In the September 2000 issue, I identified six debate points the Republicans should use in selling an across the board reduction in marginal income tax rates. All of them remain valid for President Bush’s plan that now faces a difficult challenge in the U. S. Senate, but I would now add another point and re-emphasize two that have been used only sparingly. My added point is that tax cuts in a dynamic economy do not have a cost that can be identified in linear terms by a static behavior model, so we should not think in terms of the size of a tax rate cut in absolute dollars, $1.6 billion or any other number, which is essentially meaningless. Two points that bear repeating: (1) the Reagan tax cuts were not the cause of the enormous deficits of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, but were, in fact, the primary impetus for a seventeen-year economic boom, and (2) if there is a real budget surplus, it is because of an overpayment of taxes and there are only two things government can do with it – spend it or refund it; history shows that public debt reduction is not a “tax cut” in the form of lower interest costs.
The most compelling economic lesson of the century just past is that there is a clear correlation between the degree of economic freedom and the rate of economic development. Bush’s proposed tax cut is much smaller, percentage-wise, than Kennedy’s in 1962. If anything, we need to be bolder.
Empower America, an organization co-directed by William J. Bennett and Jack Kemp, has just released The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators 2001, an update of the cultural barometer initiated in 1990. In an interview coinciding with the release, Bennett noted that, although some of the indicators have shown improvement, the trends involving the continuing breakdown of the family have not. I believe that this is the leading indicator of cultural decline, because the family, as we have known it, is the central economic, educational, and value transmission unit of society. Of course, many forces have been at work over the past several decades, some intentionally, to destroy the traditional family, and, as Bennett notes, even among those who regret the destruction, there are many who are uncomfortable taking the steps necessary to fight the causes. He calls it a soft relativism, primarily based on the fact that matters of sex have become judgment-free.
Much of this relativism, I believe, is the evolutionary perversion of the “harm principle” espoused by John S. Mill in the mid-19th century, whereby the individual was to be free of all state or societal coercion of behavior in the absence of harm to others. This ultimately became the creed of the libertine and we are reaping the harvest in births out of wedlock, teenage pregnancy, divorce, cohabitation, the re-defining of “marriage”, and all the resulting dysfunction and pathological behavior.
Research conducted in the early 1990’s by Stephen Klineberg of Rice University identified five revolutionary trends that he believes will be particularly important in defining the policy agenda for the future for both the public and private sector. One of these is the transformation of American family life, which he says must be accommodated by policy. To some extent maybe, but we will not reverse the dysfunctional trends through accommodation (and validation) of family structures and behavior that are counter to the most important truths about human nature. Unless we are willing to be much more judgmental about marriage and family life, recent trends in this leading cultural indicator will continue.
“……nor shall any State…..deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” – Amendment XIV, U. S. Constitution
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Dr. Martin Luther King
After the Adarand and Hopwood court decisions of the mid-1990’s and the passage of Proposition 209 in California, many of us were encouraged that our nation was finally on a path toward the realization of the ideals embodied in the two passages above. Alas, the vested interests of race-based preferences in hiring, college admissions, and contracting have mounted aggressive counterattacks that have taken several forms, in and outside the judicial process. These efforts, to me, are particularly egregious in our elite institutions of higher education, which ostensibly have as their mission the pursuit of truth but which have practiced a considerable degree of intellectual dishonesty in fighting to preserve race-based admissions preferences. As a result, we get the various “X% rules” that guarantee admission to a certain top percentage of each high school graduating class, proposals to replace standardized tests such as the SAT with more “holistic” admissions criteria, and the promotion of “diversity” in admissions as a compelling
public interest. Of course, diversity is defined for this purpose in terms of color or ethnicity, not thought or ideas or political philosophy, and, at least in the top business schools, is said to be driven by the demands of the market and prospective corporate employers. Most of these companies have been shaken down by the affirmative action establishment, and they seem to lack the moral authority to insist on true excellence from minority students. Shelby Steele of the Hoover Institution believes this is the reason that the white leadership of American institutions keeps trying to engineer results rather than asking for development. It’s as though they feel they must seek racial moral authority by proving a negative – that they are not racist. The problem for Steele is that this moral authority comes at the expense of minority development.
The corruption this promotes is pervasive. We are led to believe that diversity initiatives have nothing to do with racial quotas and that they are crucial to learning, academic excellence, and the pursuit of truth. In fact, there is ample evidence that many in higher education leadership believe that achieving a certain racial mix on campus is more important than maintaining educational standards.
There are any number of strategies that we should emphasize in lieu of this deeply flawed approach. As I have written in a previous issue, enrollment parity for economically and socially disadvantaged students will come only when these students are much better prepared for higher education by our public school system. Some of our leading universities are beginning to pay more attention to this seamless “K-16” nature of education and develop initiatives to address the college preparation problem. This is a much better use of talent and resources than worshipping at the altar of engineered diversity, but it will require a different brand of moral authority to succeed.
In the days following the recent school murders in California, I was struck by how predictable the media have become in reporting these incidents. First, only gun-related violence commands such saturation coverage. The Los Angeles incident several weeks previously in which a teenager deliberately ran down and killed four people in his auto made only one overnight news cycle. Next comes the expectation that the Federal government (read the President) should have an immediate response coupled with new policy initiatives designed to “do something” about school violence, particularly guns. Why not? Clinton always did. Then there is the “why?” dialogue involving teachers, parents, friends, and psychologists, usually accompanied by an analysis of the “feelings” of everyone remotely associated with the affected community and a discussion of the need for counseling to achieve “closure”. In both the Littleton and Santana cases, there was the further analysis of the incidence of the teasing and “bullying” of the perpetrators as a possible explanation for their acts and even the suggestion by some that sympathy is in order. Much of the reporting seems to be designed to paint a picture of rampantly increasing school violence, particularly gun-related, across America. In fact, the opposite is true. According to the National Center for School Safety, there has been a decline in all forms of school violence and criminal activity for ten consecutive years. Have we heard anything about this lately?
Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute has written an essay entitled “The Republic of Feelings”, in which she challenges the commonly held assumption that venting our emotions like grief is necessary for “closure” in cases like Santana. Some recent studies document the reverse, that repression is better. Don’t try and convince our Rousseauite friends in the mainstream media of that. To them, feelings are paramount.
Incidentally, as to the “why?” of these school violence incidents, The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators 2001 is available at www.empower.org.