And so the busy bees of the federal government created task forces, imposed taxes and mandates, funded research, and generally played Chicken Little. Flaws in the Commerce Department data were noted immediately. It failed to account for online access at work and school for example. Besides, the march of technology, which led to decreasing prices, soon made computers affordable for a large majority of Americans anyway, including members of minorities. A 2005 survey by AOL found that 80 percent of African-Americans were online (compared with 88 percent of all Americans), and that 66 percent had high-speed connections compared with 53 percent of the general population. A 2008 Yankelovich survey found that 90 percent of African-American teens had Internet access. If there is any "digital divide" in America today it is between those over age 76 and those under. Among the older group, only 27 percent are connected to the Internet. Does the Department of Commerce know about this?
Liberals are usually content to believe themselves well motivated and seldom take any notice of outcomes. So when liberal academics actually study the effects of computers in the classroom, it deserves mention. It's even more noteworthy when one of the authors of the study is none other than Austan Goolsbee, currently a member of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers.
In 2003, Goolsbee and his University of Chicago colleague Jonathan Guryan examined just what the annual $2.25 billion subsidy to schools was achieving. It had, they estimated, advanced the adoption of computers in schools by as much as four years. Or possibly not. "Even without subsidies," the report acknowledged, "many school districts chose to make Internet investments. It is therefore difficult to distinguish between the effects of the E-rate program alone versus the already strong upward trend in the fraction of schools with Internet access."
Nevertheless, Goolsbee declared E-rate "a tremendous success" in wiring up the nation's schools. What he and Guryan did not find, however, was any evidence that Internet connections improved student performance. The study admitted: "The authors looked at test scores for math, reading, and science. Their results showed no evidence that investments in Internet technology had any measurable effect on student achievement."
There are dozens of reasons that a congressionally designed overhaul of America's health care system is a terrible idea. One of those reasons is that liberal nostrums do not have an impressive track record.