Sayonara to Government Land-Grabbing?

I hope this starts a new trend (from the Detroit Free Press, via Michelle Malkin):

Poletown seizures are ruled unlawful

State Supreme Court restricts government rights to take land

July 31, 2004



Reversing more than two decades of land-use law, the Michigan Supreme Court late Friday overturned its own landmark 1981 Poletown decision and sharply restricted governments such as Detroit and Wayne County from seizing private land to give to other private users.

The unanimous decision is a decisive victory for property owners who object to the government seizing their land, only to give it to another private owner to build stadiums, theaters, factories, housing subdivisions and other economic development projects the government deems worthwhile.

Detroit and other municipalities have used the Poletown standard for years to justify land seizures as a way to revitalize.

In the decision, the court rejected Wayne County’s attempt to seize private land south of Metro Airport for its proposed Pinnacle Aeropark high-technology park. The Pinnacle project, announced in 1999, is geared to making Wayne County a hub of international high-tech development linked to the airport….

Here’s the best part:

Justice Robert Young, who wrote the lead opinion, called the 1981 case allowing Detroit’s Poletown neighborhood to be cleared for a GM plant a “radical departure from fundamental constitutional principles.”

“We overrule Poletown,” Young wrote, “in order to vindicate our constitution, protect the people’s property rights and preserve the legitimacy of the judicial branch as the expositor, not creator, of fundamental law.”

It’s exhilarating to read such utterances from a State supreme court.

The Berger Affair, Again reported yesterday that the National Archives denies a report that Sandy Berger is in the clear. Blogospheric lefties have been touting a report to the contrary by the Wall Street Journal. Here’s the story:

“In spite of what the Wall Street Journal said, the National Archives really isn’t commenting on this case because it’s under investigation,” Susan Cooper, chief spokeswoman for the Archives, told

The Journal reported in Friday editions:

“Officials looking into the removal of classified documents from the National Archives by former Clinton National Security Advisor Samuel Berger say no original materials are missing and nothing Mr. Berger reviewed was withheld from the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. … The conclusion by Archives officials and others would seem to lay to rest the issue of whether any information was permanently destroyed or withheld from the commission.”

The Journal report was picked up by ABC Radio network news, which further misreported the story by saying that the Justice Department had cleared Sandy Berger of all charges.

But Ms. Cooper disputed the claim that she or any other Archives official had said any such thing.

“We really have had nothing to say and will continue to have nothing to say about the particulars of the [Berger] case,” Cooper told NewsMax. “I gather that there’s somebody else in the food chain that has been talking about the case but it’s not at the Archives.”

In keeping with her no-comment policy, the Archives chief spokeswoman declined to confirm an earlier Washington Post report that Berger had destroyed four of the six copies of the Millennium Plot After Action Review stored in Archives files.

Cooper also declined to say whether draft copies of the document with original notes in the margins were among the papers Berger’s lawyer Lanny Breuer said his client had “discarded.”

Seems fair and balanced to me.

I’ve posted twice before about l’affaire Berger, here and here. In the first post I drew on 30 years’ experience in dealing with classified information to question the veracity of Berger’s claim that he “inadvertently” removed classified notes and documents from the National Archives. The second post was just for fun, comprising quips of the sort you might hear on late-night TV.

I won’t guess at what Berger really did or why he did it. That’s for the FBI and, possibly, the courts to resolve. Whatever Berger did at the National Archives may or may not be an indictable offense. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of life. Here’s why: Suppose that Berger was trying to cover up his failure, while he was Clinton’s national security adviser, to authorize strikes on Osama bin Laden. How would reconstructing Berger’s failure be of help in preventing future terrorist attacks? Hindsight in such matters is unlikely to produce useful foresight. It isn’t enough to know that bin Laden is in your crosshairs, you must be willing to pull the trigger. Berger, apparently, wasn’t willing to pull the trigger. Would a future Berger be willing to pull the trigger? There’s no way of knowing, no way of ensuring that it would happen.

Here’s Why I’m Afraid of Kerry

UPDATED, with a P.S.

From AP via Yahoo! News:

Kerry Favors Bin Laden Trial in U.S.

By RON FOURNIER and NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writers

NEWBURGH, N.Y. – John Kerry said Friday he would put Osama bin Laden on trial in U.S. courts rather than an international tribunal to ensure the “fastest, surest route” to a murder conviction if the terrorist mastermind is captured while he is president.

“I want him tried for murder in New York City, and in Virginia and in Pennsylvania,” where planes hijacked by al-Qaida operatives crashed Sept. 11, 2001, Kerry said in his first interview as the Democratic presidential nominee.

The Saudi-bred terrorist is suspected of plotting attacks that have shed blood across the globe, not just in the United States. Kerry suggested he would place the highest priority on avenging American deaths.

Osama bin Laden isn’t a criminal — he’s our enemy. He isn’t “suspected of plotting attacks that have shed blood” — he’s known to have plotted those attacks. Kerry’s limp-wristed handling of bin Laden would only make bin Laden’s partisans guffaw. It would confirm their conception of America as irresolute and spineless. It would make us more, not less, vulnerable to terrorism.

We must not let that happen. If bin Laden is taken alive he should be marched to a place where CNN has cameras, then wrapped in plastique, doused with jet fuel, and torched.

P.S. If you wonder why I feel so intensely about bin Laden and company, please read this.

Libertarianism and Pre-emptive War: Part I

Randy Barnett at The Volokh Conspiracy has two new posts on the subject of libertarianism and war, here and here. Barnett’s posts, the posts he links to, and the comments on some of those posts have highlighted the need for a clear definition of libertarianism. In particular, we need a definition of libertarianism as it applies to the defense of America. I will offer that definition here, then (in a later post) I will offer a doctrine of pre-emptive war that is consistent with my view of libertarianism.

According to Wikipedia,

Libertarianism is a political philosophy which advocates individual rights and a limited government. Libertarians believe that individuals should be free to do anything they want, so long as they do not infringe upon what they believe to be the equal rights of others. In this respect they agree with many other modern political ideologies. The difference arises from the definition of “rights”. For libertarians, there are no ‘positive rights’ (such as to food or shelter or health care), only ‘negative rights’ (such as to not be assaulted, abused, robbed or censored). They further believe that the only legitimate use of force, whether public or private, is to protect those rights.

That’s consistent with this passage from the Libertarian Party’s introductory statement:

The Libertarian way is a logically consistent approach to politics based on the moral principle of self-ownership. Each individual has the right to control his or her own body, action, speech, and property. Government’s only role is to help individuals defend themselves from force and fraud.

Note that Wikipedia‘s definition and the Libertarian Party’s statement both acknowledge a role for government. It can’t be said often enough: Liberty is not anarchy. The state is legitimate, though not everything the state does is legitimate.

That statement may not seem to say much about libertarianism, but it does when libertarianism is contrasted with its alternatives. There are four main points on the political compass:

• Anarchy is the stateless solution, in which individuals, families, clans, and bands may or may not cooperate to defend their lives and property from others. Of course, anarchy inevitably gives way to a state, a rather powerful and oppressive one at that, because under anarchy “might makes right.”

• Libertarianism admits a minimal, neutral state to protect life and property, and therefore the liberty to enjoy them.

• Communitarianism uses the power of the state to regulate private institutions for the sake of “desirable” outcomes in such realms as income distribution, health, safety, education, and the environment

• Statism consists of outright state control of most institutions, including religion (which may be banned or allowed in only one form). Statism may be reached either as an extension of communitarianism or via anarchy or near-anarchy, as in Soviet Russia, the Third Reich, and Communist China.

In sum, those who say that the state is inherently unjust — be they anarchists, anarcho-capitalists, and anarcho-libertarians — are not libertarians, they are simply anarchists by various names. All of them must accept the logical consequences of their ideology: They have no right to life, liberty, or property; they must prey upon others or be preyed upon. Luckily for most of them, their proclaimed belief in anarchy is a cloistered virtue, cosseted in the United States by a state that is far more benevolent than the one that would arise from anarchy.

Libertarians, having a firmer grasp of reality, understand that living under anarchy, in what amounts to a constant state of warfare, diminishes liberty — the ability to enjoy life and property — for all but the strongest or most ruthless. They understand, further, that there is less to enjoy under anarchy, communitarianism, and statism because those ideologies are inimical to free markets and property rights. Libertarians therefore willingly accept a neutral state for defense from force and fraud. Libertarians understand that the presence of such a state actually makes life better for everyone but predators.

Libertarians can and do argue about how the state should go about protecting individuals from force and fraud, but one cannot be a libertarian and argue that the state is inherently an unjust institution. That untenable position is reserved for anarchists and crypto-anarchists. As “Decnavda” says in a comment on a post by John Quiggin at Crooked Timber:

I think this is entirely a means vs. ends problem, in two senses:

1. Libertarians (NOT anarcho-capitalists) believe in strong police enforcement of property rights, but their belief in these property rights places many restrictions on HOW the police can engage in this strong enforcement. The same would apply to war. You can believe that a war against a dictator is justified…but also believe in major restrictions on how that war is fought. Thus, a privately owned power plant may be an illegitimate target, while actual military bases would undoubtedly be legitimate. It may be that a libertarian legitimate war is IMPOSSIBLE to fight on PRACTICAL grounds.

2. There are two types of libertarianism: “pure” deontological libertarianism and consequentialist libertarianism[*]….A consequentialist libertarian could easily conclude…that a war against a dictator, although inevitably resulting in the deaths of innocents, will advance the overall cause of freedom.

Indeed…it seems to me that the problem discussed here is not with libertarianism, but with deontology. Not only could a consequentialist libertarian easily support a war against a dictator, but ANY deontologist would have to oppose any modern war except to repel invasion. Is there ANY deontological moral code that would authorize the intentional killing of innocent workers at power plants?

There are, of course, consequentialist libertarians who argue that we only make the world more dangerous (for ourselves as well as others) by going to war in the absence of imminent danger to the homeland. But that’s an argument about how and when to go to war, not about whether to go to war or whether pre-emptive war is always unjustified.

The deontological view — what Randy Barnett would call “defenseism” — is more troublesome. Deontological libertarians (“defenseists”) seem to say that we should never attack until we are under attack, and then we must be very careful about what and whom we attack. Such a view, aside from being suicidal in practice, implies that the innocents and private property of the United States are somehow less worthy of protection than the innocents and private property of other lands.

That leads me to these thoughts, which I ask “defenseists” and reluctant consequentialists to consider.

You, the innocent, are targets simply because you’re Americans. Your main enemy — Osama bin Laden and his ilk — don’t care about the lives and property of innocents. Your main enemy doesn’t care what you think about George Bush, the invasion of Iraq, or pre-emptive war. Your main enemy doesn’t care whether you’re anarchists, crypto-anarchists, libertarians, communitarians, or even neo-fascists. You don’t have to choose sides, your main enemy has already done it for you.

The only ideology your main enemy values is Islamism, and he would impose an Islamic state upon you if he could. But he will settle for killing and terrorizing you so that you retreat from the Middle East. He will then control it and you will become poorer and ever more vulnerable to his threats of death and destruction. Now ask yourself whether you are willing to acquiesce in your enemy’s aims before you acquiesce in actions that might — unavoidably — result in the killing of foreign innocents and the destruction of their property.

That’s all for now. This post positions me to lay out a doctrine of pre-emptive war that is consistent with libertarianism, properly understood. I’ll do that in a future post.


[* Editor’s note: Borrowing from Wikipedia, a deontological libertarian believes that the use of force is always wrong, except in self-defense; a consequentialist maintains “that the rightness or wrongness of an action depends on the consequences of the act and hence on the circumstances in which it is performed.”]

Libertarianism and Foreign Policy

Randy Barnett at The Volokh Conspiracy writes again about libertarianism and foreign policy. He kindly mentions my posts on the subject (here and here). He also quotes some libertarian readers who are “defenseists” (“let the other guy shoot first”) and others who, like me, don’t believe in passivity. I’ll come back to this subject. For now, I just want to acknowledge Barnett’s latest post and thank him for the links.

Required Reading

Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — that’s most of the boat crew officers who served with Kerry in Vietnam — say things like this:

During Lt.(jg) Kerry’s tour, he was under my command for two or three specific operations, before his rapid exit. Trust, loyalty and judgment are the key, operative words. His turncoat performance in 1971 in his grubby shirt and his medal-tossing escapade, coupled with his slanderous lines in the recent book portraying us that served, including all POWs and MIAs, as murderous war criminals, I believe, will have a lasting effect on all military veterans and their families.

Kerry would be described as devious, self-absorbing, manipulative, disdain for authority, disruptive, but the most common phrase that you’d hear is “requires constant supervision.”

— Captain Charles Plumly, USN (retired)

There’s plenty more where that came from.

Libertarians and the Common Defense

Randy Barnett of The Volokh Conspiracy and I have both taken libertarian isolationists to task. My posts are here and here. Barnett’s latest is here. I’ve said this:

It is not aggression to seek out and destroy the aggressor before he attacks you, it is self-defense. If you were armed and you knew that another armed person meant you harm, why would you not shoot first? This isn’t just about Iraq, where there seems to be some nit-picking debate about what weapons Saddam might or might not have been making or intending to use, and about what sort of relationship Saddam might or might not have had with al Qaeda. This is a matter of principle. Let’s get the principle right, then argue about the facts.

Barnett, in his latest post, says this:

[The] rule of law doctrine of “imminent threat” is not a necessary prerequisite of justified self defense in all cases. As I discuss in The Structure of Liberty, what is needed to justify self-defense in principle is a communication of intent to invade rights in a context that suggests its seriousness. A communication constitutes a threat that violates the rights of another if it puts him in reasonable fear of being the victim of a battery or worse.

The example I give in SOL is of someone, let’s say it is me, who takes a full page advertisement in The New York Times announcing my intention to murder [a certain person] at some time within the next 7 days. Assuming it is not obviously a joke, and that I apparently have the means to carry out my threat, would [that person] have to wait until I came around to his house and made an overt threatening act, which ordinarily is required by the law of self defense? Given the nature of this “standing threat,” need there also be a showing of imminence?

I think under these special circumstances, [that person] should not have to wait until I chose a time and place convenient for my attack but could seek me out to preemptively defend himself against me at a time and place of his convenience. In SOL I call this “extended self-defense.” What makes this hypothetical unusual and unrealistic is the unambiguously objective manifestation of intent in the advertisement. The advertisement is what constitutes the threat that is the necessary condition of self defense and no further overt act is required. Under these circumstances [that person] is entitled, in my view, to “preempt” my attack before I ever perform an act that can be deemed “imminent” (like produce a weapon and point it in his direction). But this is so abnormal a hypothetical (criminals do not normally advertise their intentions) that it does not undermine the normal importance of imminence or to the law of self defense.

But advertisements and imminent acts (like massing armies on borders) are not the only ways to communicate a threat. So would speeches coupled with less normally obvious behavior. If the content of these other communications are sufficiently clear, then self defense would be warranted even in the absence of an overt act that constitutes an imminent threat. So “imminence” may not be a requirement of even a defenseist foreign policy (assuming that a [defenseist] foreign policy is logically entailed by libertarianism, which I doubt). What is required is a threat….

None of this however, is to argue that a military invasion is always (or ever) a good foreign policy. Many libertarians are “noninterventionists” who seem to oppose almost any military invasion outside the territory of the US on the ground that the unintended consequences of such actions are likely to be terrible, as indeed they often are.

My original point was simply that this type of noninterventionism, whether right or wrong, does not follow from Libertarian principles as some of its adherents apparently assume. It is more a pragmatic judgment of the sorts of rightful actions that will or will not yield good consequences. This judgment could lead to certain principles of foreign policy, but these should not be confused with Libertarian first principles. In addition, while I respect those who hold to this position, it tends to ignore the unintended consequences of nonaction, which can be just as harmful. Unintended consequences is a concept that, logically, runs in both directions….

Finally let me hasten to add that, though I have thought a lot about Iraq as a citizen, with these posts I have only just begun to think about the relationship of Libertarianism with foreign policy. I am completely open to being persuaded that this analysis is completely wrong (as well as to encouragement that I am on the right track). Indeed, I had hoped that, by raising the issue, someone else would [do] the [heavy] lifting and save me the trouble….

My sentiments, exactly. As I said in my last post on the subject,

I’m still waiting for a libertarian who specializes in foreign and defense policy to offer a policy paper that advocates something other than an isolationist foreign policy and a “don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes” defense policy.

I guess I’ll have to dust off my old “defense analyst” credentials and do the job myself. But don’t expect anything soon.

Getting It Right about the Patriot Act

Orin Kerr at The Volokh Conspiracy responds to a claim by Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution about the Patriot Act. In Kerr’s words,

Alex has a post suggesting that the Patriot Act is a bad law because it has been used to do some dumb things. Here is the post…:

Yeah, I feel much safer now

The USA Patriot Act has so far been used to fine PayPal $10 million dollars in an effort to crack down on internet gambling, it’s been used to intimidate a New York artist’s collective, and most recently to shut down a Stargate fan site.

Kerr then assembles the facts, which lead him to this conclusion:

So, at least as I see it: (1) it is true that a provision in the Patriot Act was used to crack down on Internet gambling, leading to a civil settlement; (2) it is not fair to say that the Patriot Act was used to intimidate a group of artists; and (3) the Patriot Act was not used to shut down a fan site.

More importantly, there’s a lot we don’t know about the effects of the Patriot Act, namely, (1) the extent to which it has deterred terrorism or made it more difficult and (2) the extent to which it has yielded valuable information about terrorist plots that have been thwarted or are being monitored.

Economists are shockingly naive at times. Well, not shockingly to me, because I’ve worked with so many of them.

Fair and Balanced Commentary

Scott Simon of NPR (yes, that’s National Public Radio) assesses Michael Moore’s Farenheit 911 in an OpinionJournal piece entitled “When Punchline Trumps Honesty”. Here’s the bottom line:

[W]hen 9/11 Commission Chairman Kean has to take a minute at a press conference, as he did last Thursday, to knock down a proven falsehood like the secret flights of the bin Laden family, you wonder if those who urge people to see Moore’s film are informing or contaminating the debate. I see more McCarthy than Murrow in the work of Michael Moore. No matter how hot a blowtorch burns, it doesn’t shed much light.

I may have to rethink my aversion to NPR. Well, I might give Scott Simon a shot. But Nina Tottenberg is just too much.

In the "Useless but Fascinating Information" Department

Courtesy Futurepundit, “Structures in United States Cover Area Equal to Ohio”:

If all the highways, streets, buildings, parking lots and other solid structures in the 48 contiguous United States were pieced together like a giant jigsaw puzzle, they would almost cover the state of Ohio. That is the result of a study by Christopher Elvidge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Geophysical Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, who along with colleagues from several universities and agencies produced the first national map and inventory of impervious surface areas (ISA) in the United States.

Kerry’s Multilateralism Knows No Bounds

From AP via Yahoo! News: Kerry Urges More Time for 9/11 Panel:

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said Tuesday that the Sept. 11 commission should continue working another 18 months to ensure its proposed reforms are adopted, a challenge embraced by the bipartisan panel.

Why bother to elect a president and a Congress, then cede critical governmental functions to an extra-governmental body? But, Kerry is — for once — consistent. He would let the UN dictate U.S. foreign and defense policy.

Is There Hope for the "Newspaper of Record"?

Daniel Okrent, “public editor” (ombudsman?) of The New York times, admits today that The Times is a liberal newspaper. (Free registration required.) Some bloggers have badly misread Okrent’s piece as an apologia for his paper’s slant. If anything, it’s really an explanation and an apology.

The explanation, which is reasonable, amounts to this:

The Times has chosen to be an unashamed product of the city whose name it bears, a condition magnified by the been-there-done-that irony afflicting too many journalists. Articles containing the word “postmodern” have appeared in The Times an average of four times a week this year – true fact! – and if that doesn’t reflect a Manhattan sensibility, I’m Noam Chomsky.

Okay, but what about the apology? Here it is:

[I]t’s one thing to make the paper’s pages a congenial home for editorial polemicists, conceptual artists, the fashion-forward or other like-minded souls…, and quite another to tell only the side of the story your co-religionists wish to hear. I don’t think it’s intentional when The Times does this. But negligence doesn’t have to be intentional.

The gay marriage issue provides a perfect example….

[F]or those who also believe the news pages cannot retain their credibility unless all aspects of an issue are subject to robust examination, it’s disappointing to see The Times present the social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading….I’ve learned where gay couples go to celebrate their marriages; I’ve met gay couples picking out bridal dresses; I’ve been introduced to couples who have been together for decades and have now sanctified their vows in Canada, couples who have successfully integrated the world of competitive ballroom dancing, couples whose lives are the platonic model of suburban stability.

Every one of these articles was perfectly legitimate. Cumulatively, though, they would make a very effective ad campaign for the gay marriage cause. You wouldn’t even need the articles: run the headlines over the invariably sunny pictures of invariably happy people that ran with most of these pieces, and you’d have the makings of a life insurance commercial.

This implicit advocacy is underscored by what hasn’t appeared. Apart from one excursion into the legal ramifications of custody battles…, potentially nettlesome effects of gay marriage have been virtually absent from The Times since the issue exploded last winter.

The San Francisco Chronicle runs an uninflected article about Congressional testimony from a Stanford scholar making the case that gay marriage in the Netherlands has had a deleterious effect on heterosexual marriage. The Boston Globe explores the potential impact of same-sex marriage on tax revenues, and the paucity of reliable research on child-rearing in gay families. But in The Times, I have learned next to nothing about these issues, nor about partner abuse in the gay community, about any social difficulties that might be encountered by children of gay couples or about divorce rates (or causes, or consequences) among the 7,000 couples legally joined in Vermont since civil union was established there four years ago.

On a topic that has produced one of the defining debates of our time, Times editors have failed to provide the three-dimensional perspective balanced journalism requires. This has not occurred because of management fiat, but because getting outside one’s own value system takes a great deal of self-questioning. Six years ago, the ownership of this sophisticated New York institution decided to make it a truly national paper. Today, only 50 percent of The Times‘s readership resides in metropolitan New York, but the paper’s heart, mind and habits remain embedded here. You can take the paper out of the city, but without an effort to take the city and all its attendant provocations, experiments and attitudes out of the paper, readers with a different worldview will find The Times an alien beast.

Well said. But will Okrent follow through after his August vacation? Will The Times do anything to balance the egregious leftward slant of its news columns? The blogosphere will be watchfully waiting to see what happens.

Through a Crystal Ball Darkly: Prospects for a Kerry Presidency

If Bush doesn’t recover from his slide, he’ll lose the White House. And it’s entirely possible that Republicans will lose the Senate (see here and here). A Bush loss might also cut into Republicans’ majority in the House.

Republicans could nevertheless stymie Kerry’s domestic agenda. Even if Democrats were to re-take the Senate by a narrow margin that certainly wouldn’t ensure the passage of Kerry’s agenda in the upper body. (Look at what Democrats have been able to do to Bush’s appellate court nominees.) Throw in Republican control of the House and Kerry’s agenda could be DOA, unless he’s able, like Clinton, to evoke a popular backlash against Republican “meanies”.

Assuming the best on the domestic front — that is, deadlock — what about the war on terror? All wouldn’t be lost if Kerry were to win the White House. He says dangerous multilateralist things about defense policy. But, in these times of clear and present danger, even a Democrat president will put defense above the trappings of internationalism. A massive failure to defend the homeland or to secure vital overseas interests would ensure a rout in the mid-term elections and a one-term presidency, if not impeachment.

Drip, Drip, Drip

The Bush-Kerry race tightened to a virtual dead heat after Kerry picked Edwards as his running mate. (Yes, there was an Edwards “bounce”.) Bush kept a slim lead through most of July, but that lead has been dripping down the drain for about five days.

Perhaps the drippage is in anticipation of a Kerry “bounce” from the Democrat convention. Perhaps it’s due to the 9/11 report, which could only hurt Bush. Perhaps it’s due to lackluster news about the economy and the war. Perhaps it’s a combination of all these factors. In any event, Bush now leads in only one of my three projections, and that lead hinges on Florida, which is Bush’s by a hair (as of tonight).

Will August bring better news for Bush? Will he get a September “bounce” from the GOP convention? Stay tuned, as the electoral projections turn.

Whining about Teachers’ Pay: Another Lesson about the Evils of Public Education

I thought I was through with the subject of public schools, but I came across this piece of trash at It’s about how little teachers make, which forces them to augment their income in ways the author considers demeaning:

I vividly remember, while growing up in the Chicago suburbs in the ’70s, knowing that my sixth-grade math teacher was also—even during the school year—a licensed and active travel agent, and I recall seeing a number of my high-school teachers, all with master’s degrees or Ph.D.’s, painting houses and cutting lawns during the summer. This kind of thing still happens all over the country, and it’s a disgrace. When teachers are forced to tend the yards of students’ homes, to clean houses, or to sell stereos on nights and weekends, the quality of education is diminished, the profession is disrespected, and we parody the notion that we hold our schools and teachers in the highest regard. Teachers with two and three jobs are tired, their families are frustrated, and the students they teach, who want to —- and should -— consider their instructors exalted figures, learn instead to think of teaching as a part-time gig, the day job for the guy who sells Game Boys at Circuit City.

Socialist psychobabble! What’s worse is that “We pay orthodontists an average of $350,000, and no one would say that their impact on the lives of kids is greater than a teacher’s.” Then there’s this: “[A] San Francisco dockworker makes about $115,000, while the clerk who logs shipping records into the longshoreman’s computer makes $136,000.”

No, “we” don’t pay orthodontists. Orthodontists, who practice a profession the entry to which is controlled by a high-class union and licensing laws, are paid willingly by their patients. As for those dockworkers and shipping clerks, they simply belong to a more rapacious union than the ones that represent teachers. Public-school teachers — unlike orthodontists, dock workers, and shipping clerks — are paid with money that governments coerce from taxpayers. There’s not a moral dime’s worth of difference between any of these professions. They’re just practicing different forms of income redistribution.

But none of that explains why public-school teachers make what they make, which is not too little and — given that many of them are unionized and all of them are feeding at the public trough — is probably too much. After all, those teachers who don’t think they’re making “enough” can always get a second job (as many of them do) or take up a different occupation (as many of them do). But no one’s forcing them to teach. When’s the last time a school district shanghaied a passer-by, dragged him into a classroom, and said “teach, or it’s off to Circuit City with ye”?

Why then, do public-school teachers make what they make? Our old friends Supply, Demand, and Competition have the answer.

Let’s start with Demand. Governments have a virtual monopoly on education through the 12th grade. Through a long process of acculturation and co-option, governments have delegated their monopoly power to the “professional educators” (hereafter, Educators) who run school systems. These Educators, through another long process of acculturation and co-option, have developed a model of the ideal teacher. That model, which they apply ruthlessly, places far greater emphasis on arcane, pseudo-scientific teaching techniques than it does on the substance of what is to be taught. Competence in a subject is far less important than “competence” in the cabbala of education.

Not being content with form over substance, Educators demand low student-teacher ratios, even though the value of low student-teacher ratios is mythical. Educators also demand that taxpayers equip classrooms with the latest gadgets, not because the gadgets are especially useful teaching devices but because other school districts have them. (It’s a pedantic arms race.)

Thus, given the sums that Educators are able to extract from taxpayers without facing outright rebellion, they effectively choose quantity over quality. That is, were it not for low student-teacher ratios and expensive gadgets, they could have fewer but somewhat more competent teachers at a higher average salary. Instead they willingly accept more but somewhat less competent teachers at a lower average salary.

Now comes Supply. Teaching doesn’t attract many of the best and brightest, who have more lucrative options. (As I’ve just said, Educators themselves are to blame for the level of teachers’ salaries.) But there’s more to it than that. Teaching doesn’t attract the best and brightest because they are repulsed by the emphasis on form (pseudo-scientific credentials) over substance. The best and the brightest are often willing to accept lower wages in return for stimulating work. Public-school teaching can be stimulating, but public schools, by and large, insist on ritual conformity to pseudo-scientific educational psychobabble, discourage originality (“here’s the approved textbook and here’s the approved syllabus”), cater mainly to the lowest common denominator in the student body, and tolerate disruptive behavior. Public-school teachers are as much day-care providers as they are teachers. Well, day care isn’t a profession that attracts many of the best and brightest.

Finally enters the wraith of Competition, whose shadow doesn’t darken public schools. And that’s the root of the problem. Educators (the big “E” variety) get away with putting form above substance and quantity above quality because parents have no choice. The tax collector sucks parents dry, and few of them have recourse to vouchers for private education. And it’s all the doing of the Education monopoly, as I’ve explained before.

If vouchers were widely available so that private schools could compete robustly with public schools — and if governments allowed private schools to focus on substance (results), not form (credits in “education” classes) — they would hire more of the best and brightest as teachers. That would draw more and more students away from public schools until public schools were forced to compete with private schools in terms of quality. Then public schools would strive to hire some of the best and brightest for their own classrooms. The next thing you know (well, maybe after a decade or so), America’s children would be getting the world’s best education from relatively well paid teachers. But not many of them would be holdovers from today’s public schools.

Professional Educators and their unions aren’t about to let that happen. They may not be the best and brightest, but they have their priorities: first, jobs for the mediocre; second, baby-sitting (it’s easier than real teaching); third, teaching (to the extent they know enough to teach something).

Speaking of Modern Art

It’s this kind of balderdash that makes me grit my teeth:

Mathematicians, philosophers and physicists at the beginning of the 20th century were recognising that many absolute truths were convenient caricatures of a universe that might be far stranger, far further from common sense than anyone thought. Western painting had its own scientific assumptions, established in the Renaissance. Picasso and Braque unmasked these as conventions. The concepts of absolute gravity and time that gave way to relative ones in the early 20th century had been established by Newton in the 1600s. The doctrine of single-point perspective, whose inadequacies Braque and Picasso exposed, had been asserted by Leon Battista Alberti and Filippo Brunelleschi two centuries before.

The perspective system invented in Florence in the 15th century was a shorthand for the way things looked, a brilliantly usable fiction of the appearance of the world. Our sense impressions are complicated, chaotic data that the brain has to make sense of. Seeing in pictures appears to be necessary in our lives. Alberti and Brunelleschi showed how those pictures can be made consistent and logical by fixing a distant point towards which objects recede – what’s further away looks smaller than what’s near. [Picasso and Braque] did not make their intellectual revolution against this centuries-old system in a cool, considered mood, but with turbulence and fury. There was a violence in their assault on perspective.

Picasso’s first essay in the new painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), associates the death of the picture with sexual aggression and “primitive” release. It is an overturning of civilised lies, one of which is the neat illusion of perspective. Braque put his anger into words. “The whole Renaissance tradition is antipathetic to me,” he said. “The hard-and-fast rules of perspective, which it succeeded in imposing on art, were a ghastly mistake…”

Pretentious twaddle! Art draws on perfectible techniques; science limitlessly accrues knowledge.

The truth is that in art — as in “serious” music — the best work that could be done had been done by about 1900. That left Picasso, Braque, and their ilk — like Schoenberg, Berg, and their ilk — with two options: Create new works using the tools that had been perfected by the masters who came before them, or disown the tools in a fit of adolescent rebellion. The artists and “serious” composers of the 20th century, in the main, took the second option.