The Common Core initiative to establish national education standards was adopted by many states with little opposition a few years ago but has become highly controversial. Both its chief critics and its defenders now distort the program's real character. The truth is that while there is a case for some nationwide standards, the Common Core was pushed through too quickly and carelessly, and the Obama administration unwisely put its muscle behind it, in ways that ensured a tepid commitment from most states, the politicization of the project, and the likely irredeemable mess we now see.
The Earned Income Tax Credit is an important component of America's safety net, but policymakers on both the left and the right often misstate its purpose and usefulness. Because of the credit's structure, low-income Americans' lack of knowledge about it, and the relationship between poverty and work, the EITC does not appear to drive non-working people into employment, but only to keep low-income workers on the job. Valuable as it is, therefore, it is not a substitute for work requirements in welfare.
Balancing work and family life is one of the most difficult challenges facing many American parents, and, despite their best intentions, lawmakers have only made these decisions more complicated. Because of the incentives built into welfare and the tax systems, mothers are both pushed into the work force and punished for joining it. The federal government should do its best to eliminate these contradictions and ease the burdens parents face.
The growing importance of peer-production firms like Uber and Airbnb has raised important political and policy questions that offer conservatives a great opportunity. While the foremost consumers (and therefore defenders) of such firms are wealthy city-dwellers who tend to vote Democratic, the sharing economy illustrates the benefits of a free-market approach to regulation. If conservatives find a way to shape a free-market message that appeals to this population, they could reap major benefits.
Today's federal budget process allows lawmakers to avoid painful fiscal and economic realities, which means that major problems go unaddressed. Changing that will require political will, but the budget process itself can help build that will. A few key reforms can help prepare the ground for a politics of economic growth and fiscal restraint.
Though the Congressional Budget Office was originally created to ensure fiscal accountability, its methods are prone to manipulation. The CLASS long-term-care program, a now-repealed component of Obamacare, provides a perfect example. CLASS was intentionally designed to appear to create revenue for the federal government within the CBO's ten-year scoring window, making Obamacare as a whole look less costly, when in reality CLASS was fiscally unworkable. The story of CLASS should be a cautionary lesson for budget reformers.
The official CBO cost estimate of a piece of legislation is widely regarded as the final word. But even the CBO acknowledges that, because of its own accounting rules, its estimates often fail to account for financial risk. In the case of student loans, that risk can cost taxpayers billions. The adoption of fair-value accounting, which includes the cost of risk, would remove this distortion and allow for more honest budgeting.
When conservatives consider Hispanic voters, they tend to think about illegal immigration. They would do better to consider the broader experience of Hispanics in America, and how it has taken shape over the past five decades. The government's creation of a Hispanic minority status, the Great Society, and the countercultural revolution shaped the Hispanic experience in ways that will continue to have huge negative consequences for Hispanic families — and for conservatives — if they are not addressed.
Americans in the 21st century are living through a period of rapid social and economic change, and our established ways of thinking about public questions have not been serving us well. Regaining our balance will require us to open our eyes to the simultaneously disturbing and encouraging trends before us and to reflect on what it means to be a free person in a free society. Taking that question seriously can help us overcome the radical individualism that is the scourge of our time.