Sell the Astrodome

Since being closed in 2008, the Astrodome has been the subject of frequent debate regarding its future. Proposals have included demolition, turning the facility into an indoor park, and creating a multi-use facility. While these proposals vary significantly, they all have one thing in common: taxpayers will get to foot the bill.

No matter what is ultimately decided, a lot of Houstonians won’t be happy, yet they will be forced to pay for that decision. A much fairer solution is to sell the Astrodome to private developers. The county would get a windfall, and taxpayers would be off the hook for paying for another boondoggle. As an example, consider the building formerly known as The Summit. After the Rockets moved downtown to the Toyota Center, Lakewood Church bought The Summit.

If re-purposing the Dome is economically viable, private developers are much more likely that county bureaucrats to find such a purpose. And if they can’t, it’s their money on the line, not taxpayers.

Indeed, the county should get out of the stadium business entirely. Texans owner Bob McNair is reportedly calling for “major upgrades” to the county owned NRG Stadium. Undoubtedly, the county will ultimately cave and taxpayers will get to pay for another lavish playground.

Many argue that the county or city needs to pay for stadiums in order to attract or retain professional sports teams. Other municipalities do it, so we need to follow suit if we want to compete. In other words, if others are jumping off a bridge…

If the owners of professional sports teams want modern stadiums, let them build those facilities. Without exception, the owners of those teams have the resources and contacts to secure the necessary financing. And if they can’t, then that is a clue that such ventures may not be financially viable.

Lest you think that it can’t be done, consider the following examples of privately built stadiums:

  • StubHub Stadium in Carson, California
  • Staples Center in Los Angeles
  • Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio

Until the early 1950s, most sports stadiums were built with private money. That began to change in 1953, when Milwaukee lured the Boston Braves to the city with a stadium built with taxpayer money. Since that time, teams have increasingly demanded that taxpayer pay for stadiums. And politicians have generally been happy to do so.

Houston has long been different from other cities. Selling the Astrodome would be one step in continuing that trend. Refusing to upgrade NRG would be the next.

The Lesson of the Anti-Choice Crowd

There is a great deal of uproar across the nation about school choice and vouchers. In a story last week, the Chronicle quotes a mother who reveals a sad fact about many parents:

“Vouchers don’t come with any oversight of the schools in which they’re spent,” Caudill [the mother] said. “They put the parent in the position of trading a child’s civil rights for money.”

Caudill, who has two children, apparently believes that only the government can provide oversight. She ignores the fact that consumers are the ultimate in oversight—by choosing the schools their children attend they have control over their children’s education. But Caudill would prefer to not be bothered with that responsibility.

Caudill strangely claims that parents somehow violate their child’s rights by accepting a voucher. In other words, if a parent has more educational choices, it violates the child’s rights. But if the government has complete control, the child’s rights are protected. Interestingly, Caudill is suing her local government school district because it did a poor job educating her disabled son.

Education is one of a parent’s primary responsibilities. Sadly, many parents would prefer to pass that responsibility to the government, despite the abysmal record of government schools.

If Caudill and her ilk want others making decisions about their children’s education, that is their choice. But they want to deny other parents the freedom to makes choices about their children’s education. Anti-choice parents aren’t simply opposed to making choices for their own children; they want to deny that freedom to all parents.

Consider the lesson that this teaches to their children: If you assemble enough like-minded people and make enough noise, you can violate the rights of others. If you don’t want to take responsibility, you can pass it off onto government. And that is a very sad lesson.

The Subjectivism of Modern “Art”

While defending government schools with raging vehemence, the Chronicle routinely complains about nearly every aspect of those schools. They complain that funding is unfair, grading schools and districts is misleading, we aren’t paying enough attention to ESL and poor students, state skills tests of students are unreasonable, and on and on and on. A recent diatribe is an opinion piece by a “poet” whose work is used in the Texas state assessment tests (STAAR).

The “poet” admits that she can’t answer the questions pertaining to her own “poems.” As an example, one of the questions on STAAR asks why the “poet” used all capitals in one line. In the opinion piece, the alleged poet wrote:

It could be A. All caps is a way to highlight a fact, right? I guess I wanted to stress the fact that the feeling belongs to TODAY, but maybe the answer is B. Let’s see, today is not tomorrow, could be that. But climbing into the test maker’s mind, I’m guessing they want the answer C. But here’s the thing: I remember adding the ALL CAPS during revision. Was it to highlight the fact it arrived today or was it to indicate that it happened unexpectedly? Not sure. Move on, lots to cover.

The real issue here isn’t STAAR. It isn’t even education. The real issue is the subjective natureof modern “art.”

The poet admits that she has psychological problems, and “poetry” is her way of dealing with them. Based on the sampling that she provides, her method of coping is a stream of consciousness rambling about her emotional turmoil. The result is a confusing mixture of metaphors, random associations, and angst. Such disconnected discourse might be fine for a personal journal, but to call it poetry is to mock and degrade true poetry.

Aristotle said that the purpose of art is to depict life as it could be and should be. Art should show humans as heroes, not gutter clutching vermin. Art should show humans conquering challenges and achieving values, not wallowing in self-pity and neurosis.

Modern “art” is not about portraying rational values. Quite the opposite. It is about attacking rational values and elevating the irrational to a position of serious consideration. When a “poet” cannot even understand her own work, how is a reader to do so? In truth, they can’t, and each individual’s interpretation is considered as valid as another’s. This subjectivism goes beyond esthetics, but that is an issue for another day.

One of the sub-headings in the essay is “Parents, educators, legislators, readers of news reports: STOP TAKING THESE TEST RESULTS SERIOUSLY.” I suggest that everyone stop taking modern “artists” seriously.

Terms Limits isn’t the Answer

The Trump presidency has led to renewed cries for term limits. If we throw the “bums” out, the thinking goes, we can elect representatives who are more responsive to voters. While the appeal of such thinking is understandable, it is fundamentally flawed.

The real problem is not in Congress (or any other elected body), but in the voters. Voters are the ones who put the “bums” there in the first place. Congress simply responds to the demands and values of voters. Wholesale replacement of Congress will not change this fact. We will just wind up with a different group of statists.

Politics is not a primary–it derives from ethics. Ultimately, the dominant ethics of a culture will determine its political system. So long as Americans embrace altruism–the belief that the individual must sacrifice his values to others–they will elect politicians who are eager to enact that tenet into law. Just as re-casting the roles in a poorly written play will not transform it into an inspirational performance, changing the actors in Washington will not change the plot in Congress.

Consider Houston city council for example. Enacted in the early 1990’s, Houston limits council members to three two-year terms. This has only changed the faces, but not the essential policies. Houston has seen a steady parade of members pushing “quality of life” issues and seeking to expand city control of land-use. Before term limits we had Eleanor Tinsley and Jim Greenwood; since then we have had Sue Lovell, Pam Holms, and Peter Brown.

When voters demand that their rights be recognized, respected, and protected they will elect politicians who will do so. When voters reject the premise that government should be used to dispense political favors, engage in social engineering, and regulate the economy, they will elect politicians who share those views.

The web site for US Term Limits (USTL) states:

US Term Limits stands up against government malpractice. We are the voice of the American citizen. We want a government of the people, by the people, and for the people- not a ruling class who care more about deals to benefit themselves, than their constituents….

Term limits provide fresh faces with fresh ideas to elected office. They reduce lobbyist and special interest influence and make room in Congress for the citizen legislator. Americans are sick of the political games and power politics; they are ready for a return to a citizen legislature which was the intent of our founding fathers.

Notice that there is no mention of individual rights or the proper purpose of government. The premise behind the term limits movement is that government should reflect the opinions and values of “the people”. They are not opposed to violations of individual rights; they are opposed to legislation that does not reflect the voice of “the people”. If “people” wish to enslave their neighbors, presumably USTL would not oppose such measures. In other words, they are opposed to a tyranny of the few, but not a tyranny of the many.

Democracy–unlimited majority rule–is precisely what the term limits crowd advocates. They want to put an end to career politicians and give “ordinary” citizens greater opportunities to run for office. But what will those citizens advocate? Will they support and defend individual rights? Or will they simply impose their pet causes upon the citizenry? USTL does not tell us because USTL does not regard the ideas being advocated as an important issue.

Term limits are not the answer because they are not addressing the question: What is the proper purpose of government? Until the citizenry can answer that question properly–the protection of individual rights–the term limits movement is simply tilting at windmills.

Democrats Aren’t Good for Texas Businesses

One of the hallmarks of Regressives is the rejection of principles. They deal with issues in isolation, believing that we must experiment to discover “what works.” Now they are trying to convince Texas businesses to take that same approach. As one example, the Chronicle called for the state’s businesses to consider supporting Democrats. Regressive blogger Charles Kuffner makes a similar argument:

Look, there are plenty of things the business lobby likes that I don’t like…. But my argument is that almost by default these guys are more in line with the Democrats these days than they are with the Republicans, and they need to recognize that whatever reservations they may have about the Dems, one-party rule in this state is not a good thing for them. They don’t need to link hands with the SEIU, but a limited strategic alliance could be quite beneficial.

Interestingly, both the Chronicle and Kuffner base their arguments on the fact that the Texas Association of Business (TAB) opposes the proposed bathroom bill. And this, they would have us believe, makes the Democrats pro-business.

Let us consider just one part of the Texas Democratic Party Platform to see its views on business:

We support requiring a minimum wage that is at least $15-an hour that is indexed to keep it from eroding again. No longer should corporate profits be subsidized by letting corporations pay poverty-level wages that leave the taxpayer footing the bill for public benefits to their employees.

In other words, businesses will be forced to pay workers more than the owner deems economically appropriate. Politicians, not business owners, will decide what workers should be paid. Seattle and California have implemented a $15 minimum wage, and both are experiencing a record number of business closures. Many businesses simply cannot pay such a wage and remain in business.

In principle, Texas Democrats want to dictate how businesses operate. The platform is sprinkled with other examples, such as a call for protectionism, support for anti-discrimination legislation, and similar violations of property rights

But to the Chronicle and Kuffner, this is irrelevant. They look at one issue, see that Democrats are aligned with the TAB and conclude that the Democratic Party is a perfect fit for the state’s businesses. Never mind that the Democrats want to mimic California’s suicidal economic policies.

Certainly, the Republicans aren’t perfect. But they show some semblance of respect for business and property rights. The Democrats respect neither.

“Make America Great Again”

Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan was a great success. It resonated with a lot of voters and in my opinion was the main reason he won the election (along with a lot of votes that were simply against Hillary).

But in all the rhetoric associated with that slogan and his campaign, there was no mention whatsoever as to what it was that originally made America great. If one examines the founding political principles of this country, one principle stands out above all – individual rights.

Based on this principle the Founding Fathers devised a system that was unprecedented in human history, a system that restricted the power of government via a constitution. This prevented a dictator from rising to power that would be nothing more than a substitute for King George III.

Included in this basic principle is the right to property, which means the right to use and dispose of material values. It also means that production was vested in the hands of private entrepreneurs with no government interference.

It should be stressed that the constitution was severely flawed in three main areas; it did not abolish slavery, it granted the power of eminent domain which is a blatant violation of property rights, and it granted the federal government the power to regulate interstate commerce.

But the underlying principle of a constitution to restrict the power of government was and is the greatest political achievement in mankind’s history. It replaced “might makes right” with the rights of man. This political freedom, along with the great scientific discoveries of the era, paved the way for the unprecedented production of wealth in areas of transportation, communication, construction, energy, and medicine – just to name a few. This is the cause of the tremendous wealth, the ever increasing lifespan and standard of living, and the relative peace that has characterized America.

Additionally, two other principles that are derivatives of individual rights were of paramount importance in America’s growth – free trade and open immigration. Contrary to the xenophobia inherent in collectivist systems, America welcomed foreigners and the products of foreigners. Americans recognized that under a system of individual rights, there was no inherent conflict among men, that free trade benefited both parties, and that people who emigrated from collectivist cultures for the freedom of America also had a right to life and were not a burden, but a benefit to the economic wellbeing of the country.

Now let’s examine Trump’s policies and see whether or not he upholds the underlying principle that made America great. Even a cursory knowledge of his policies clearly shows he does not. His promises to retract free trade agreements with other countries, his desire to impose tariffs on imported goods, and his determination to build a wall along the Mexican border put him in the same camp as the collectivists of the world.

Also, in Trump’s business dealings prior to his election, he benefitted from eminent domain in building his real estate empire. Eminent domain gives the government power to expropriate private property for “public” use. (There is compensation for the property owner but he is still forced to accept the exchange and give up his property). This power can be used for the benefit of some private parties at the expense of others. Trump repeatedly lobbied government agencies in this area to extort property from owners who refused to sell to him, claiming that it promotes “economic development”. This allowed him to expand his empire but certainly didn’t help those whose property rights were destroyed.

Trump’s mantra of “making deals” to benefit America sounds benign on the surface but examining his views on deal making closer reveals that he believes there is an inherent conflict between parties in such deals. In an interview during his campaign he said deals are “give and take”. Then he said “But it’s gotta be mostly take. Because you can’t give. You gotta mostly take”.  Therefore a “deal” to him is a win-lose proposition, and he projects this same attitude towards trade with foreign nations. This is the root of his antagonism to free trade.

Trump’s policies show that he exhibits the same xenophobia inherent in the collectivist policies that have been systematically destroying America for decades. His policies will not “make America great again,” – they will do the opposite.

Texans Face a Choice

A recent Chronicle editorial tells us that Texas businesses must choose who their allies are in the state legislature. Traditionally, state Republicans have been viewed as business-friendly, but the editorial questions whether that remains true.

That choice isn’t between Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative. That’s not the divide in Texas anymore. The choice is growth or stagnation. Either we move forward, encourage businesses and leave a foundation for the next generation of well-educated leaders. Or we let our state slip into a self-imposed slump.

Encouraging businesses is certainly a good thing. But consider what the editorial considers to be pro-business:

The ongoing legislative session only has a few months to address the big items on its plate – school finance reform, child protective services, foster care, the special education cap, maternal mortality, early childhood intervention, mental health and all the other concerns that have transformed this legislative session into the year of Texas kids. These are the issues that will keep our state moving forward and help maintain the Texas economic miracle for the next generation.

All of the items listed are best labeled as social programs. The paper doesn’t tell us how these encourage businesses. But it does tell us what will discourage businesses—the proposed bathroom bill.

The entire editorial is just under 600 words, and more than 400 words are devoted to chastising the bathroom bill. The Chronicle would have us believe that the key to the state’s economic future is defeating the bill.

While the proposed bathroom bill is certainly a horrible piece of legislation, the litany of social programs the paper is pushing are just as bad. And they have nothing to do with creating a business-friendly environment.

The Texas economy has prospered because of the state’s low taxes and less burdensome regulations. Yet, the paper says nothing about this. Apparently, our future economic well-being hinges more on doing things for “the children” and rejecting the bathroom bill rather than respecting and protecting individual rights, including property rights.

To its credit, the editorial is consistent—all of its suggestions involve the violation of individual rights. Each of the issues listed violates individual rights by forcing taxpayers to fund social programs, regardless of the judgment and desires of individual taxpayers. Rejecting the bathroom bill and allowing local jurisdictions to pass ordinances governing private businesses violates property rights by forcing owners to act contrary to their own judgment.

If violating individual rights was the path to economic prosperity, then North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela would be economic marvels. But they aren’t because violating individual rights is the path to misery.

The Chronicle is right. Texans do face a choice and it isn’t between Regressives and conservatives. The choice is between individual rights and statism.

Defending the Indefensible

Government school bureaucrats are circling the wagons. They believe that their fiefdoms are under assault by charter schools and school voucher advocates. In response, bureaucrats from at least twenty-five local school districts have formed a coalition to improve the government school “brand.”

The organization—Go Public Gulf Coast—is divided on the issue of working with charter schools. Cy-Fair ISD Superintendent Mark Henry opposes cooperating with charter schools:

“I view this as a universal traditional public school organization,” Henry said. “I’m not against public charter school cooperation, but for-profit and even nonprofit charters, I don’t think they do anything positive for our school districts.”

Charter schools operate with fewer government regulations and controls, as well as a budget that is $1,400 per student less than traditional government schools. Bureaucrats like Henry aren’t interested in learning how charter schools operate more efficiently and more effectively. They are only interested in protecting their turf.

If government school bureaucrats were truly interested in improving education, they would welcome any opportunity to do so. They would welcome the ideas and systems that charter schools could offer. Instead, they consider charter schools to be mortal enemies and have shut their minds to anything charter schools could offer.

Christine Isett, director of communications for the Texas Charter Schools Association, disagreed with Henry:

“Anything that increases quality of public school options for students, whether traditional or charter, we’re for that. If charters create competition and increase performance of school districts, who wins? The kids,” Isett said. “This us-vs.-them dialogue is not helpful.”

Unlike Henry, Isett doesn’t shy away from competition and seems to have the best interest of students in mind. But she could, and should, advocate for abolishing government schools and creating a truly competitive market in education.

That government school advocates are opposed to anything that gives parents more choices is revealing. They obviously have little confidence in their ability to attract students when parents have more options. Instead, they want to defend a system that relies on coercion for both its funding and its customers.

Morally, that system is indefensible. It is time for rational Texans to recognize that fact and get government out of education.

Rally for School Choice

Approximately 4,000 people gathered in Austin on Tuesday to support more educational choices for Texas parents. Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick spoke in favor of giving parents more choices. Predictably, the political Left opposes more school choice. The Chronicle reports:

Opponents say Patrick’s plans to allow parents to pay for private school with public funds will drain money from already struggling public schools.

“Democrats and Republicans in Texas have come together to defeat vouchers in every legislative session since 1995. It’s time state leaders drop their pursuit of vouchers and instead focus on giving our public schools and the children of Texas the resources they need to succeed,” said Kathy Miller, president of the left-leaning watchdog group Texas Freedom Network.

As I’ve written, the proposal being pushed by Abbott and Patrick isn’t ideal. Government will still hold the purse strings and set the rules. But giving parents some choice is better than allowing them no choice.

Statists don’t want individuals to have choices. They want individuals to subordinate their own judgment to politicians and bureaucrats. And so, they fight every proposal that might give individuals more choices.

Clearly, educational bureaucrats and their fellow travelers fear what will happen if parents have more choices. They know that many parents will opt out of government schools. But that won’t happen if parents can’t afford the alternatives.

Morally, each individual has a right to act on his own judgment, so long as he respects the right of other to do the same. In the context of education, this means that parents and children have a moral right to choose which schools and curriculums best meet the child’s needs and interests. And it means that other individuals have a moral right to help finance education or abstain.

Government schools attack the rights of parents, students, and taxpayers. It is past time for the State of Texas to end this assault.

Educational Savings Accounts

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Austin, is pushing the state legislature to allow for Educational Savings Accounts (ESA). In a policy paper, the organization states ESAs will address government school funding issues while giving parents more educational choices.

ESAs are a step in the right direction, albeit a very small step. While ESAs will give parents more choices—which is good—the state government will remain involved in education—which is bad.

The paper describes how the program would work:

Education Savings Accounts provide an exciting opportunity for Texas children and the quality of life for future Texans. ESAs will allow parents to customize educational services for the specific needs of each of their children. Participating parents would agree to accept less than the cost to the state for public school education, and in doing so, would receive an account which could only be used to purchase educational services such as accredited private school tuition, online educational services, books, tutors, therapists, public school services, testing, etc. The account would be accessed through a limited-use debit card and be subject to audit to avoid fraud and abuse.

Taxpayers would continue to finance the program. And the state government would dictate how parents could legally use the money.

Like many ideas proposed by conservatives, ESAs are touted as a market solution to the state’s education problems. And like most of those ideas, ESAs are a mixture of government control and individual freedom.

The operative word in “free market” is free—the absence of coercion. But the ESA program will abound with coercion. Taxes will be forcibly collected from Texans. Parents will be forced to spend the money on educational services. And private schools will be forced to meet the state’s dictates if they are to receive payments through the program. While throwing a few crumbs to parents, the state will remain firmly in control of education in Texas.

A truly free market solution would mean removing government from education entirely. It would mean no tax money would be used for education. It would mean no government controls on schools. It would mean no dictates to parents regarding the education of their children.

A free market recognizes the moral right of each individual to produce, trade, and consume the values of his choosing. ESAs do very little to move Texas toward a free market in education.