Waging a war on social science

By John Hood | Jun 11, 2014

RALEIGH — Despite all the talk of a “war on science” being waged by political conservatives and Republican politicians — to match their supposed wars on women, men, the young, and the old, no doubt — North Carolina now features a shrill and relentless rhetorical war on social science by political liberals and Democratic politicians.

In editorials, sound bites, social media, and floor debate, the Left continues to insist that state and local tax burdens have no effect on economic growth, that higher state spending on Medicaid and unemployment insurance creates jobs, that teacher assistants boost student achievement, and that offering teachers bonuses to obtain graduate degrees makes them more effective in the classroom.

None of these claims has empirical support. For decades now, social scientists have examined each and found them wanting. I’m not referring to the work of scholars at think tanks such as the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, or the John Locke Foundation, although I obviously think their contributions are valuable. I’m referring to professors of various disciplines and personal views who publish their findings in peer-reviewed journals.

When liberals claim that taxes don’t affect job creation or economic growth, they are ignoring the results of hundreds of academic studies published since 1990 that reveal negative relationships between state economic performance and overall tax burdens (in 63 percent of the relevant studies), property taxes (61 percent), sales taxes (65 percent), business taxes (67 percent), and marginal income tax rates (70 percent).

When liberals claim that higher state spending on public assistance programs boosts the economy — by increasing the purchasing power of recipients for example — they are ignoring the results of 62 academic studies published on the issue since 1990. In two- thirds of them, higher state spending on public assistance was associated with less economic growth, not more.

When liberals complain that Republican proposals to transfer tax dollars from funding teacher assistants to raising teacher pay will do more harm than good, they are ignoring the fact that 69 percent of studies on the subject found the presence of teacher assistants has no measurable effect on student learning, while the vast majority of empirical research finds the quality of classroom teachers to be a key factor.

And when liberals complain that ending bonuses for graduate degrees will harm teacher quality, they are ignoring a veritable mountain of evidence — 81 percent of the 114 studies published since 1990 — that teachers with graduate degrees are no more effective than teachers without them. It turns out that teacher quality is best evaluated directly on the basis of principal evaluations, value-added test scores, or both, not indirectly on the basis of credentials or years of experience.

By no means do I mean to suggest that every important question about state fiscal and education policy has been answered. Social scientists and policy analysts will have plenty to research, study, and argue about for decades to come.

But some propositions about public policy have now been established beyond a reasonable doubt. For liberals to insist that North Carolina’s recent decisions to reduce and reform taxes, limit entitlement spending, and redirect education dollars to performance-based teacher compensation are “mean-spirited,” “extreme,” “ideologically motivated,” or “immoral” is to establish only that they are ignorant of or indifferent to the findings of modern social science.

It is as if they are flimflammers at a medicine show, holding up colorful bottles of flavored water and promising to cure arthritis, influenza, impotence, and cancer. When challenged to support their claims, they cite folk wisdom and unverifiable anecdotes.

Now, con men got away with old-time medicine scams either by moving from town to town, making money on one-time sales and then fleeing before their rackets were exposed, or by putting liquor in the bottles to provide sufferers with temporary feelings of relief rather than true cures.

Here’s the difference: I believe that many if not most critics of North Carolina’s new fiscal and economic policies actually believe their own sales pitches. They aren’t fly-by-night scam artists. They actually consume their own wares.

How sad.


Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Jun 12, 2014 07:41

   Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!


   'hood fails to document where any of his so-called "studies" were derived.


    Whose the "con-man"?


      Of course lowering taxes on the top brackets attracts/creates business. But only temporarily as other states will react in kind. It is a race to the bottom with the overall tax burden being shifted to the lower and middle tax brackets. I believe Ben Franklin stated it correctly: "Those that chose temporary security over necessary liberty deserve neither." Make no mistake about it the race to the bottom that is now being used by the reactionary conservatives will result in temporary gains but long term inequalities that will/is result(ing) in oppression. Most certainly the failure to expand Medicaid has cost N.C. jobs and worse, unnecessary deaths/suffering of those not treated. Common sense tells me that an unlearned teacher ain't no teacher at all. An advanced degree not in one's field is unneccesary, but one that is should be encouraged. After all We are requiring kids to be in school to learn not just be babysat. Most certainly there are situations that require teachers aides. Local in house judgment should take precedent over state beurocrats (sp) acting from afar.


           Common sense and centuries of experience dictate that money is spent from the bottom up. It is people spending in general that raises all ships. When one ship is given favoritism by forcing the smaller ships to support it, eventually the whole mess will end in anarchy as those forced to endure unwarranted support for the bigger ship will eventually throw off their encumberments and revolt. Wait a minuite, We alreddy did that!

       "Is life so dear or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what couse others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" (Patrick Henry, speech. Virginia Convention, March 23, 1775.)

            While "conservatives" are constantly trying to "con" others into subjection, liberals liberate them.



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