Former Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy testified in a lawsuit brought by minority students last decade that it can take 10 years and $250,000 to $450,000 to fire a lousy teacher. Fewer than 0.002% of teachers in California were dismissed for unprofessional conduct or poor performance.
A single year with a grossly ineffective teacher can cost a classroom of students $1.4 million in lifetime earnings. Less experienced teachers are more likely to be assigned to schools in lower-income neighborhoods. Yet these schools can’t recruit higher-performing teachers by offering higher pay since labor contracts base salaries on experience.
The unions more than anyone else are responsible for racial differences in education. College racial preferences try to paper over those disparities while easing political pressure for education reform. Ms. [Randi] Weingarten can’t admit this because she’d indict her life’s work.
President and publisher Tony Lyons aims to widen the Overton window—the range of ideas that can be discussed—which he considers intolerably narrowed by an unholy alliance of government, media, academics and corporations. His embrace of controversial manuscripts has its costs: It has made enemies of old friends, made it harder to find employees in the ideological monoculture of New York publishing, and brought pressure on his distributor, Simon & Schuster, which has stood by him.
A bearded, fit 60-year-old in a black T-shirt, Mr. Lyons speaks at length about these issues over coffee at New York’s Soho House, a fashionable downtown social club whose denizens might have been dismayed if they overheard our conversation. “If you’re stifling dissent,” he says, “then it’s not just freedom of speech that we’re losing, it’s democracy that we’re losing.
Mr. Lyons grew up in a liberal household on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He recalls with pride that discussion and dissent were dinnertime staples. “I’m still the same kind of free speech Democrat that I would’ve been 30 years ago,” he says. “But other Democrats have changed.”
You may disdain any number of his books, but in recent years his willingness to publish what others won’t has made Skyhorse not only a bulwark of dissent across the political spectrum but also a stronghold of literary culture against its self-righteous antagonists. In 2021, Blake Bailey’s huge biography of Philip Rothwas hailed as “a narrative masterwork” by Cynthia Ozick in the New York Times. Mr. Bailey’s book was the result of uniquely extensive access to the novelist, who died in 2018, as well as to his papers. But when the biographer was accused of sexual misconduct, including rape, W.W. Norton withdrew the book. It remains in print thanks to Skyhorse.
Mr. Lyons doesn’t use sensitivity readers, and that alone qualifies him as a maverick in today’s environment. But he’s really an old-fashioned civil libertarian wary of power in all its forms. He especially deplores the extent to which social-media platforms, traditional media and government seem to have joined hands to combat “misinformation.” He sees such coercive unity as antithetical to the healthy clash of viewpoints necessary for discovering truth.
“The internet started out as an incredible opportunity for freedom of speech,” he says. “You’d have so many voices and the smartest people, the people with the best arguments, would probably rise to the top. And I believe that that would happen if you would allow freedom of speech. But the idea now is that the government wants to tell people what’s right. And even when they’re terribly wrong, they don’t admit to it.”
In April 2019, National Public Radio (NPR) and Kaiser Health News (KHN) ran a story describing the monstrous medical bill a family received after their child was bitten at summer camp by a snake—likely a copperhead—and airlifted to a hospital, where doctors administered four vials of the antivenin (a.k.a., antivenom) CroFab. The piece lambasted the air ambulance service, the drug company, the hospital, and the health insurer—and blamed the high prices on monopoly power and lack of price controls on drugs.
Websites worldwide picked up the story, variously describing the bill as “whopping,” “jaw-dropping,” and the work of “serpent profiteers.” KHN’s slightly edited version subtitled the story, “The snake struck a 9-year-old hiker at dusk on a nature trail. The outrageous bills struck her parents a few weeks later.”
NPR titled its piece, “Summer Bummer: A Young Camper’s $142,938 Snakebite,” but the title could just as easily have been, “Summer Miracle: Helicopter, Hospital, and Rare Serum Save 9-Year-Old’s Life—for Free.” As we learn near the end of the story, the family’s health insurer negotiated charges down to $107,863.33 and paid that amount; the camp’s insurer paid $7,286.34 to cover the deductible and coinsurance the parents would otherwise have paid. According to the report, the family paid zero.
Here we go again. Another “obituary” for libertarianism. While Salon Magazine declares that we all live in a “libertarian dystopia,” and a new brand of big‐government conservatives promise to free the Republican party and American government from their libertarian captivity, Barton Swaim declares in the Wall Street Journal that a new book “works as an obituary” for libertarianism. That’s not a characterization that I think the authors—Matt Zwolinski and John Tomasi—would accept of their book, The Individualists: Radicals, Reactionaries, and the Struggle for the Soul of Libertarianism.
The whole review is ahistorical. Swaim never mentions classical liberalism, the revolutionary movement that challenged monarchs, autocrats, mercantilism, caste society, and established churches beginning in the 18th century. Liberalism soon swept the United States and Western Europe and ushered in what economic historian Deirdre McCloskey calls the “Great Enrichment,” the unprecedented rise in living standards that has made us moderns some 3,000 percent richer than our ancestors of 1800. The ideas of the classical liberals, including John Locke, Adam Smith, and the American Founders, are those that animate modern libertarianism: equal rights, constitutional government, free markets, tolerance, the rule of law. Zwolinski and Tomasi say that “what sets libertarians apart is the absolutism and systematicity” with which we advocate those ideas. Well, yes, after 200 years of historical observation and philosophical and economic debate, many of us do believe that a firmer adherence to liberal/libertarian ideas would serve society well. We observe that the closer a society comes to consistent tolerance, free markets, and the rule of law, the more it will achieve widespread peace, prosperity, and freedom.
Swaim insists that libertarians do not engage “with ultimate questions—questions about the good life, morality, religious meaning, human purpose and so on.” He’s wrong about that. Adam Smith wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments. F. A. Hayek stressed the importance of morals and tradition. Ayn Rand set out a fairly strict code of personal ethics. Thomas Szasz’s work challenged the reductionists and behaviorists with a commitment to the old ideas of good and bad, right and wrong, and responsibility for one’s choices. Charles Murray emphasizes the value and indeed the necessity of community and responsibility. Libertarian philosophers of virtue ethics find the case for limited government to be based on the search for the good life. Swaim would be on more solid ground to say that libertarianism does not presume to tell individuals what to believe and how to live. Separation of church and state and all that. As I wrote in a letter to the Journal (not yet published), Swaim refers to the “studiously amoral philosophy of libertarianism.” A popular summary of libertarianism, “don’t hit other people, don’t take their stuff, and keep your promises,” is just the basic morality that allows human beings to live together in peace.