Free Exchange Podcast

Making Sense of Milwaukee’s Crime Stats

April 13, 2023

On the surface, Milwaukee’s latest year-over-year crime statistics show promise for the safety of the state’s largest city. Some city officials have even touted the aggregate numbers as cause for optimism.

But the numbers tell a different story when examined in context: Milwaukee is in trouble.

Researcher Sean Kennedy joins Patrick McIlheran to interpret the data and chart a path forward for Milwaukee to move from a culture of criminal coddling to one of certain justice.

Cops in Schools: The Numbers No One is Talking About

March 8, 2023

A new report by Badger Institute Managing Editor Mark Lisheron reveals that calls to police from MPS high schools dramatically increased — again.

Lisheron joins Badger Institute Vice President Michael Jahr to discuss the troubling numbers — and the encouraging news that the Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson has signaled support for putting police back in schools.

A Legislators’ Look at Licensing

February 22, 2023

Few people give thought to the impact of occupational licensing – until it affects them directly. But licensing requirements can fence people out of occupations, drive up costs to consumers, limit mobility, create unnecessary bureaucracy and more.

In this episode of Free Exchange, State Sen. Andre Jacque and State Rep. Shae Sortwell, both chairmen of their chamber’s licensing committees, discuss how licensing affects Wisconsinites and policy reforms that can reduce or eliminate some of the resulting burdens.

Schoolhouse Rock: How a Budget Becomes Law in Wisconsin

February 9, 2023

Did you know that Wisconsin has a biennium budget? Or that a powerful joint committee makes most of the budget decisions in the Legislature? Or how a projected $7.1B budget surplus might factor in?

Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) and Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee), both members of the Joint Finance Committee, join Badger Institute VP Michael Jahr for a Schoolhouse Rock look at how a budget becomes law in Wisconsin.

Flat Tax Is Better for Business, Better for Wisconsin

February 2, 2023

In Wisconsin, the vast majority of businesses are established as pass-throughs — meaning their owners pay the individual income tax rate, not the corporate tax rate.

So, no one understands the need for a lower, flatter tax in Wisconsin than Scott Manley of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the largest and most influential business association in the state.

Manley sat down with Badger Institute President Mike Nichols to discuss how a flat tax would improve Wisconsin’s ability to keep and attract residents and businesses, address the workforce shortage, benefit workers and contribute to overall growth in the Badger State.

LeMahieu on Need for Wisconsin Flat Tax

January 19, 2023

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu has proposed a 3.25% flat income tax for Wisconsin, a reform that would simplify the code and grant tax relief to every Badger State taxpayer.

LeMahieu sat down with Badger Institute President Mike Nichols in the Capitol to explain the details of his flat tax proposal and the widespread benefits of pro-growth tax policy.

For a New Civil Society

January 12, 2023

Civil society is the essential space for the growth of character, for acts of kindness, for the development of trust — for the altruism that drives Wisconsinites to help each other when they see need.

Unfortunately, the fundamental pillars of civil society have been eroding for quite some time. Eloise Anderson, one of the most thoughtful and experienced researchers on issues of civil society and the family, has witnessed this erosion firsthand. Having worked extensively in government while acknowledging the great value that happens outside it, Anderson offers direction for a new civil society — a reinvigorated space of community, care and hope.

Free-Market Reforms Will Make Wisconsin Thrive

January 5, 2023

Research shows that states in which individuals, businesses and entrepreneurs have greater economic freedom grow more rapidly, produce better labor market outcomes and attract more people. So, what steps can Wisconsin take to ensure that its residents enjoy the benefits of a strong, free-market economy?

Touching on issues ranging from tax reform and migration to occupational licensure, economist James Bohn outlines proven measures for keeping Wisconsin productive and prosperous in 2023 and beyond.

Toward Swifter Justice: How to Handle WI Courts’ Excessive Backlog

December 22, 2022

In Wisconsin courts, it now takes more than one year to resolve an armed robbery charge, 14 months to resolve a sexual assault case and more than 15 months to resolve an allegation of murder.

It’s a systemic crisis that delays justice for victims, their families and all who long to lead safe, productive lives in the Badger State.

Wisconsin is not without effective recourse, however. As Jeremiah Mosteller, attorney and criminal justice policy expert with Americans for Prosperity, outlines in this episode of Free Exchange, necessary investments in prosecutors and defenders can tackle the growing backlog of cases and restore a sense of swift justice for all Wisconsin residents.

Why Milwaukee Needs to Get Cops Back in Schools

December 15, 2022

The Milwaukee Police Department responded to more than 1,300 calls for service at 34 Milwaukee Public Schools high schools in the 2021-’22 school year, an average of 7.2 calls every school day. Many were for serious crimes including “battery,” “reckless vehicle,” “sexual assault,” “subject with gun” and “shots fired.”

Yet the Milwaukee Public Schools Board of Directors refuses to put resource officers back into the schools. In this episode of Free Exchange, Badger Institute President Mike Nichols and Managing Editor Mark Lisheron discuss the disturbing numbers and how MPS is failing to protect kids and provide a safe place for them to learn.

Wisconsin’s Economy: A Comparative Study

December 8, 2022

Thanks to advances in technology and changes in the marketplace, interstate mobility is easier today than it ever has been. So how is Wisconsin doing in its effort to attract and retain citizens in search of fruitful opportunity?

In this episode, economist Andrew Hanson discusses his findings published in our Mandate for Madison. From GDP to population growth and income migration, hear how Wisconsin compares to its closest Midwest neighbors — and don’t miss Andrew’s recommendations to set the state on a path for growth.

Wisconsin’s School Choice Moment

November 23, 2022

Following November’s gubernatorial election, the tone and tenor of discourse in Madison is markedly different than it was four years ago.

The Badger State is looking at a budget surplus of billions of dollars, and both the Legislature and governor’s office have great incentive to improve the lives of Wisconsin families by working together for meaningful solutions.

School choice guru Jim Bender joins Badger Institute President Mike Nichols to discuss these post-election dynamics in the Capitol, including opportunities to invest in student success through accessible and equitable school choice funding in the next state budget cycle.

Ensuring Opportunity by Altering Wisconsin’s Safety Net

November 17, 2022

For decades, the federal government has assumed a larger role in funding and running safety net programs, leaving states with little ability to address flaws such as employment and marriage disincentives or make other changes.

Poverty scholar Angela Rachidi — an American Enterprise Institute senior fellow, Badger Institute visiting fellow and Wisconsin resident who once led policy research at the New York City Department of Social Services — joins us to discuss why Wisconsin should demand more authority over federal safety net programs, including a willingness to take a larger funding role while assuming more responsibility.

Common-sense Healthcare Reforms for Wisconsin (Part II)

November 10, 2022

America is a leader in healthcare quality, though its healthcare delivery leaves much to be desired. Insurance costs are increasing, transparency is lacking and third parties control too much of the decision making.

In part two of a conversation with the Badger Institute’s Michael Jahr, professor and entrepreneur Daniel Sem discusses a wide range of healthcare topics, including the ACA, innovation, prescription drug prices, telehealth and more.

Common-sense Healthcare Reforms for Wisconsin (Part I)

November 3, 2022

America is a leader in healthcare quality, though its healthcare delivery leaves much to be desired. Insurance costs are increasing, transparency is lacking and third parties control too much of the decision making.

In part one of a conversation with the Badger Institute’s Michael Jahr, professor and entrepreneur Daniel Sem outlines common-sense reforms to improve the delivery of quality healthcare, particularly the practice of direct primary care (DPC) in the state of Wisconsin.

The Current State of Crime and Justice (Part II)

October 27, 2022

The Milwaukee Police Department is facing an attrition crisis, undermining the frontline administration of justice in Wisconsin’s largest city.

In part two of a conversation with Badger Institute president Mike Nichols, researcher Sean Kennedy discusses the current state of MPD and how to reverse the alarming trend of unfilled positions across all levels of law enforcement ranks. 

The Current State of Crime and Justice (Part I)

October 19, 2022

Wisconsin’s crime trends in essence reveal two different states: the city of Milwaukee and the “Rest of Wisconsin.” While most of the state is relatively safe in comparison to five years ago, troubling trends in Milwaukee — one of the primary economic engines of the Badger State and home to 10% of its citizens — are undermining the health and safety of the state in general.

In part one of a conversation with Badger Institute president Mike Nichols, researcher Sean Kennedy analyzes the last five years of corrections data and offers insight into the current state of crime and justice in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s transportation funding system running on fumes

September 1, 2022

Transportation projects in Wisconsin are primarily funded by per-gallon fuel taxes that are declining as fuel economy improves and more drivers opt for electric and hybrid vehicles. Transportation funding gurus Robert W. Poole Jr. and Benita Cotton-Orr, both Badger Institute visiting fellows, join us to discuss how Badger State roads should be funded in the future.

The moral ecology of learning: How school choice helps Milwaukeeans

August 11, 2022

Earlier research already showed that children who went to schools in Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program were less likely to get in trouble as young adults. Marilyn Anderson Rhames, an education scholar, found that these happier life outcomes were specifically linked to the religious content so prevalent in Milwaukee’s choice schools. Rhames, who spent 14 years as a teacher in Chicago’s public schools before studying for her doctorate, talks about how schools form character and how school choice helps them do it.

Wisconsin lags as other states adopt tax reforms

July 21, 2022

Wisconsin is becoming increasingly less competitive as many states embrace flat taxes and other significant reforms. One example: the Badger State’s GDP is anemic compared to most of our flat tax neighbors. Tax Foundation Senior Policy Analyst Katherine Loughead joins Badger Institute President Mike Nichols to discuss her new report “Tax Reform Options to Improve Wisconsin’s Competitiveness.” She offers options that would make Wisconsin a magnet for residents, businesses and investment..

Forgiving Student Loan Debt: Who wins and who loses?

June 30, 2022 

Student debt forgiveness schemes are both inefficient and unfair policies for helping low-income families. Concordia University Wisconsin economics professor Scott Niederjohn discusses his latest analysis of who wins and who loses if President Biden erases some or all of these college loan obligations.

Keeping People out of the Work Force

June 16, 2022 

The decision by Gov. Tony Evers to maintain the federal unemployment bonus until September 2021 kept some 28,000 Wisconsinites out of a workforce that desperately needed them. Economist Ike Brannon discusses the findings of his latest report, Unemployment (Over) Compensation.

Wisconsin Voters Increasingly Support School Choice

June 1, 2022 

COVID school shutdowns and controversial curriculum have dramatically increased support for school choice in Wisconsin, according to pollster Wes Anderson, founding partner of OnMessage Inc. Anderson, who has been conducting school choice surveys for nearly 30 years, says support is particularly strong among those who have had exposure to school choice. His latest Wisconsin survey conducted for School Choice Wisconsin found that a solid majority of voters believe parental choice should continue – and expand.

Advancing Freedom Through Federalism

April 20, 2022

How can local ideas lead to national impact? Paul Teller, the executive director for Advancing American Freedom, explains the role think tanks play in developing ideas that create statewide laboratories of innovation. The policies that produce the best results help to reinvigorate the vision of federalism where states and communities – not the federal government – find the best solutions to local challenges.

Legislature Tries to Restore Fiscal Sanity

April 6, 2022 

As billions of federal “relief” dollars flow into Wisconsin, the state Legislature has advanced two measures designed to restore legislative oversight and sound budgetary practices. Sen. Dale Kooyenga, a supporter of both measures, joins Free Exchange to discuss.

How Wisconsin’s Minimum Markup Law Impacts Consumers

March 23, 2022 

Are you fed up with soaring prices? Did you know that Wisconsin’s Depression-era minimum markup law arbitrarily inflates the cost of gas, groceries, pharmaceuticals, alcohol and more? State Sen. Duey Stroebel and Will Flanders, research director for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, explain how Wisconsin makes it illegal for retailers to sell certain products below cost and why this outdated law is costly to consumers and needs to be repealed.

Rise of the Germ-Killing Robots!

February 16, 2022 

Why spend millions of taxpayer dollars on disinfectant robots if you’re going to keep cleaning the old-fashioned way? Remso and Diggings Editor Mark Lisheron discuss how “free” federal money incentivizes governments to buy things they don’t need – including a small army of $40,000-a-piece disinfection robots.

Addressing Wisconsin’s Oral Care Shortage

February 2, 2022 

Dental therapists could provide needed oral care to tens of thousands of poor and underserved Wisconsinites. In this episode of Free Exchange, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, and Matt Crespin, associate director of Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin, discuss the dire shortage and explain how allowing dental therapy in Wisconsin could dramatically improve access to care. A broadly supported, bipartisan bill is currently hung up in the State Assembly.

A Tax Reform Path to Prosperity

January 19, 2022 

States with competitive tax structures are attracting residents and businesses from high-tax neighbors. Can Wisconsin get in on the act? The Tax Foundation’s Katherine Loughead and Scott Manley of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce join Badger Institute President Mike Nichols to discuss the challenges posed by Wisconsin’s tax structure as well as reforms – income tax elimination, flat tax adoption, bracket consolidation – that would benefit Wisconsin residents, grow the economy and attract more people to the state.

Should Government Rein in Big Tech?

January 5, 2022 

Social media is entering a turbulent new era as private companies with progressive agendas seem to be censoring speech and manipulating information. The question of whether government should further regulate these platforms or strip them of special protections is one that would greatly impact how we get information and interact with each other online. Josh Withrow, Director of Technology Policy at the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, joins the show to discuss the vagaries of social media, the First Amendment and the proper role of government in this sphere.

Will the Mainstream Media Survive? Should We Care?

December 15, 2021 

Mike Nichols and Patrick McIlheran, two former conservative columnists for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, talk about the demise of their old employer, why the media has strayed so far to the left and what comes next.

Is Guaranteed Income Inevitable?

December 1, 2021 

From coast to coast, American cities are testing the concept of no-strings-attached guaranteed income. Now this ill-advised idea has made its way to Wisconsin. Diggings Managing Editor Mark Lisheron joins the program to discuss the origins of Universal Basic Income, where it has been tested and whether sound economic principles will win out in the end.

What Gives? Wisconsin Welfare Numbers Increase While Economy Rebounds

November 17, 2021 

Participation in government safety net programs remains elevated even as the economy recovers and employers clamor for workers. Badger Institute Visiting Fellow Angela Rachidi joins us to discuss what’s contributing to the labor shortage and steps the state can take to help get people back to work.

Taxpayer-Funded Venture Capital?

November 3, 2021 

Should taxpayers be on the hook for a $100 million venture capital program? We talk with Daniel Sem, venture capitalist and dean of the Batterman School of Business at Concordia University Wisconsin, to discuss the economic importance of private-sector venture capital and whether government should engage in this high-risk activity with taxpayer dollars.

Black & Conservative (Part II)

October 13, 2021 

(Part II of our two-part series) Eloise Anderson, Shannon Whitworth and Cindy Werner talk with Badger Institute President Mike Nichols about conservatism, independence, Critical Race Theory, self-sabotage, hustlers, infantilization and what it means to be American.

Black & Conservative (Part I)

October 13, 2021

Eloise Anderson, Shannon Whitworth and Cindy Werner talk with Badger Institute President Mike Nichols about conservatism, independence, Critical Race Theory, self-sabotage, hustlers, infantilization and what it means to be American.

America at a Crossroads: The Rise of the Entitlement State (Ft. Robert Doar)

October 6, 2021 

Robert Doar, president of the American Enterprise Institute, talks with Badger Institute President Mike Nichols about poverty in America and the detrimental push for entitlements disconnected from work.

Breaking the Cycle (Ft. Jon Ponder)

September 22, 2021 

 Hope for Prisoners founder Jon Ponder explains how proper support, guidance and direction can help those returning from prison stay out of prison and become contributing members of their communities.

The Future of School Choice in Wisconsin

September 7, 2021 

 Will Flanders of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty and Jim Bender of School Choice Wisconsin join us in discussing the future of education in the Badger State.


Correcting the Crime Narrative (Ft. Heather Mac Donald)

August 25, 2021 

New York Times Best Selling Author and Manhattan Institute Fellow Heather Mac Donald says a false narrative and political agenda are contributing to the dramatic increase in violent crime.

Ranked-Choice Voting: For and Against

August 11, 2021 

America is more polarized than ever. Is ranked-choice voting the remedy? Two conservatives – Austin Ramirez, president and CEO of HUSCO International here in Wisconsin, and Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation – discuss what they see as the pros and cons.

New Orleans Did Away With its Troubled Public Schools, Can Milwaukee do the Same?

July 28, 2021 

 We talk to a Milwaukee native who helped lead school reform in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Now back home, Colleston Morgan Jr. tells us whether Milwaukee can follow the same path in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What the Media Downplayed About COVID-19

July 14, 2021 

 “When it comes to the risk of dying from COVID-19, two words tell the story: old age,” says veteran investigative journalist Richard Moore in his recent report found in our Spring 2021 issue of Diggings. Remso W. Martinez and Richard discuss who the vast majority of victims were, how the media downplayed a critical aspect of the pandemic, and much more in this episode.


1776: A Unifying Vision for America (Ft. Bob Woodson)

June 30, 2021

 Bob Woodson, the godfather of the neighborhood empowerment movement, offers a unifying alternative to the divisive messages of the 1619 Project and critical race theory.

From Iran to Mosinee

June 15, 2021

 Badger Institute President Mike Nichols sits down with Kevin Hermening in our premiere episode. Kevin has lived an extraordinary life; from surviving the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis to guiding the Mosinee School District through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as the board president, Kevin explains why leadership matters, what guides him in his decision making, and why local leaders need to step up during times of crisis.

Check Out Free Exchange

June 15, 2021

Check out the Badger Institute’s new podcast “Free Exchange” and learn why those in and outside of the Badger state should consider subscribing today!