Friday, January 3, 2014

Working Smart and Hard For Local Development: College Educations Are Overprioritized

The Mineral County Development Authority yesterday began advertising for a new executive director.  Requirements include a bachelors' degree in business, economics, or a related field or at least seven years of related experience.  

In the past year, experts have started realizing that the priority reflected in this ad is backwards. Real world experience should count more than paper earned by sitting in a series of classrooms.  This is more true now than ever before, considering the changing priorities of higher education.

The digital age means that people can bypass the traditional four year college degree and find low cost or even free training on their own.  Want to be a reporter? The Douglas Reynolds National Center of Business Journalism offers several free webinars per year to teach newsgathering and writing.  Last summer, Business Insider published descriptions of 12 companies offering training in fast growing fields that cost much less than most four year degrees.

Higher education defenders will say that basic training courses are fine, but one needs college courses to understand the big picture of how the economy works.  Not so.  Many colleges and universities have embraced left wing economic agendas.  Positions like West Virginia University's BB&T endowed chair in free market studies are few and far between.  As higher education watchdog groups like Young America's Foundation point out, courses pushing Marxism and government control of the economy are much more common.

Want an education of how the market works?  Read Milton and Rosa Friedman's Free to Choose.  Or watch his series of videos on You Tube.  Another fine work is the 130 word A Capitalist Manifesto by Gary Wolfram.  Also very accessible is Friedrich Hayek's Road to Serfdom which explains how government can ruin an economy and devolve into tyranny from its own best intentions.  Ten videos and a few hundred pages are much cheaper and much more educational than tens of thousands spent for a four year degree.

Even more importantly, many people at a surprisingly young age learn very quickly about business and economics without ever setting foot in a college.  How?  By working in a family business or starting their own.  Nothing teaches like experience.  Investing the effort and resources, taking the risks, developing judgment, all of these are key elements in building a sound economic mind.  

Mike Rowe, famous for hosting and narrating shows like Deadliest Catch, argues against "propaganda" employed by colleges and universities to increase student populations. He says that pushing college education "worked for colleges, that's fore sure.  Enrollments soared."  But high unemployment among graduates and trillion dollar student debt show that it is not the right fit for a lot of people.  Three million jobs are there for the taking, but colleges do not prepare the young for actual work.

On a side note, it is amazing that the current presidential administration tries to make economic policy without relying on a single individual with such experience.

Experience and the right education teach that economic development revolves around a very simple principle, competitive advantage.  West Virginia economic development fails because it tries to ignore that simple truth.  Elaborate webs of regulations and licensing requirements, too many taxes and fees, and a court system stacked against business all conspire to outstrip the advantages of location, low costs, and available workforce.  Only the worse situations created by Maryland and northern Virginia counties have helped West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle grow as it has.  Their higher taxes, ridiculous zoning and environmental laws, among other things, have made their economic climate conducive mainly to government and non profits.  The private sector in Maryland, outside of the service sector near Washington, is near death.  West Virginia is only attractive in relative terms.  

But our state does not take the steps necessary to make the right changes.  We do not reform our court system.  We do not cut regulations.  We have relied too much in the past on huge tax breaks to targeted industries that usually skip town as soon as the breaks are over.  Meanwhile established businesses in the state have to shoulder their burden.

This is why when local governments advertise for economic development officials, they need to list like this: "Seven years of business experience mandatory.  Understanding of basic free market economics plus state and local business conditions necessary.  Four year degree in economics or business helpful, but not needed."

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Two Very Different "Men of the Year" and How They Define Our Times

The US magazine Time and the UK newspaper the Times both selected very different men of the year for 2013.  Each reflects ascendant spirits with very different worldviews.

Time magazine chose Pope Francis.  The Times selected Russian president Vladimir Putin.

In some ways, this is amazingly Augustinian.  St. Augustine wrote of the division between the City of Man and the City of God.    Vladimir Putin has emerged as a near czar of an expanding informal Russian Empire.  He follows the early 19th century British model of using economics to influence and profit from other nations. But he also follows a very Russian path of controlling border nations to keep the homeland secure.  In this way, Third Rome very much resembles the first.

Pope Francis, known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio before March 13, has emerged as a Catholic Father for his times.  The Cold War needed, for example, the iron tough, theologically sound, and eternally compassionate Pope John Paul II.  No pope since the Middle Ages had the impact of the man Catholics and many other Christians call "John Paul the Great" (a moniker not bestowed on a Pope since the 600s.)  His leadership made the Roman Catholic Church a mighty fortress again, regaining credibility and luster after the tragic World War II years.

The 21st Century, however, challenges Christianity in a different way.  Many are lost and want to be found.  While the Church certainly will not abandon doctrine, Francis has pointedly emphasized love, forgiveness, and compassion for the vulnerable.  This may not look like power, but it works effectively in contrast.  John Paul II's expression of these sentiments helped the Polish Pope bring down the Eastern Bloc.  Francis' message will thrive in places such as Cuba, where Communism lost credibility years ago.  Or Africa where Christians face determined Islamic expansionists.  The Christian faith at its core remains the simplest and most profound way to make sense of man's place in the world.  Pope Francis, agree or disagree with the details of some of his pronouncements, is a powerful ambassador of faith.  He senses that the world is changing and seeks to adapt Catholic teaching to it without abandoning fundamental foundations of faith.

Power matters to Putin, too.  He has gradually absorbed Belarus, convincing that impoverished republic to cede sovereign right after sovereign right.  Before Christmas, he offered a bailout to corrupt and struggling Ukraine.  Historically Belarus is "White Russia," Russia proper is "Great Russia," and Ukraine is "Little Russia."  Ukraine, however, is where Russia began.  Russian nationalism craves respect and seeks to ground its actions in tradition and history.  Putin's slow moves westward reflect these old habits.

But how well grounded is that power?  Russia has relied heavily on natural gas revenues to fund its return to world prominence.  The United States, however, as reported by the Washington Free Beacon, could undermine Putin's plans.  As West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Texas sprout gas wells that rely on cheap hydrofracturing techniques, they threaten to undercut Russian dominance of this market in the Eastern Hemisphere.  In the same way that late 20th century Middle Eastern oil was cheaper for Americans to buy abroad than produce at home, so US gas undermines Russia and depresses prices in the entire gas market.

Unless Russia can diversify or convince Obama to shut off the tap, the moment in the sun carved out by Putin for Russia could be brief.

Putin's hard nosed domestic approach runs counter to Francis' preaching as well.  The Russian president is essentially conservative in the European sense (not, I repeat, not the American. Or the British, for that matter.)  European conservatives emphasize order above liberty.  They prefer control and predictability in both domestic and international affairs.  Russia particularly has feared the advance of uncontrolled social movements regardless of whether they were ruled by the czar or the Politboro.

These two men both qualify as "Man of the Year" for different reasons.  And there is no reason to think that their influence and appeal will diminish in the next 12 months.  What should be troubling for the United States is that neither figure needs to account for America in any way in terms of his ideals, values, or morality. We are no longer a major part of their conversation.  Whether one sees the US as a powerful example of a Judeo-Christian republic or a force for liberty and natural rights, the demise of America under Obama is underscored by the emergence of these men.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Michigan the Latest to Chip Away At Federal Supremacy

Last week while most continued to enjoy Christmas with family and friends, the Michigan state legislature enacted significant legislation.  It nullified part of an act of Congress.

Michigan targeted section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act which provided for indefinite detention of US citizens.  Governor Rick Snyder, while signing the legislation, noted that even a warrant for detention could not be enforced in Michigan.  Supporters say that the Michigan legislation reaffirms both 5th Amendment rights of due process and 10th Amendment protections of state sovereignty.

This follows on the heels of a South Carolina bill annulling Obamacare within that state.  It passed major hurdles this month and is expected to land on Governor Nikki Haley's desk in January.  There is no doubt that she will sign the legislation.

Nullification has returned from the history books into the undercurrent of state politics.  The doctrine originated with arch slavery defender John C. Calhoun, but was applied to a destructive tariff in the 1830s. Northerners resurrected the ideal while searching for ways to strike down the notorious Fugitive Slave Act in the 1850s.

It was never stricken down by any court of law or force of arms.  Congressional action repealing the Tariff of Abominations in the 1830s placated South Carolina, which suspended the nullification acts.

The main obstacle to nullification lies in the Supreme Court case of McCullough v. Maryland.  This case placed broad limits on the authority of well-established state governments to curtail the actions of weak federal agencies.  After 200 years of federal growth and state weakening, cases arising from nullification acts may be vital to defining down this landmark ruling and carving out a stronger state position.

Acts of nullification generally attack federal authority assumed under the commerce clause. This covers anti-drug actions, the Environmental Protection Agency, and almost any other regulatory part of the Executive Branch. The Constitution states that Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce and has adopted the broadest possible interpretation of it.  Defining down this interpretation is also essential.

The year 2014 will start off with debt crises, foreign crises, and presidential speculation.  Coming up fast, however, is the showdown between federal and state power.