Economic freedom central to ASU think tank's research

Economic freedom is the central theme in research carried out by an Arizona center headquartered within the state university.

Founder William Boyes said the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty was formed because it was felt the voice of those extolling free market principles was not being heard within universities.

Boyes is the founding director of the Arizona State University (ASU) free-market think tank, which in its two-year history has focused on the problems facing immigrants, minorities and Native Americans, and education.

Boyes founded the center in 2014 with the focus firmly on research into economic freedom. It is backed by the W.P. Carey and the Koch foundations.

"It was thought useful to offer students ... and the general public a different voice than what is typically heard," Boyes, a professor emeritus of economics at ASU, said. Boyes argued that universities tend to lack voices that offer a more free-market and economic freedom viewpoint.

"Since forming, the center has focused on three areas of research: occupational licensing and regulation, economic development of Native Americans and on education," Boyes told Arizona Business Daily

"Our argument is that licensing hurts not just the general public but also immigrants and minorities," Boyes said, adding that tight controls on trades introduced by Washington and Arizona make it difficult for some sections of the population to set up businesses.

Boyes conceded states have a large control over occupational licensing and regulations. Since the center published research on the issue, the director said he has noticed some movement in the Arizona Legislature to loosen restrictions.

Boyes cited the example of former inmates, arguing there are links between recidivism rates and tough regulations making it difficult for felons work or start their own small businesses.

"When we starting looking at the problem, we found it usually manifests itself as having negative effects on the minorities and immigrants, but we did not specifically pick them out," Boyes said.

But the center did choose to study Native Americans and the issues they face economically, both as individuals and tribes. Researchers concluded development is hampered because of what they contend is a too-close relationship with the federal government and lack of private property rights.

"They cannot carry out any activities without the federal government," Boyes said, adding that it is really difficult for individuals within the tribes.

Some tribal leaders want to loosen those bonds; others do not. 

"It's mixed," Boyes said. He noted that the casino tribes have moved away from Washington and are continuing to do so.

The third main part of the research is education. Boyes is unapologetic in his view that all K-12 education should move from a public system to a private, free-market driven system where "consumers can get what they want." He compares education to a supermarket where you can pick and choose a product and a brand.

Today, there is "little choice and no competition," Boyes said. He laments that the United States spends more per pupil than most other developed countries but that scores remain "pretty mediocre" by international standards.

He said tackling the problems in education by looking at class sizes or constructing specialized buildings is pointless because it is all about "competition and choice." And the family home situation, in which education is seen as a priority and reading is encouraged, is the key element in a child's development, Boyes added.

Arizona, has gone some way by introducing vouchers and educational savings accounts, but it is not enough, he said.

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