Articles by David Kirby

David is currently Senior Director of Academic Programs at the Institute for Humane Studies, where he manages programs for aspiring academics in the humane and social sciences. He is also an associate policy analyst with the Cato Institute, where he researches libertarian voting preferences. Before joining IHS, David was executive director of America’s Future Foundation. Under David’s leadership, AFF became the premier organization for young conservative and libertarian leaders and expanded to include chapters in five states. David’s writing has appeared in the National Review Online, Tech Central Station, Human Events, and other publications. His research has been cited in the New York Times, Economist, Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, National Review, and National Journal. In his misspent youth, David interned for Senator Ted Kennedy. David holds an MPP from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. A college debater, he also has a BA in rhetoric from Bates College. David is a native of Fairfax, VA. In his spare time, he practices Krav Maga, a mixed martial art.

Can Ron Paul extend beyond his libertarian base? He did in New Hampshire

The media story for Ron Paul is high floor, low ceiling–that he can’t reach beyond his loyal libertarian base.  Karl Rove made this case in his post-Iowa column in the Wall Street Journal:

Because he has a high floor of support but also a very low ceiling, Texas Congressman Ron Paul is likely to have seen his high-water mark Tuesday. The results provided him little that helps him broaden his support in New Hampshire and subsequent primaries.

Now we have exit polls in New Hampshire to test Rove’s claim.

First, Ron Paul doubled his 2008 vote total in Iowa, but tripled his New Hampshire total, gaining over his previous high-water mark. And relative to the fiscally conservative, socially liberal/moderate voters we identified in our studies on the “Libertarian Vote,” Ron Paul seems to have over-performed in New Hampshire among several demographics:

  1. Moderates/liberals on fiscal issues: Ron Paul took 28% compared to Romney’s 34%;
  2. Conservatives on social issues:  Paul got 16% compared to Santorum’s 22%;
  3. Evangelical/born-again: Paul took 21% compared to Santorum’s 23%;
  4. “Is true conservative” most important: Paul won 41%, compared to Iowa, where he only won 37%;
  5. High school or less education: Paul won 26% compared to 23% with more than high school (data show libertarians have higher education than average); and
  6. Decided within last week: Paul won 19% compared to only 11% in Iowa.

Late deciders are particularly telling. If it were true that Ron Paul draws from only an ultra-loyal base, logically, these voters should have made up their mind long ago. Instead,  Paul gained over his Iowa totals among late deciders. Nearly one in five voters who decided within the last week picked Ron Paul. Many of these may well be fiscal moderates or liberals.

New Hampshire seems to be evidence that Paul is gaining beyond his libertarian base.


Is Support for the Tea Party Declining? No.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times and other media outlets reported on a new Pew study purportedly showing declining support for the Tea Party.  But according to Washington Post/ABC News polling, support for the Tea Party has ranged between 42 and 47 percent  from April through December 2011–statistically about the same. If you go back further, Washington Post polls found 27 percent support in May 2010 and 38 percent support in October 2010, when many people didn’t know about the Tea Party. If anything, support has increased or leveled off. See Question 25:

Q25. On another subject, what is your view of the Tea Party political movement – would you say you support it strongly, support it somewhat, oppose it somewhat or oppose it strongly?

           -------- Support --------   --------- Oppose --------     No
           NET   Strongly   Somewhat   NET   Somewhat   Strongly   opinion
12/18/11   42      13         28       45       20         26        13
11/3/11    43      14         29       44       20         24        13
10/2/11    42      12         30       47       20         27        11
9/1/11     47      13         35       45       18         27         8
7/17/11    44      13         31       46       23         24        10
6/5/11     46      13         33       44       21         24        10
4/17/11    42      16         26       49       21         27        10
10/3/10    38      13         25       36       28         18        26
5/5/10     27      17         10       24       11         13        44
*Note slightly different question wording 10/3/10 and 5/5/10
So who’s right, Pew or WashingtonPost?

Depends on which question framing you like better. Pew’s question asks respondents whether they agree/disagree with the Tea Party,  and Washington Post asks respondents whether they support/oppose, strongly/somewhat. That’s a subtle but important difference. The agree/disagree framing is more binary and forces a choice as if the Tea Party stands for one thing. Washington Post’s question allows for a respondent who, say, supports  the Tea Party on spending cuts, but doesn’t agree with the Tea Party on some other issue. Such a respondent could “somewhat support.” That allows for a wider range of opinions. And  notice that respondents who say “no opinion” is higher with the Pew questions, usually a sign that respondents reject the question frame or that it doesn’t accurately capture how people think about it.


Libertarian half of Tea Party is winning

The WSJ editorial board today calls the federal budget deal “The Tea Party’s First Victory.” They argue that the GOP made the right call to compromise on defunding Planned Parenthood to better position themselves to win the larger spending fight on entitlements.

What I found interesting is the lesson the WSJ editors suggest Republicans take from this:

Now the battle moves to the debt ceiling increase and Paul Ryan’s new 2012 budget later this year, and there are lessons from this fight to keep in mind. One is to focus on spending and budget issues, not extraneous policy fights. Republicans have the advantage when they are talking about the overall level of spending and ways to control it. They lose that edge when the debate veers off into a battle over social issues.

As I’ve argued previously, the Tea Party is split roughly 50-50 between libertarians and social conservatives. Spending and budget issues unite the Tea Party. Social issues divide them. In House Republican’s first big test, leadership seems to have gotten the message.

But isn’t this a sign of how far the GOP has come in a libertarian direction? Could you imagine such a compromise even a few years ago under George W. Bush’s Republican Party? Surely, there is much, much more Republicans could do. But for now, a good sign that the libertarian half of the Tea Party is winning.

AT&T announces price cuts for most data customers

Free-market types failed to stop TARP in part because “no” seemed an untenable option to many lawmakers. “We have to do something!” many argued.

In an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, University of Pensylvania professor David Skeel offers an affirmative defense when California, New York, Illinois, or other cash strapped states come knocking for a similar bailout–rather than “no,” offer a federal bankruptcy proceeding for the states.

At a Mercatus Center event last week, Manhattan Institute scholar Steve Malanga argued that the more likely scenario is that cities and municipalities default first, and that states will have to bailout cities. He was less certain about the Constitutionality of a bankruptcy proceeding for states, given sovereign immunity issues.

GOP chances of retaking Senate still a long-shot

Looking at last night’s election returns, the media story has been about a Tea Party “coup,” particularly the upset by Christine O’Donnell over GOP-favorite Mike Castle in Delaware. GOP strategists argued that O’Donnell couldn’t win in the general, and that Republicans would forfeit their chances of retaking the Senate.

Well, now that the Intrade markets have settled down, we can look to see how much Republican’s chances have really changed. In the last 24 hours, the price for the contract that the Republicans control the Senate went from 26 to 21. In odds, the market is saying that the GOPs chances of retaking the senate have gone from roughly 3 to 1, to 4 to 1.

Yes, their chances have decreased. But it  was a long shot, and it still is.

Relationship between spontaneous order and creation?

Stephen Hawking’s new book, The Grand Design, has been making news. He argues that the fundamental physics of the universe don’t require a creator, rather universes can be created spontaneously. You can get a flavor of the book’s argument from Hawking’s op-ed in this past weekends WSJ. Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss at Arizona State University has another WSJ op-ed today explaining more.

I don’t pretend to fully understand all the physics here, and I look forward to reading the book. But for free market types, this idea of spontaenous creation intuitively jives with the principle from economics of spontaneous order–the idea that the order we observe in the marketplace doesn’t require a planner, but instead can emerge spontaneously.

Beyond markets, scholars have used spontaneous order to describe complex phenomena from language to evolution. However, I’m not aware of any research that explores the interconnection between spontaneous order and spontaneous creation of the universe. Can anyone point me in right direction?

Fewer Young Voters Self-Identify as Democrats

The New York Times reports that fewer young people (ages 18-29) self-identify as Democrats. Based on Pew data, the percentage of young people who identify or lean Democrat has dropped from 62 percent at  the peak in July 2008 to 54 percent late last year.

While the bad economy and lack of jobs is no doubt weighing heavily on young people’s minds, this raises a question. If many young people lean Democrat, but when the economy is bad lean Republican, what exactly are they?

In the “Libertarian Vote in Age of Obama,” David Boaz and I presented evidence that many of these young people can fairly be called libertarian–that is socially liberal, but fiscally conservative. True, many young libertarians got swept up in the excitement over the Obama campaign, voting 59 percent for Obama to 36 percent McCain. But, we argued, all the talk of a generational realignment towards Obama and the Democrats was premature.

This generation of young people are particularly  prone to disillusionment. And we hypothesized that if the economy stayed bad, many young people, particularly the more libertarian young people, would sour on Obama and jump ship. Perhaps we’re now seeing some evidence that confirms this.

However, I don’t think Republicans are out of the woods yet. Even if young people vote against Democrats in 2010, Republicans will need to provide a credible alternative that addressed the concerns of a more libertarian-leaning generation of potential young voters. This will be a long-term challenge for a Republicans.

A defining idea for academia: jobs

With regulators forcing for-profit-colleges to disclose more data, and the industry facing increased scrutiny, at least you can say that for-profits attempt to train many graduates for jobs. In an article for the Chronicle Review this week,  Camille Paglia, argues that traditional four-year colleges should be doing the same:

“Jobs, and the preparation of students for them, should be front and center in the thinking of educators. The idea that college is a contemplative realm of humanistic inquiry, removed from vulgar material needs, is nonsense. The humanities have been gutted by four decades of pretentious postmodernist theory and insular identity politics…. That may mean a radical stripping down of course offerings… every four-year college or university should forge a reciprocal relationship with regional trade schools.”

Could “progressive conservative” work in the US?

Thinking about liberalism in Europe, Tim Lee writes:

The [recent] British and German experiences also provide support for the Boaz/Kirby argument about the libertarian vote in the US. The FDP and Lib Dems have historically gotten around 10 percent of the vote, on par with Boaz and Kirby’s estimates of the size of the libertarian vote in the United States. Boaz and Kirby also argued that the political effectiveness of libertarians is maximized when libertarians aren’t too closely tied to either end of the political spectrum. A credible threat to walk away from the Republican Party and support Democrats will give both major parties an incentive to take libertarian voters. That certainly seems to be confirmed by recent developments in the UK, where the Liberal Democrats were able to push their coalition government in a direction more friendly to civil liberties.

It occurs to me that there’s another way libertarians in the US could learn from the British example. In the US, the libertarian movement has been tarnished by the confusion over the word “libertarian,” and its many negative connotations. In Britain, David Cameron described his vision for liberalism as “progressive conservatives.”  While libertarians wouldn’t agree with everything on Cameron’s agenda, could this be a better label for the libertarian brand in the US?

KaplanU: Corporate bravado or genuine threat?

Kaplan University recently launched an advertizing campaign that announces in bold terms its aspirations to “use technology to rewrite the rules of higher education.” At an AEI event, KaplanU’s CEO Andrew Rosen argued that if you accept that incentives affect behavior, then you should expect that the quality of for-profit education should outperform non-profits over time. This is the “logical result” of a much clearer set of incentives – for customers, future employers, board members, and shareholders. If students don’t achieve learning outcomes and don’t get jobs, they’ll go somewhere else. For-profits must outperform or go out of business. Where does this logic lead? Rosen predicted that KaplanU will become the “world’s best educator by 2020.” Is this corporate bravado or a genuine threat to traditional education? There is certainly evidence to support Rosen’s case. For instance, it took Harvard 25 years to recommend curricular reform in 2005. And the ideas sat on the shelf until 2007. Since then, progress has been uneven at best. Harvard’s case is by no means unique. For those who appreciate that incentives matter, Rosen certainly seems to have a point. But I suspect that this past month’s hearings in the U.S. Congress on regulating for-profits is only a sneak preview of efforts to restrict this logic from playing out.

What are the most libertarian states?

Jason Sorens over at the The Fund for American Studies blog has a series of interesting posts attempting to identify the most libertarian states. Using factors that include Ron Paul’s vote share, the number of Ron Paul donors per state, Libertarian Party vote in the 2008 presidential election, and other variables, he concludes:

The states with the most libertarians are Montana, Alaska, New Hampshire, and Idaho, with Nevada, Indiana, Georgia, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, Utah, California, and Colorado following.

Can some dude without a PhD out teach MIT in math and engineering?

Technology can lower the barriers to entry for many industries. Writers without formal journalism training start blogs, break news, and attract readership that rivals major news organizations. Citizens without formal political training organize Tea Party rallies through the internet, run for office, and even beat establishment candidates in some cases, as election returns showed earlier this week.

But could some dude without a PhD teach college math and engineering? And history and biology? And beat MIT?

Well today, the Chronicle profiles Salman Khan, a 33 year-old former financial analyst, who has created 1,400 educational videos and posted them to YouTube, teaching math, engineering, history, biology, and other subjects that he finds interesting. His “Khan Academy” gets more views than MIT, famous for its early “open courseware” experiment, according to YouTube’s educational section. Iconoclast technology guru Jason Fried of 37signals has even invested in Khan Academy, arguing:

The next bubble to burst is higher education. It’s too expensive for people—there’s no reason why parents should have to save up a hundred grand to send their kids to college. I like that there are alternative ways of thinking about teaching.

Of course, breathless pronouncements about the power of technology have certainly been overstated before. And among businesses that are slow to change, certainly academia must rank among the slowest. But just how fast could academic entrepreneurs like Khan shake things up? I’d be eager to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Wrong method to identify libertarians

George Mason University economist Dan Klein had an op-ed in yesterday’s WSJ arguing that the Left flunks Econ 101. Using data collected by Zogby, Klein argues that liberals perform worse than conservatives or libertarians on a series of eight questions testing basic economic concepts. The longer paper that inspired the op-ed is here.

Nate Silver criticizes the question wording and survey instrument here. I just wanted to add a quibble with the method Zogby continues to use to identify libertarians. Zogby includes the word “libertarian” as an option in the traditional conservative-moderate-liberal ideology question. Using this method, Zobgy finds that about 7% of respondents are libertarian. And while this is certainly an improvement over the traditional method, it still underestimates libertarians by at least half. David Boaz and I have shown that between 14% and 23% of Americans hold libertarian beliefs. But data shows that there is much confusion about the word libertarian and that the word remains unfamiliar to many people who hold libertarian beliefs.

There is a better method to parse out ideology to identify liberals, conservatives, and libertarians. David Boaz and I have suggested using a three question screen to identify ideology, combining the best question wording from Gallup and the University of Michigan’s American National Election Studies. Researchers at TargetPoint and Politico used this method to parse out ideology in survey of Tea Party participants, finding that half were libertarian and half conservative. The questions are:

  1. I am going to ask you to choose which of two statements I read comes closer to your own opinion. You might agree to some extent with both, but we want to know which one is closer to your own views: The less government, the better; or, There are more things that government should be doing. [ANES]
  2. We need a strong government to handle today’s complex economic problems; or, The free market can handle these problems without government being involved. [ANES]
  3. Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view? [Gallup]

Of course, additional polling questions cost money. And three questions cost more than one. So if I had to choose only two, I’d pick 2 and 3.

Still, ideology matters. And pollsters do their clients a disservice if they overlook important trends in ideology that make a difference in reading the electorate. For instance, I suspect that pollsters would have detected the rise of the Tea Party, or at least better understood it’s causes and roots, if they had been using this method earlier.

Non-tenure faculty jobs are not all alike

I had written before about how tenure-track faculty positions at colleges and universities are declining relative to contingent faculty positions such as lecturers or instructors. And while the American Federation of Teachers thinks this is uniformly bad news, things may not be so clear cut.

Last week, Ronald Ehrenberg, an economist at Cornell University, presented a paper at AEI’s conference “Reinventing The American University” that reveals some surprising trends. Ehrenberg compiles data that show you can actually make more money as a lecturer at a research university than as an assistant professor. And associate faculty at for-profit institutions actually feel less like second class citizens than adjuncts at traditional universities.

Will Walmart lower college prices?

In September, Washington Monthly profiled online-education company StraighterLine and its radical pricing of $99/month for college credits. Today, the New York Times reports that Walmart will offer online college credit to its employees through American Public University. Are we witnessing the start of an academic arms race of lower prices?

That could be a good thing for consumers. But it recalls the comedy Idiocracy, where Luke Wilson plays a character who reawakens 500 years from now in a world where intelligence has been debased. His public defender earns his law degree from Costco, adding “luckily my dad was an alumnus and pulled some strings.”

HT Katherine Mangu-Ward.

« Older Entries