One of Houston’s larger companies and the world’s largest onshore drilling company, Nabors Industries, recently became the latest in a series of incorporating relocations of U. S. companies to offshore tax havens, Bermuda in this case. I have been struck by the responses to this trend from labor unions and public officials who seem to believe that they can direct public policy to repeal the laws of the fungible nature of capital throughout the world. Again, capital goes where it is welcomed and stays where it is well treated. This applies to states as well as to nations. I have written before on the “inevitability of marketization” (August 2000) and the futility of government attempts to reverse globalization with such pipe dreams as the Berlin Conference communiqué of two years ago which stated that globalization “should not just be allowed to happen” and that there should be a “return to politics ahead of economics”. The old politics can be obstructive and are usually counter-productive, but will lose in the end to tax and trade policies that are accommodative to the competitive pressures of global capital mobility.
In a world so steeped in postmodern confusion that a U. S. President must resort to a spin on the definition of the word “is”, it is not surprising that we have difficulty defining our enemies. Kathleen Parker has illustrated this confusion well in a recent essay in townhall.com in which she advises “you can’t cure a disease without proper diagnosis, and you can’t win a war without naming the enemy”. Further to the point, a past president of the Southern Baptist Convention was roundly criticized for his characterization of Islam as a warrior religion that breeds terrorism. And, of course, we have the endless debate over “profiling” as a means of identifying possible enemies. In a great essay, Walter Williams points out the idiocy of the FAA’s air travel security procedures, which “assign an equal probability that anyone who boards a plane is a potential hijacker”. He recommends a multiple-choice test covering every significant terrorist attack against Americans over the past thirty years. (I will e-mail the complete test upon request.) In every case, the perpetrators have been Muslim male extremists between 17 and 40 years of age. Duh? Is there a distinct profile here? The ACLU and FAA, take note!
As one Supreme Court justice (I’ve forgotten which) has said, “the U. S. Constitution is not a suicide pact”. We are at war, and our defense must be preventive and, where necessary, pre-emptive. The editors of National Review have offered that the worst effect of creating the new Department of Homeland Security would be to create an atmosphere of activity without facing the difficult choices: profiling, arming airline pilots, pre-emptive strikes on the enemy abroad, and changing regimes in places like Saudi Arabia. But mission clarity begins with truth in labeling, and there are two parts to this in my mind. One is the question of what The Weekly Standard calls the “law-abiding terrorist”, the true enemy whose acts we have traditionally treated as a law enforcement problem. The other is the cultural issue raised so eloquently by Roger Scruton: can we live with the Muslim next door, and can he live with us? or, in other words, can we assimilate with a culture and creed that has had no Reformation and has no concept of the secular nature of government we inherited from Christianity and Roman law?
These are not easy questions for Americans to deal with, particularly in the procedural republic we have become. Even to pose them is to risk being denounced as xenophobic, racist, or (the worst postmodern sin) intolerant. Hollywood itself is guilty of ducking the issue as illustrated by the altering of Tom Clancy’s novel in the screenplay for The Sum of All Fears to avoid Muslim stereotypes. But deal with them we must, and soon. What do you think? I would appreciate your thoughts.
In a previous issue, I posed the question as to whether or not the second paragraph of The Declaration of Independence (“all men are endowed by their Creator”, etc.) could be ratified by Congress today. It’s a rhetorical question, but one that again resonates in the wake of the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision on the Pledge of Allegiance. In the flurry of opinion essays that have followed, I have been amused at the secular left’s spin on the Pledge and other enunciations of our creed, such as “in God we trust” and “so help me God”. E. J. Dionne and others call the customary use of these invocations “ceremonial deism”, the idea that they are used without reference to context and are therefore meaningless, merely backdrops in American life. Behind much of this kind of commentary, however, I sense a nervousness that these judges have forced the issue and that the anti-religion elites, particularly those holding public office, will now be called into a serious debate on their hostility to religion in the public square. As Michael Medved noted in a USA Today opinion piece, the secular worldview that dominates American elites insists that all religions deserve identical respect or similar dismissal, either as paths to the same God or to violent, anti-intellectual, intolerant tendencies. It’s time we dispensed with this theory along with the historical revisionism that the Constitution is “Godless”. Some religions are better or worse than others. Ours is represented by the “under God” in the Pledge—the creator God of The Declaration of Independence and the source of our rights. But let’s have the debate; it’s long overdue, and what better timing than in an election year!
When I served as Chairman of Texas Business Leaders for Educational Choice during the 1998-99 Texas legislative biennium, I began most of my speeches and debates across the state with the following opening:
“Let’s start with a basic premise about the school choice debate: No child should be left behind because of failure of the education distribution system to deliver the best possible opportunity. If we cannot deliver on this commitment, we are failing in our public education responsibility, and no historical attachment to a particular delivery system should prevent our making the necessary changes. We are talking about lives, about our future as a society. This debate is about children, not about a system. School choice is a public policy whose time has come.”
With the Supreme Court decision in the Cleveland school choice case, a huge “red herring” has been removed and we can now move to the next level of what I believe will be the civil rights revolution of the 21st century. Church-state considerations have never really been the critical issue with school choice opponents. Their opposition is all about power and protection of the perks of the status quo for the entrenched vested interests of the educational establishment. Now we can get on with the more substantive elements of the debate without the First Amendment smokescreen. What are these? Most prominently, the opposition has done a great job in shaping the debate into a focus on “draining” funds from the public schools. My response here is that, first, it is very difficult to make the case that public education is underfunded, but, more to the point, in an truly competitive system, the ultimate accountability is the power of the customer, parents and their children, to “vote with their feet” and have the funding follow the child. Remember that school choice already exists for those who are privileged to be able to afford a private school or a home in an affluent neighborhood with a high quality public school. The substantial majority of those left behind without such choices are relatively poor, inner city, and often minority children. We owe them the same opportunity.
The biggest hurdle in my school choice advocacy has been the reluctance among many to understand and accept the dynamics of competition and how, in a choice environment, these dynamics will produce a supply of quality education alternatives to meet the demand. So well entrenched is the static one-size-fits-all delivery system with its top-down mandates and accountability that we fear the dynamics of a deregulated market for education. Will there be failures? Sure, but there are numerous failures in the current delivery system that cannot begin to be rectified by the existing perverse incentives favoring compliance over performance. School choice in Texas can supplement the state’s top-down accountability system with a bottom-up accountability system, and the resulting competitive environment will drive improvement for all.
In Rod Paige’s final “State of the Schools” address as Superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, he outlined a very bold strategy to have HISD become “the K-12 education system of choice for the citizens of Houston”. This is a commendable objective for Houston and Texas that can only be achieved if there is a truly competitive alternative to the present delivery system. Let’s give choice a chance.