Cato @ Liberty
Does School Choice Segregate?
Fri, 18 Aug 2017 17:05 EDT

When those in power make blatantly false claims that could lead to less freedom for the least advantaged members of society, it is imperative that they are corrected. The President of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, gave a speech last month where she stated that school “vouchers increase racial and economic segregation.”

What Does the Evidence Say?

As I pointed out last month in a Cato Policy Forum on School Choice and Democracy, out of the eight rigorous empirical studies existing on the subject, seven of them show that school voucher programs increase racial integration within the United States. As shown in table 1 below, none of these studies indicate that vouchers lead to racial segregation. Why is this the case?

When school choice programs give disadvantaged children the opportunity to exit their already-segregated neighborhood schools, their transitions unsurprisingly result in a more racially and socioeconomically integrated society.

Table 1: Impacts of Voucher Programs on Racial Integration

Note: A box highlighted in green indicates that the study found a statistically significant improvement in racial integration. A box highlighted in yellow indicates that the study did not find any significant differences in racial integration across sectors.

For some reason, school choice skeptics ignore all of the compelling U.S. evidence, and instead point to international studies from countries like Sweden and Chile. However, these studies are methodologically unable to show that vouchers actually led to segregation.

For example, the Sweden study correlates the changes in the degree of school choice and racial segregation across two time periods, 1993 and 2009. Notably, the authors did not control for overall changes in the immigrant population in Sweden over the same years, so they are unable to conclude that the voucher program caused the change. According to the Swedish Migration Agency, yearly residence permits granted to immigrants ranged from around 59,000 in 1993 to around 100,000 in 2009. Obviously, overall immigration leads to more racial stratification, regardless of the school choice program.

More Important Questions?

The scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that school vouchers lead to racial integration. But what if it didn’t?

Should such a finding allow government officials to control the educational selections of families desperately trying to improve their well-being? If a minority parent wanted to send their child to a prestigious all-black school, should a bureaucrat be able to tell them that they are not allowed to do so?

This is strange to me: in our country’s disturbing history, government officials decided that people ought to be “separate but equal” for the greater good. They thought that having racially diverse people in the same institutions would harm society through racial tension. Today, public officials make the same argument, just in the opposite direction. They claim that government force is necessary to move people, based on skin color, to achieve some greater social goal.

If you do not support the forced racial segregation that started back in 1896, it would be logically inconsistent for you to support forced racial integration today.

We can avoid all of the negative consequences that come along with the use of government force by allowing individual families to voluntarily opt into the schools that work best for their children. As the evidence shows, the self-interested choices of individual parents result in the social benefit of racial integration, without coercion by those in power.

Terrorism in Spain—What is the Hazard?
Fri, 18 Aug 2017 11:35 EDT

Yesterday, two men drove a van into a crowd in Barcelona, Spain and killed more than a dozen people and injured many more in what Spanish authorities are claiming is a terror attack.  Spanish authorities may have also prevented another attack later in that day and believe these are linked to a recent explosion.  Not all of the facts are public yet and we will learn more in the coming days, but Spain’s experience with terrorism can at least put what happened into perspective.

According to data from the Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland and the RAND Corporation, terrorists murdered 1,209 people in Spain from 1975 through the end of 2016 (Figure 1).  The spike in deaths in 2004 was the result of a major al Qaeda attack on the Madrid subway system that murdered 192 people.  Only the United Kingdom has suffered more from terrorism during that time with 2,359 total murders.  There were also 4,738 injuries in terror attack in Spain during this 42-year time span.

Figure 1

Murders in Spanish Terrorist Attacks by Year, 1975-2016

Sources: Global Terrorist Database and RAND Corporation.

From 1975 through 2016, a Spaniard’s chance of dying in a terrorist attack was about 1 in 1.43 million per year (Table 1).  Spain was the fourth most victimized country on the list by that measure and about 2.6 times as deadly as the United States.  Basque separatists are responsible for most of the terrorist deaths in Spain since 1975 but Islamists have been the most deadly since 2004.  Basques are not immigrants and their language is so different from other European tongues than many linguists have theorized that it predates the introduction of Indo-European tongues on the continent of Europe.  Thus, most of these deaths were not caused by recent immigrants.

Terrorism in Spain has trended generally downward since 2000.  Since then until 2016, 247 people have been killed in terrorist attacks on Spanish soil which translates to a 1 in 3.1 million chance per year of dying in that way.  In 2012, there were 364 homicides in Spain which translate into a 1 in 128,729 chance of being murdered in a non-terrorist homicide that year.  Spain’s homicide rate is so low that terrorism actually looks like a serious hazard by comparison.                                                                                

Table 1

Annual Chance of Dying in a Terror Attack and the Number of Terrorist Murders in European Countries, 1975-2016


Terrorist Murders

Annual Chance of Dying in Terror Attack



1 in 765,052



1 in 975,361

United Kingdom


1 in 1,057,248



1 in 1,432,847



1 in 2,069,185



1 in 2,396,564



1 in 3,977,889



1 in 5,030,009



1 in 5,932,942



1 in 7,643,464



1 in 12,810,844



1 in 14,605,254



1 in 16,424,666



1 in 24,047,998



1 in 24,208,884



1 in 26,776,608



1 in 28,499,047



1 in 29,982,906



1 in 31,607,066



1 in 50,301,214



1 in 55,645,834



1 in 72,048,567



1 in 72,509,981



1 in 82,598,090



1 in 143,165,024



1 in 225,306,754



1 in 231,493,613




Sources: Global Terrorist Database, RAND Corporation, United Nations, and Author’s Calculations.

Some pundits argue that that chance of dying in terrorism is too high and that people should be willing to give up some freedoms in exchange for more security.  They only sometimes mention what freedoms we should surrender and how such a move could lead to more security.  They also rarely consider the costs of giving the government extra power, especially costs to our safety.    

The misconception that safety is binary—it is either perfect safety or perfect danger—is on full display in the debate over security and freedom.  The real question is what specific freedoms or other costs are Spaniards, or others, are willing to endure by increasing the size and power of their governments and reducing their own civil liberties in order to diminish the already low annual chance of dying in a terrorist attack to 1 in 4 million a year, 5 million a year, or to some other number.  Even assuming that there is no way more government power can backfire and decrease security, there is a point where the costs of extra security are not worth the benefits.  In the United States, we are well past that point.  Spain shouldn’t similarly overreact.                

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 11:24 EDT

Why should a city, state, or federal government put statues in public parks?  Doing so addresses no plausible market failure, while using taxpayers funds and, as demonstrated tragically over the past few weeks, generates controversy, polarization, and violence. Thus governments should take down all statues, regardless of their political implications.

This is not “erasing” history but instead leaving it where it belongs, in the hands of private actors and mechanisms.  Historians, textbook authors, universities, learned societies, the History Channel, and many other individuals and organizations can all present their own views of history and battle for the hearts and minds of the public.  Government statues are government putting its thumb on the scale, which is one step down the slippery slope of thought control.