suggested above), while their extraordinarily high costs are less visible and more distant in time.

(2) In the real world, interest rates vary with the prospects that the borrower will repay the loan. In the surreal world of student loans, the brilliant student completing an electrical engineering degree at M.I.T. pays the same interest rate as the student majoring in ethnic studies at a state university who has a GPA below 2.0. The former student will almost certainly graduate and get a job paying $50,000 a year or more, whereas the odds are high the latter student will fail to graduate and will be lucky to make $30,000 a year.

Related to this problem, colleges themselves have no “skin in the game.” They are responsible for allowing loan commitments to occur, but they face no penalties or negative consequences when defaults are extremely high, imposing costs on taxpayers.

(3) Perhaps most importantly, federal student grant and loan programs have contributed to the tuition price explosion. When third parties pay a large part of the bill, at least temporarily, the customer’s demand for the service rises and he is not as sensitive to price as he would be if he were paying himself. Colleges and universities take advantage of that and raise their prices to capture the funds that ostensibly are designed to help students. This is what happened previously in health care, and is what is currently happening in higher education.

(4) The federal government now has a monopoly in providing student loans. Until recently, at least it farmed out the servicing of loans to a variety of private financial service firms, adding an element of competition in terms of quality of service, if not price. But the Obama administration, with its strong hostility to private enterprise, moved to establish a complete monopoly. One would think the example of the U.S. Postal Service today, losing taxpayer money hand over fist and incapable of making even the most obviously needed reforms, would be enough proof against the prudence of such a move. And remember: because of highly irresponsible fiscal policies, the federal government borrows 30 or 40 percent of the money it currently spends, much of that from overseas. Thus we are incurring long-term obligations to foreigners to finance loans to largely middle class Americans to go to college. This is not an appropriate use of public funds at a time of dangerously high federal budget deficits.

(5) Those applying for student loans or Pell Grants are compelled to complete the FAFSA form, which is extremely complex, involves more than 100 questions, and is used by colleges to administer scholarships (or, more accurately, tuition discounts). Thus colleges are given all sorts of highly personal and private information on incomes, wealth, debts, child support, and so forth. A car dealer who demanded such information so that he could see how badly he could gouge you would either be out of business or in jail within days or weeks. But it is commonplace in higher education because of federal student financial assistance programs.

(6) As federal programs have increased the number of students who enroll in college, the number of new college graduates now far exceeds the number of new managerial, technical and professional jobs—positions that college graduates have traditionally taken. A survey by Northeastern University estimates that 54 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed or unemployed. Thus we currently have 107,000 janitors and 16,000 parking lot attendants with bachelor’s degrees, not to mention bartenders, hair dressers, mail carriers, and so on. And many of those in these limited-income occupations are struggling to pay off student loan obligations.

Connected to this is the fact that more and more kids are going to college who lack the cognitive skills, the discipline, the academic preparation, or the ambition to succeed academically. They simply cannot or do not master well much of the rather complex materials that college students are expected to learn. As a result, many students either do not graduate or fail to graduate on time. I have estimated that only 40 percent or less of Pell Grant recipients get degrees within six years—an extremely high dropout or failure rate. No one has seriously questioned that statistic—a number, by the way, that the federal government does not publish, no doubt because it is embarrassingly low.

Also related is the fact that, in an attempt to minimize this problem, colleges have lowered standards, expecting students to read and write less while giving higher grades for lesser amounts of work. Surveys show that students spend on average less than 30 hours per week on academic work—less than they spend on recreation.  As Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa show in their book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, critical thinking skills among college seniors on average are little more than among freshmen.

(7) As suggested to me a couple of days ago by a North Carolina judge, based on a case in his courtroom, with so many funds so readily available there is a temptation and opportunity for persons to acquire low interest student loans with the intention of dropping out of school quickly to use the proceeds for other purposes. (In the North Carolina student loan fraud case, it was to start up a t-shirt business.)

(8) Lazy or mediocre students can get greater subsidies than hard-working and industrious ones. Take Pell Grants. A student who works extra hard and graduates with top grades after three years will receive only half as much money as a student who flunks several courses and takes six years to finish or doesn’t obtain a degree at all. In other words, for recipients of federal aid there are disincentives to excel.

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If the Law of Unintended Consequences ever applied, it is in federal student financial assistance. Programs created with the noblest of intentions have failed to serve either their customers or the nation well. In the 1950s and 1960s, before these programs were large, American higher education enjoyed a Golden Age. Enrollments were rising, lower-income student access was growing, and American leadership in higher education was becoming well established. In other words, the system flourished without these programs. Subsequently, massive growth in federal spending and involvement in higher education has proved counterproductive.

With the ratio of debt to GDP rising nationally, and the federal government continuing to spend more and more taxpayer money on higher education at an unsustainable long-term pace, a re-thinking of federal student financial aid policies is a good place to start in meeting America’s economic crisis.