Voucher Scheme's Most Notable Economist Has Neither an Economics Background nor a College Degree

Categories: Education

I mean, I look like an economist, right?
Joseph Bast, one of the leading theorists behind the viability of school vouchers, believes he's an economist. He believes that he carries the necessary background, and carries the necessary credentials, and that "mainstream economic thinking" backs up his findings and reports.

And he's not wrong, especially. These are his beliefs. And Bast -- president and CEO of the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, the organization best-known for positing the Unabomber as a "global warming conspirator" -- is entitled to them, just as I'm allowed to believe that I can dunk, and that you may believe you're a unicorn, and Rick Perry believes prayer will eradicate gun violence in America.

The problem is, once under oath, Bast is forced to back these beliefs with whatever evidence he can provide. And that's where he runs into issues.

As a sworn witness for Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education -- or TREE, with one of the excessive E's lopped off -- Bast had the opportunity yesterday to present Heartland's recent findings on the potential savings carried through future voucher schemes. $7,750 saved every time a student swaps a public education for a private, taxpayer-funded creationist school. Approximately $2 billion saved annually. A race to the top for the finest teachers across the state. Heady numbers, to be sure.

Unfortunately, they come from Bast, a man who prefers titles to educational backing. As the San Antonio Express-News captured:

Questioned by Maribel Hernández Rivera, an attorney for one of the plaintiff groups represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Bast acknowledged he has not graduated from college and holds no degrees in economics, though he considers himself an economist.

He also said neither of two reports he co-authored, which were entered into evidence, have been peer-reviewed.

David Thompson, attorney for another group of school districts, later pointed out that the Legislative Budget Board concluded the taxpayer savings grant proposal would cost the state money in its first two years of operation.

"To your knowledge, no government entity in the state of Texas ever has agreed with your analysis of savings, is that correct?" Thompson asked.

"Apparently," Bast replied.

Right. Disregard for accepted scientific methodology. Disavowal of any accepted educational background. A finer exposure of anti-intellectualism would be tough to find -- and such an opportunity for schadenfreude is tough to pass by, were it not for the fact that Bast and his Heartland Institute carry disproportionate weight among the Know Nothings supporting educational legislation.

As the Texas Freedom Network noted, Bast's claims carry wafts of David Barton, the huckster historian often attached to Glenn "Galt" Beck. It's also reminiscent of "Dr." Cheryl Washington, a Dallas-based educator who, caught last summer injecting her charter classrooms with Bible-based education, insisted that her doctorate title arose because, well, "Why not? [I'm] a doctor in the Christian community."

For what it's worth, it should be noted that Thompson also represents HISD, along with a handful of local districts, which should present a bit of optimism for the future of local education. Still, so long as Bast carries any weight among potential legislation, hold your laughter until this man passes on to the next head-in-the-sand scene.

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That's a nice take-down I suppose, but the fact is that even the most credentialed economists have been completely wrong about many central issues during the past 10, 5 or 1 year. And they've gotten the respect and worse, policy implementations, from the Very Serious People in Washington and Europe. All one has to do is look to the loopy austerity policies that have wrecked much of Europe to no avail, and still get some lip service here "oh no, this debt is going to crush our future generations, blah, blah, blah, let's cut social programs now, now, now before rates spike and inflation goes crazy!"

If you're even a casual observer of economists like Krugman, DeLong, Dean Baker et al, you see that 'mainstream economists' are the ones who have gotten it wrong basically by abandoning basic textbook macro.

So while it's nice that another joker gets called out, it's hardly surprising in light of the big boys who won't admit they've been wrong, and even lend their credibility to campaigns as intellectually inert as Romney's.

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