Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Making a Bad System Worse

There were several references to increasing the minimum wage at the Democratic Presidential debate last night. I would like to address the statement by Bill Richardson, who said that the United States Congress must pass a minimum wage of forty thousand dollars per year for ALL public school teachers. Though I believe the current system fails to adequately compensate educators, Richardson's proposal is economically irresponsible. Many of the arguments against a general minimum wage also apply to raising the minimum wage for public school teachers. Instituting fixed pay for teachers is not the proper economic means to ensure a well-educated studentry.

In some states, educators are now paid based upon their ability and tenure. Promotions and higher pay result when teachers ensure that their students are excelling in the classroom. Instituting a minimum wage would, in essence, do little to ensure that quality teachers are rewarded and recruited. In fact, Bill Richardson's proposal would result in students receiving a poorer education. Some teachers would receive significantly higher compensation from the government regardless of how their students perform on standardized tests or other educational benchmarks. The average teacher's salary is already higher than the minimum wage proposed by Richardson. According to USA Today, the average teacher earns over forty-six thousand dollars per year. In other words, the youngest, least experienced, and worst quality teachers will be disproportionately benefited as a result of such legislation. A guaranteed wage would also stifle the drive to work harder and develop new teaching techniques which will benefit students. A minimum teaching wage lowers the incentives for educators to increase their own knowledge and skills. If a teacher is confronted with a choice between thirty-five thousand dollars a year with no master's degree or forty-five thousand dollars a year with one, it would obviously pay for the teacher to pursue a master's degree. When that choice is between forty thousand dollars a year without a master's degree or forty-five thousand dollars a year with one, the impetus for improving one's skills declines significantly (since there is less reward). Simply put, the quality of teaching will decline precipitously after the introduction of a minimum wage for teachers.

In the free market, increasing the minimum wage significantly would result in greater unemployment, since businesses would take fewer risks in hiring new employees because they must pay them an artificially high wage. In addition, any employee whose productivity does not compensate his employer for the wage he earns will be fired. With our education system, however, the results will be quite different. Since teachers receive their compensation directly from the taxpayer, four possibilities emerge. The first, and most likely result, is that more students will be placed in each classroom to lessen the burden on the taxpayer. Rather than having thirty students in a class, forty may be placed in a single classroom to offset the increased wages given to teachers. Teachers will get more money as a result, but the quality of education will undoubtedly decrease as students receive less personal attention from a teacher. However, this will be a viable solution for school districts if the budget remains static after a minimum wage for teachers is implemented. This also would allow the same number of teachers to remain employed.

The second possibility is an increase in taxes. Keeping classroom size and quality identical under this new policy would require a significant tax increase. As a result, millions of dollars will be taken from the taxpayers and redirected to public school teachers. If educational quality was improved dramatically, these added taxes might be worthwhile. However, as we are continuing to see, educational quality actually decreases with Richardson's proposal. Though such a tax increase is a distinct possibility, the third or fourth possibilities are more likely to occur.

A teacher's minimum wage might also cause capital to be substituted where it would otherwise be less efficient to do so. For instance, computers may be given to every student in order to facilitate learning, even though it would be more efficient for teachers to merely teach. If this occurs, our resources paid into the system as taxpayers will be used less efficiently. What happens when resources are not used most efficiently? The economy as a whole suffers and the standard of living is decreased.

Finally, the most skilled and experienced educators will likely receive a pay decrease as a result of the new minimum wage. In order to offset the pay increases for those who are currently making less than minimum wage without increasing taxes, class size, or substituting capital, the best teachers will fall victim to wage reductions. These same teachers might now look to private schools or other employment opportunities rather than endure a pay cut (or, at the very least, stagnant wages). Even if current class sizes are maintained and the taxpayer is placated, the educational quality of our public schools will be drastically harmed as the best teachers leave the public schools in droves. Ultimately, while New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's idea may seem like the panacea our education system desperately needs, his proposal will only move our school systems further down the road of quality deterioration.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Legal, Economic, and Moral Dilemma

I decided to write this article after conducting conversations with many of this blog’s readers. Not surprisingly, many people believe that there are no inherent problems to downloading copyrighted material for free (music piracy). This is a response (or, more accurately, a plea) to those who hold this viewpoint. This is not meant to be a judgmental piece: first, because I have “file swapped” before; and second, this article was written as much to outline my own beliefs on the subject as it was to put forth my views to others.

The prime reason that every person in the United States should refrain from downloading copyrighted music for free is that it is illegal. There is no difference between downloading music from a peer-to-peer network, or directly from a music database. In the landmark Supreme Court ruling in the case of MGM v. Grokster in 2005, the Court unanimously ruled that peer-to-peer networks which allow for copyrighted material to be transferred between two or more parties can be held liable for copyright infringement. Thus, in the eyes of the law, using a peer-to-peer network to download music for free is no different from downloading music from a database of pirated music.

Second, “file swapping” is indeed illegal in and of itself. In 1997, the No Electronic Theft Act (NETA) was passed which makes it a federal felony to file swap, even through peer-to-peer networks. Furthermore, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is an additional law through which music pirates can be held to account.

Third, though some individuals claim that the government’s and music industry’s non-enforcement of these legal provisions is tacit assent to download, this is logically incorrect. Most Americans (including myself) drive over the speed limit. In fact, in a majority of cases were a police officer is visible, the officer is actually driving faster than I am. Merely because law enforcement agents do not adequately enforce the speed limit does not give me (or anyone else) liberty to go whatever speed we want and disregard the law by traveling 100 mph. Our society simply does not work that way. In the same way, even if the government or the music industry is not adequately enforcing the law, this does not in any way give us an excuse to flout the law.

Fourth, whether you agree with intellectual property rights (IP) or not is irrelevant. If you are against upholding IP you can work to change the existing laws. However, just because we as American may not agree with a certain law does not give us an excuse to radically disregard it. If I do not agree with our country’s laws regarding murder, I am not free to kill someone.

Now that we have established the more than questionable legality of downloading copyrighted material from sources such as Kazaa, Grokster, or Limewire, let us look at several other points which are applicable to this discussion. In addition to the legal reasons against illegally downloading copyrighted material, there are also economic concerns. The following is an example from

“A good example is Hong Kong, where a thriving movie industry was so hurt by rampant piracy that, just a few years ago, observers were predicting it would disappear from the filmmaking map. Similar developments have taken place in the world of music. Ethiopian musicians went on a seven-month strike in 2003 to press for better anti-piracy measures from the government. These artists all understood the importance of protecting their works from pirates.”

Though some artists may have no problems with downloading music illegally, empirical evidence suggests that the majority of musicians and music companies are working hard to mount a defense against the problems of music piracy. Music piracy also works to stifle creativity. When there is no incentive for invention, our economy will suffer. Once again from

“Many new musical voices, new authors, and new stories on film around the world have never been made available, simply because the incentives were not there for these artists to take a risk. They have known that whatever they produce will be immediately pirated -- stolen -- and they will not be provided the means to develop their talent.”

Rampant piracy will have the effect of discouraging innovation and the development of new talent. In actuality, “file swapping” works counter-intuitively. The same people who download the music will be harmed by the decrease in music available for sale. After all, why would artists and studios continue to produce if there music is readily available to the public for free?

Most importantly, however, we must also see what the Bible has to say on this issue. I believe I can say most assuredly that we are not given any example in the Bible regarding “file swapping”. However, we are given many passages which shed light on this issue.

First, the Bible mandates that we submit to those in authority over us. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” (Romans 13: 1-2) God has called us to subject ourselves to the laws and rulers of our government. To disobey this decree is a direct violation of God’s command. The only time this earthly law should be disobeyed is when it contravenes God’s law. I am unconvinced that laws against “file swapping” violate God’s law.

Second, we are not to use our Christian liberty as an excuse for illegal (or even unethical) actions. “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with welldoing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As fee, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.” (1 Peter 2: 13-14) Even though Christ has taken the penalty of our sin, He has called us to obey not only his law but the law of the land.

And third, we also need to exemplify Christ-like behavior. When non-Christians look at our lives they should see a stark contrast between the world and us. Obeying not only God’s law but also the laws of this country is a shining example to others of the difference that Christ makes in the lives of those who follow him.

“File swapping” is more than just downloading music to listen to: it is a legal, economic, and moral dilemma. I hope that I have helped to bring clarity to this debate and challenged many longstanding assumptions to music piracy. Please post comments to let me know what you think.

Levi W. Swank

Monday, February 5, 2007

Coming Soon...

Though this blog rarely delves into issues of morality and religion, I will be suspending this injunction for an upcoming post. Due to the relevance and applicability of this topic to everyday life, I am currently working on an article entitled, "A Moral Dilemma: The Illegality of File Sharing" which will deal with the issue of file sharing from a legal and Christian standpoint. Though some individuals' views on this issue are rooted in dogmatism, I am nonetheless hoping that I will sway some of you to my side. Though this article will not be finished until sometime next week, feel free to enjoy the archives (especially my personal favorite: "The Conservative Majority":)


Sunday, February 4, 2007

More Flip-Flops than a House of Pancakes

At the Davos economic summit this past week, former Presidential candidate and U.S. Senator John Kerry announced that America is an "international pariah". Senator Kerry believes that the United States's refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty and its lackluster campaign against the spread of HIV/AIDS has harmed its image and led to it being an outcast. The Washington Times astutely pointed out several aspects of John Kerry's hypocrisy.

First, President Bush was not the first politician to reject the Kyoto global warming treaty, which would cap carbon emissions and institute a carbon trading system among developed countries such as the United States. But as the New York Times pointed out last month, Chinese emission will surpass those of the United States by the year 2009. However, the Kyoto Treaty would not cap the carbon emissions of developing countries such as China and India. In fact, President Clinton first saw the futility of the Treaty when he refused to submit it to Congress in 1997. In addition, the Senate voted unanimously to reject the treaty. One of the Senators who voted against the Kyoto Treaty was none other than John Kerry.

As for fighting AIDS, "Mr. Kerry's criticisms are hauntingly similar to al Qaeda's own talking points." The Bush administration has devoted three times the capital to fighting AIDS overseas than the Clinton administration did during the 1990s. And yet, Senator Kerry joins with Al Qaeda in blaming the US (and the Bush administration) rather than applauding its devotion to halting this disease's spread.

John Kerry still hasn't learned his lesson from the 2004 Presidential campaign. Some political analysts have suggested that the Bush campaign's characterization of John Kerry as a "flip flopper" was merely political rhetoric. Events since Kerry's failed Presidential bid reveal the truth behind this characterization.

Levi W. Swank

Monday, January 22, 2007

An Arab Ambassador

In his new book, Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid, former President Jimmy Carter lays most of the blame for the current state of violence in the Middle East on the shoulders of Israel. The conflict is caused, according to Carter, by the "occupation of Arab land". Such direct and inflamatory statements are not usually made by Presidents, men who are not known for their candor. In fact, Carter's book has come under fire from just as many liberals as conservatives.

Alan M. Dershowitz is an author, attorney, and Harvard Law professor who is disgusted by former President Carter's new book. Ironically enough, Dershowitz is also a liberal. Dershowitz claims that Carter has been "bought, paid for and delivered by Arab money". Dershowitz cites the fact that the Carter Center has received over $10 million dollars "directly from the king of Saudi Arabia. (World Magazine)" In addition, Carter has accepted money and an award from an anti-semitic Arab thinktank based in Dubai, leading to a conjecture that Carter himself is an anti-semite.

Dershowitz isn't the only individual upset by Carter's book. In fact, 14 members of the Carter Foundation recently resigned claiming that Carter's book was not written by the Jimmy Carter they came to respect and support. One of these members, who had been with the organization for over 23 years, resigned because Carter's book is "replete with factual errors [and] copied materials not cited." Furthermore, former Mideast envoy Dennis Ross who served under Presidents Carter, Bush, and Clinton claims that Carter used some maps he created and twisted their meaning.

Sadly, President Carter's newest literary masterpiece is more akin to fiction than fact. Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid may cause Jimmy Carter to lose any shred of legitimacy he has left as a world leader and peace activist.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

McCain Attempts to Bridge Gap with Religious Right

After alienating many conservatives with his past comments regarding the religious right, Arizona Senator John McCain is attempting to bridge the gap between himself and a significant group of his constituents. These attempts have met with a cold response from Focus on the Family's Dr. James Dobson. Dr. Dobson said in no uncertain terms that he would never support Senator McCain's Presidential ambitions.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Please, No More Senators!

If the past 5 decades have told us anything, it is that sitting United States Senators have an extremely difficult time achieving the nation's highest office. So when I read the news (with a look of chagrine, I might add) that Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd and Delaware Senator Joseph Biden entered the 2008 Presidential race I was somewhat surprised. For some reason or another, Northeastern liberal Senators still insist that they have broad appeal with the electorate. Together, Dodd and Biden have spent over half of a century in the Senate, and both of them are clearly Washington insiders.

Dodd and Biden will have to overcome the exact same hurdles Senator Kerry unsuccessfully jumped. According to Time Magazine, Biden (who has spent over half of his life in the Senate) is "Very much a creature of Washington and often sounds like it when he's delivering long-winded answers on Sunday talk shows." Sound familiar? The other Kerry clone, Senator Chris Dodd, brings his fiery nature to the table, something the voters will assuredly find repugnant.

Needless to say, both of these men must overcome the stigma of being Washington insiders if they are going to make it past Iowa. All things considered, I believe both Dodd’s and Biden’s Presidential bids will meet with the same success as those of Senator Kerry.