Author: Isaiah Minter

Former Marxist turned classical liberal, Isaiah Minter is currently a college freshman at the University of Massachusetts Amherst double majoring in economics and sociology. Influenced by economists Thomas Sowell, Milton Friedman, and Friedrich Hayek, Isaiah is committed to the ideas of small limited government, tolerance, and markets.

A Look at Finland’s Universal Basic Income

By Isaiah Minter | United States

Last month, the Finnish government rejected a proposal to extend its universal basic income trial. Contrary to most media reports, this does not mean that basic income in Finland has failed. Rather, the program is going to expire at the end of 2018, as planned.

Finland wants to gather data on the results of the program before making a decision on it, but one would never know this from the media.

To no surprise, however, political pundits have tried to explain this supposed failed UBI trial through one of two prevailing theories. The first theory, as offered by Dr. Gigi Foster of ABC News, suggests that the UBI creates a disincentive to work worse than traditional welfare programs. But there is no merit to this claim: unconditional cash transfers had no significant effect on Alaskan employment, nor did Iran’s UBI reduce employment.

It never occurs to Gigi Foster that a basic income is a cash supplement. Under a UBI, individuals receive a monthly check and remain free to earn more money through work. The measure does not, in stark contrast to America’s current welfare system, make it more profitable for recipients to collect benefits than to seek out employment. Nor does it cut the individual off from their monthly check in the event that they make enough gross income. Ultimately, a basic income, by its very nature, sets a minimum income floor under which people may not fall.

For those less critical of Finland’s failed UBI trial, the popular theory seems to be that it didn’t go far enough. This is the route that Leonid Bershidsky of Bloomberg took, and it’s one I want to steer clear of.

First, Finland has been practicing small-scale cash transfers for years, and with great success. Similarly, in an earlier piece of mine on UBI, I made note of the poverty reduction achieved by non-universal cash transfers throughout Africa. If Bershidsky’s claim was true, in the sense that a lack of universality is to blame, then one would expect these cash transfers to have failed. But that isn’t the case.

Similarly, even if he meant that Finland’s UBI failed because it didn’t do enough to reduce poverty, he is wrong. Finland isn’t extending its UBI trial because it wants to gather data on the program’s results and determine if it was a success or a failure. In other words, it’s too early to tell what the effects of the basic income trial are.

Somehow, Bershidsky’s claim manages to both lack evidence and run contrary to it.

But I want to get to his central theme, for it’s a dangerous one. The notion that we need to redistribute to level Y because level X of redistribution didn’t work pardons any bad outcome of wealth redistribution.

Allow an example: in America’s War on Poverty, we’ve taken over $20 trillion from the rich and given it to the poor. In the wake of this lies a destroyed black community and more than 40 million Americans in poverty. This was of little to concern to Sasha Abramsky of The Nation, who published an article some years ago titled “Why We Need a New War on Poverty.”

It never occurs to Leonid Bershidsky that the shortcomings of programs often stem from the very institution that enacts them: government. It is illogical to expect that imperfect humans with imperfect knowledge can come together and form a perfect government. With all the different incentives and motives of politicians in a government,  there is often tampering with programs. Enough to the point where the actual program may differ greatly from the original model envisioned by policy proponents.

Indeed, Finland’s activation measure, apart from serving as an obstacle to the basic income trial, absolutely did more harm than good. In withholding benefits from unemployed persons who were determined to not be actively seeking work, the program restructured welfare policy for the worse.

In this, I am not saying that a basic income is inherently flawed, nor that we must avoid government action altogether. For, in fact, the tampering of said program may very well make it more effective than originally planned. Rather, I am suggesting that citizens be wary of the incentives politicians face and the finite knowledge they possess.

In the end, it would do us well to reject the approach of Foster and Bershidsky. While I am sure they mean no ill, both of their claims are baseless. Each of them looked at some facts of the case and drew conclusions supporting their beliefs. This confirmation bias behavior simply fails to benefit our current political environment, and us as individuals within it.


Infinity War Movie Review (SPOILERS)

By Isaiah Minter | United States

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to check out the new Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbuster, Avengers: Infinity War. With the movie already shattering box office records in just its opening weekend, I figured I would offer a spoiler review. Thus, for anyone reading this who has not seen the film, do proceed at your own risk.

To begin, I would rate this movie a solid four out of five stars. Seeing as my list of cons with the film is shorter than the pros, I will start with what I did not like.

As a serious Bruce Banner fan, I had an issue with Hulk appearing for just the intro scene in the movie. I understand the importance of the intro scene where Thanos hands Hulk the worst on-screen beating he’s ever seen, as it established a very dark tone early on. However, preventing the green hero from being seen for the next two hours as a result bugged me. I entrust he’ll have a larger role to play in Avengers 4, therefore I can live with his absence in this movie.

Moving on, the usage of the Dark Order in the movie represented another area of dislike for me. By the end of the movie, all four of Thanos‘s children are dead, each of them killed relatively easily. All four of them are warriors, and I wish their role was not similar to the Decepticons in Transformers: The Last Knight. While the Dark Order’s role is to some degree more elaborate, both groups offered little more than a handful of action scenes before they are defeated with ease.

Lastly, some of the comedy scenes could have been removed. Some bits stuck, others didn’t. The humor on the Milano was well-placed, but other examples, such as Star-Lord’s comedy on Titan, I could have done without. Nevertheless, I am grateful the directors don’t go so far overboard with the comedy that it displaces potential action scenes. Such was the case with Justice League. 

No movie is perfect, however, I acknowledge Marvel fans who don’t take issue with any of the cons I have outlined.

Moving on to the pros, perhaps my favorite element of the movie is Thor. His entrance into Wakanda with Stormbreaker is one of my favorite parts of the movie, if not my favorite. His stint with Groot and Rocket on Knowhere I enjoyed as well. 

Next, the plot was very enjoyable. Infinity War is over two hours long, and not once was I bored of the movie. I was either thoroughly enjoying an action scene, or on the edge of my seat waiting to see what happened next. The distribution of time among the characters is well-managed, and Thanos‘s on-screen time is utilized well. By the end, he is more than just a hulking purple mass hellbent on genocide, which certainly made both his character and the movie more enjoyable. 

Although it was difficult to watch Vision be pummeled throughout the film, I did enjoy his first fight scene. The entrance of Captain America and company gave me the most hope of any scene in the movie. Similarly, the major fight scenes on Titan and in Wakanda were very thrilling. 

Lastly, the ending of the movie was both unexpected and spectacular. Going into this movie, I expected several members of the Avengers to die, Tony and Steve in particular. Of course, that isn’t what happened at all, as the original Avengers team remains intact at the end of the movie. 

Of all the characters killed by Thanos at the end, Spider-man’s death was the most emotional for me. His final conversation with Tony wet my eyes in the theater. 

For the next Avengers film, it will be interesting to see which deaths remain permanent. With sequels coming up for Black Panther and Spider-Man, it’s unlikely that those two heroes will remain dead. 

All in all, this movie was a smash hit for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I look forward to Avengers 4.

Featured Image Source

Where is the Outrage over Alfie Evans’ Mistreatment?

By Isaiah Minter | United States

One story getting little attention from the mainstream media is the story of Alfie Evans, a terminally ill toddler prevented from leaving Britain for medical treatment. Alfie has spent more than a year in a semi-vegetative state, suffering from a neurodegenerative disease. Over this span, he was kept alive in the critical care unit of Alder Hey Hospital by artificial ventilation. Unfortunately, since then, a conflict has ensued between the hospital and Alfie’s parents, Tom Evans and Kate James.

As a result of Alfie’s unresponsiveness to active treatment, the hospital suggested that he be taken off life support. The parents disagreed, and his case was referred to the Family Division of the UK court, only for the court to rule in favor of the hospital. Alfie’s parents appealed the decision, only to lose that appeal and watch the Supreme Court dismiss the case.

Moreover, High Court Justice Anthony Hayden struck down the plan to take Alfie to Rome for medical treatment and stated that Alfie’s life support be ended on Monday morning.

In the hours after Alfie was taken off ventilation support, hospital staff refused to provide the toddler with ventilation and hydration. If Alfie’s parent were to do this, they would be charged with child abuse, but under Britain’s system of socialized medicine, it’s simply a hospital decision reinforced by a court ruling. An evil action doesn’t magically become permissible because individuals with power perform it.

It is nothing short of tragic for the life of a human being to be in the hands of someone other than oneself or one’s own family. Why Anthony Hayden gets to be the arbiter of the life of a toddler is beyond my understanding. Haden is a human being no nobler than Alfie’s parents, nor is the life of his child the one being ruled upon. The incentives of the two parties are very different: if Hayden is wrong, he does not lose a beloved child and his judicial tenure will go on. On the other hand, the loss of a child is a heart-wrenching moment for any parent, and Alfie’s parents will bear a price should they choose the ‘wrong decision.’

I use the term wrong decision loosely, as it is the only reasonable decision offered thus far, and yet the most shunned. If Alfie is guaranteed to be knocking on death’s door, it makes little sense to strip the parents of any remaining comfort they can enjoy with their child and accelerate his demise by starving him of life necessities. It must be emphasized that Alfie Evans is breathing without life support as I am writing this, contra the opinions offered by his doctors.

For all the talk of a ‘right’ to healthcare in this country, it is surprising that there is not more concern over this issue. Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, spent his campaign decrying the American medical care system for denying care to poor Americans because of an inability to pay but has failed to speak on Alfie being denied medical care due to the British government. Ideological consistency is lacking in today’s politics.

In a broader sense, Alfie’s case is one of many examples illustrating the destruction of parental sovereignty across a  range of issues, education and healthcare in particular.  Hardly has any evidence been put forth showing benefits of this trend. I like to think the Western world can do better for our children, but perhaps I am overly optimistic.

The underlying theme in all of this, that Alfie’s parents are prevented from even choosing their own child’s treatment plan while he is dying, is nothing short of state cruelty. The economist Thomas Sowell once said:

The most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best.

The great danger that Alfie Evans is dealing with, and one that must be stressed to Progressives who want the government to adopt a bigger role in these issues, is that when you allow the government to decide what you need, you inadvertently allow it to decide what you do not need.

Featured image source.

Government Education Spending Hurts More Than It Helps

By Isaiah Minter | United States

Public school teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona have spent the last month striking for higher wages and better health care. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have much of an issue with this if the students weren’t caught in the crossfire. But they are. While the students are deprived of vital schooling days, they are certainly not deprived of attention: to teachers and progressive politicians alike, the students are political ammunition designed to sway Republican politicians.

I loathe this routine of exploiting groups to achieve desired political outcomes, for it absolutely does more harm than good. However well-intentioned political actions may be, they often harm groups otherwise not involved with the issue at hand.

Nevertheless, whatever one’s opinion on the teacher strikes, it must be made clear that we do not need to deprive our children of schooling to achieve the desired goal. Teachers, like the children they educate, are both victims of the same disease: the bureaucracy of American education. Thus, to deliver a ‘living wage’ to teachers as progressives so often call it, we must do away with the band-aid approach of increased education spending and instead target the institution.

Indeed, most of the dollars in school spending hikes seldom ever reach the classroom. Dating back to 1950, public school administrative positions increased at seven times the rate of the student population and double that of teachers. This trend may explain why, despite an immense increase in public school spending over the last five decades, American education pails in comparison to the developed world.

Similarly, teacher wages fell roughly 2 percent over the same span that per-student spending rose by nearly 30 percent. Perhaps the starkest figure lies in the wide disparity between taxpayer spending on teachers and teacher salaries: Oklahoma taxpayers spend over $120,000 per teacher, and yet the average Oklahoma teacher salary is around $45,000 based on 2016 numbers.

The evidence suggests that the issue is not a lack of resources, but a lack of proper resource allocation. In flooding the system with administrators and non-education positions, we have allowed the ruthless imposition of regulations that siphon money into the bureaucracy and away from the schools that need it. For all the talk on greed in the private sector, people seldom ever concern themselves with it when it surfaces in the public sector.

Teachers’ unions and bureaucracy have American education in a chokehold, and if we are serious about supporting our teachers while delivering a quality education to our children, we need to remove the federal government from the issue altogether. There is no Constitutional authority for the federal government to be involved in education, and our abandonment of the 10th Amendment on this issue has plagued our schooling system for the last five decades. As a clear example:

The American Action Forum (AAF) found that the Department of Education currently imposes 85 million hours of paperwork, and more than 465 federal education forms, including 120 in postsecondary education, at a cost of more than $2.7 billion annually.

By removing the federal government from the issue, we would decentralize and deregulate the education system. This approach of turning education over to the states and promoting school choice through voucher systems would, in turn, promote parental responsibility in the schooling of their child.

The outlined approach contrasts heavily with our current system where we have, in effect, replaced the parent with the state employee and the local community with the federal government. Hardly then should it come as a surprise that education has deteriorated to the extent it has. Washington does not pay any price for being wrong.

It is not the Washington politician who suffers when school administrators saturate their pockets from school spending hikes, nor when teachers go on strike as a result. Instead, our students and teachers pay the price.

It always amazes me how government can be responsible for the disastrous results of a system – education in this case – but we nonetheless demand that this same institution fix the very issue it is responsible for. As this approach seldom proves effective, it is time for an approach of less government power and more market freedom.

For a more elaborate examination of the American education system, I strongly recommend Inside American Education by Thoms Sowell.

Featured image source.

We Must Privatize the Department of Veterans’ Affairs

By Isaiah Minter | United States

In the wake of former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin’s departure from his cabinet position, news writers across the country are losing their minds over the likelihood of VA privatization. While Shulkin, who insists that he was fired by Trump via Twitter, cites his opposition to VA privatization as the reason for losing his department job, I haven’t seen any evidence that provides validity to the claim. As a result, I will leave Shulkin’s claim as is, and instead address the media fear-mongering suggesting that thousands of veterans are going to die, should privatization actually occur.

One of the most important distinctions to make between public and private institutions is the accountability of the latter and the lack thereof of the former. Allow an example. When Congress members authorized the invasion of Iraq, they were fully aware of the immense obligation to provide health benefits to veterans with this move. Distinguished economist Joseph Stiglitz estimated the costs of benefits in Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts to be about $1 trillion on their own.

This enormous cost was largely irrelevant to Congress members as they weren’t funding the obligation, nor did they face any turmoil for increasing federal borrowing. They went on with their careers, wholly unconcerned with any future ails that such authorization could create. In other words, they paid no price for this decision, and our veterans certainly deserve more than a system which is rarely held accountable for its shortcomings. We need only consider the words of economist Tom Sowell:

It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.

Continuing on the trend of inaccountability, we cannot ignore the lengthy list of scandals that have plagued the VA in its history.

Apart from irresponsibility, wait times also plague the system. Over 200 veterans died waiting for care at the Phoenix VA in 2015. One report done by the VA Inspector General found that nearly 100 veterans died waiting for care at the Los Angeles VA. Perhaps the most worrisome figure comes from a VA OIG report, which found that thousands of vets may have died waiting for care.  The report also found a series of institutional problems, ranging from data limitations due to inadequate VHA procedures, to a faulty enrollment program, to employees incorrectly marking applications.

I do not doubt that VA employees are doing their very best at their jobs, but their department makes it very hard for them to do their job. Even if we assume that this department worked as its creators planned, its method of organization still harms our veterans. Veterans’ health benefits in this country are delayed costs, meaning they surface decades after the military conflict ends.

The Congress funds these delayed costs – through the VA – only when the obligation comes to fruition. This system allows the Congress to engage in military conflicts with ease, ignoring the burdens of foreign intervention for some time, only to then default on the burden of veterans’ healthcare when they need the obligation filled.

How this approach benefits the American people and our veterans alike remains unclear. Therefore, if we desire a political approach to this issue that would benefit our veterans and the American people alike, privatization of the VA is essential.

This alternative approach offers two main benefits: one, it improves the quality of medical care by introducing competition and innovation into the healthcare market, and two, it forces Congress to consider the enormous cost of war prior to intervening by pre-funding  veteran benefits.

In this manner,  the policy can garner support from both sides of the aisle by appealing to pro-market Republicans and non-interventionist Democrats.

Despite what the media is suggesting, this policy is an argument for competition and accountability, not greed and the exploitation of our men and women in uniform. Justification for the policy suggests, and rightfully so, that transferring the department’s physical capital to veterans is key to improving veterans’ healthcare.

In the end, continuing the current system is unlikely to benefit our veterans or the American taxpayer. In fact, government hands these taxpayers the bill for senseless military intervention. If we truly want to help both groups, privatizing the VA is crucial.

Featured Image Source