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Drones and the Epoch of One-Click Wars

July 20, 2015 in Economics

By Benjamin H. Friedman

Benjamin H. Friedman

The United States has a problem unique to history’s greatest powers. Our wars are often too cheap. Air campaigns like the 2011 campaign in Libya, the ongoing one against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and the drone strikes that periodically target militants in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia sacrifice few if any American lives and spend the federal equivalent of loose change.

Because these wars risk so little, or seem to, we have grown too fond of them. We make war without much regard for whether it is worthwhile. Recent U.S. decisions to bomb countries bear less resemblance to the struggle between branches of government that the constitution anticipates than to one-click shopping online, where low upfront cost and ease of delivery encourages whimsical choices uninhibited by debate about value.

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, as their makers prefer, did not cause this circumstance. It results from the United States’ good fortune: wealth, geography that keeps enemies distant, military superiority, and technological prowess. These advantages have long tempted Americans to use military technology, especially airstrikes, as a quick fix for distant political challenges. In recent decades, progress in surveillance and targeting capability and the weakness of U.S. rivals have enhanced the temptation. Drones, by making war seem even cheaper, just exacerbate the problem. In that sense, they are a quintessentially U.S. weapon.

Ours is a good problem to have. The ability to fight war without much risk is privilege of fortune. Other states would eagerly suffer that malady in the same way that most poor people would brave the temptation to overspend on shopping by becoming fabulously wealthy.

The United States has a problem unique to history’s greatest powers. Our wars are often too cheap.”

The trouble is that airstrikes and other quick applications of military force are rarely as cheap as they first appear. They tend to cause unanticipated trouble and begin conflicts without winning them. Escalation to more costly warfare then beckons. Drones strikes may prove to be especially misleading this way. Their benefits come fast and are straightforward. Most strikes bring reports of dead terrorists or insurgents, and their disrupted plans are easily imagined. The costs—especially blowback measured in violent anti-American sentiment and pressure toward escalation — arrive gradually and less discernibly.

The escalation danger is especially underappreciated. As has often been the case with strategic airpower, drones strikes tend to achieve some tactical success …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Does School Choice Increase Inequality?

July 20, 2015 in Economics

By Jason Bedrick

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Jason Bedrick

When Nevada enacted the nation’s first nearly universal education savings accounts (ESAs), education reformers celebrated. ESAs empower families to tailor their children’s education to meet their individual learning needs and have the potential to unleash a wave of innovation.

Others, however, have been less enthusiastic. Perhaps the most common concern is the one raised recently by David Osborne, director of the project on Reinventing America’s Schools at the Progressive Policy Institute, who fears ESAs could exacerbate inequality:

[Nevada’s new ESA program will] make access to quality education less equal than it is today. Why do I say it will do that? Because it allows families to add to their education savings account to buy a more expensive education. Most parents want what’s best for their children, so those who can afford it will do just that. Those who can’t will not. And the education market will stratify by income, far more than it already does. In a decade, it will look like the markets for houses, cars and other private goods, with huge disparities based on wealth.

Osborne warns of vast inequality in education, but his doomsday scenario more appropriately describes the public education status quo.

Indeed, America’s public education system already looks like the market for housing because, to a great extent, it is the market for housing. Students are assigned to district schools based on the location of their home, so the quality of the local district school is a major consideration for those who can afford it. Educational choice laws like ESAs break the link between education and housing—and low-income families have the most to gain.

Breaking the Link Between Education and Housing

America’s district schools are already highly stratified by income. According to a 2012 report by the Brookings Institution, “the average low-income student attends a school that scores at the 42nd percentile on state exams, while the average middle/high-income student attends a school that scores at the 61st percentile on state exams.”

Wealthier families can afford homes in communities with better performing district schools. The Brookings report found that in “the 100 largest metropolitan areas, housing costs an average of 2.4 times as much, or nearly $11,000 more per year, near a high-scoring public school than near a low-scoring public school.” In other words, parents pay the equivalent of tuition at many private schools to live in districts with higher-performing public schools.

ESAs …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Why We Don't Need Body Cameras in Schools

July 20, 2015 in Economics

By Matthew Feeney

Matthew Feeney

Thanks in part to a series of high-profile police abuse incidents, a clear majority of Americans across political and racial demographics now support police officers wearing body cameras. Each year police officers conduct tens of thousands of SWAT raids and kill hundreds of people as well as thousands of dogs. Body cameras are a common sense reform that can increase accountability and transparency.

But this movement toward body cameras can be taken too far. While they may be suitable for police officers, some are proposing body cameras for principals and assistant principals in schools.

The Burlington Community School District in Iowa is outfitting school administrators with body cameras. The district, which includes nine schools, has already spent around $1,100 on 13 body cameras.

Advocates of body cameras should understand that they’re not necessarily appropriate for all times and places. We should be wary of normalizing surveillance. Children should grow up thinking of body cameras as tools that hold public servants with guns accountable, not devices worn by all manner of authority figures.

We should be wary of normalizing surveillance.”

Arguments for body cameras in schools mirror those for policy officers. Burlington Community School District Superintendent Pat Coen says it’s about “personal accountability.” He and Mark Yeoman, the principal of a middle school in the district, floated the body camera idea after school camera footage showed that Yeoman had been wrongfully accused of kicking a student.

Body camera footage can indeed exonerate people wrongly accused of poor behavior, as police officers around the country can attest. But Yeoman was successfully absolved of wrongdoing thanks to a camera in the school, not a body camera.

The truth is, police officers and teachers have very different jobs that do not require the same approaches to oversight and accountability. Police officers are armed public servants tasked with protecting our rights. Teachers and school administrators educate children.

Body cameras on police officers capture video of contentious and sometimes fatal police encounters, and there is some evidence that the cameras provide incentives for officers and members of the public to improve their behavior.

The same cannot be said of body cameras on school administrators. Many schools already have security cameras and some schools have gone even further, installing metal detectors and deploying guards. There is no clear evidence that these measures are effective in preventing school violence, which has been in decline for years. In fact, there is evidence that these measures increase fear of crime among students and negatively impact how safe children feel at school.

Not only do cameras and other …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Fair Decision in Same-Sex Marriage, But Based Mostly on Faulty Logic

July 20, 2015 in Economics

By Roger Pilon

Roger Pilon

When the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land last month, did it create a “new right” as the dissents claimed?

Or is it rather, as some of us have long argued, that the Constitution protected that right for nearly a century and a half, like the right to same-sex sodomy (Lawrence v. Texas), to interracial marriage (Loving v. Virginia), to sell and use contraceptives (Griswold v. Connecticut), to integrated public schools (Brown v. Board of Education), to educate one’s child in a parochial school (Pierce v. Society of Sisters), and, dare I say, to freedom of contract in employment (Lochner v. New York)?

Indeed, several conservatives wasted no time in pressing the distinction between what the law is and what the court says it is — aiming to justify the refusal by some state officials to enforce the court’s reading. That long-standing enforcement issue won’t be resolved here.

But while Obergefell v. Hodges is still fresh in mind, we can shed a bit of light by looking briefly at the reasoning on both sides, neither of which was covered in glory. And it turns out that Justice Anthony Kennedy, toward the end of his opinion, stumbled on the truth of the matter, even if it’s unclear whether he fully noticed it. The basic jurisdictional difference between the two sides was over who decides. The regulation of marriage resting from time immemorial with the states, the four dissenters, in their separate opinions, would have left it there, letting states decide whether to recognize same-sex marriage.

Citing several precedents, the majority rightly found that power limited by the 14th Amendment, however vague and incomplete its reasoning. Kennedy cited four “principles and traditions” that he believed made marriage a “fundamental right” under the liberty the due-process clause protects, and those reasons, he argued, apply equally to same-sex couples. But as Justice Clarence Thomas noted, that clause merely prohibits states from restricting one’s liberty. Same-sex couples remain free to marry. What they want is the state’s positive recognition, and the entailed legal benefits.

Properly, then, Kennedy’s conclusion belongs not under the due-process but under the equal-protection clause. If a state recognizes marriage and affords its benefits, it cannot discriminate against same-sex couples unless it has a very good reason, like absence of consent due to age or infirmity.

Kennedy’s conclusion belongs not under the due-process but under the equal-protection …read more

Source: OP-EDS