Division of Labour: Politics Archives
February 13, 2014
Ladar Levison talk at SMU

O'NEIL CENTER EVENTS
THE WILLIAM J. O’NEIL CENTER FOR GLOBAL MARKETS AND FREEDOM PRESENTS

Is Privacy Dead? The NSA, the Snowden Leaks, Dark Mail, and the Future of Privacy in the Digital Age

Ladar Levison
Founder, Lavabit LLC

Ladar Levison (SMU, '03) is the Founder of Lavabit LLC, the encrypted email service company that Edward Snowden used following his disclosure of classified NSA documents. Following the reveal of Snowden’s identity, Lavabit was issued a federal search warrant demanding that it give away the private SSL keys for all its users. Levison shut down Lavabit operations shortly after the warrant was issued. His talk will directly confront government overreach and comment on the future of privacy in the digital age.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 5:30 p.m.

Georges Auditorium
Crow Building Room 175
6210 Bishop Blvd.
Dallas, TX 75275

This is a free event. Walk-ups are welcome. However, space is limited.

Details: http://oneil.cox.smu.edu/events

Posted by Robert Lawson at 04:33 PM in Politics

November 07, 2013
"If you like your plan, you can keep your plan:" Marketing flaw, or design flaw?

President Obama's political support is plunging, due to the Affordable Care Act, aka "ACA" or "Obamacare" - both because of a stumbling rollout demonstrating substantial managerial incompetence, and also a sense among a large percentage of the population that the President was dishonest about how the plan would work - specifically, his promise that "if you like your plan, you can keep your plan. Period."

Leaving aside the President's promise, and whether he merely "misspoke" or outright lied, many supporters of the President and/or the Affordable Care Act have claimed that this is not a flaw in the plan, merely in the way it was sold to the public.

Bloomberg's Clive Crooks, for example, makes that case here. Crooks argues that even though millions are being forced out of plans that they liked, "the fault isn’t with the [ACA] -- it’s with the way the plan was sold. Obama’s promise was either an audacious oversimplification (if you’re feeling generous) or a bald-faced lie (if you aren’t). Even so, the cancellations don’t point to fatal defects in the design." He continues, "[t]he Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was always intended to disrupt the individual health-insurance market" (and he adds, group markets too). And he concludes that the Administration's repeated promise, "made no sense, but they said it anyway to get the law passed."

The President's supporters shouldn't find much comfort in this claim, of course, since it essentially takes the view that the President was fundamentally dishonest with the American people.The response then becomes that politicians often lie, and bigger lies have been told. But Obama's lie - and if Crooks is right about the purpose of the act, then "lie" is the "generous" phrasing, and "damned lie" the less generous one - is different.

Some things that are called "lies" aren't - such as the left's ongoing claim that "Bush lied" about the Iraq war and Iraq's possession of weapons. But this wasn't a lie - it was a colossal blunder. There really is no dispute that all western intelligence agencies believed that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapon stockpiles, and based on this intelligence, so did the Bush administration and most Democrats in the Congress, such as John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, etc. Then there are the actual lies presidents say for honest national security purposes, as when, for example, President Eisenhower denied knowledge of American U2 spying on Russia. There are the lies of desperate self-preservation - think Richard Nixon and Watergate. And then there is puffery, which we have all the time. People might be scoff at Obama, but not accuse him of lying, should he say "this plan will make sure every American gets the best possible treatment for every illness," or even "every American will benefit from this plan." The President would not be accused of lying simply because some people lost their plans for reasons unrelated to Obamacare, although one could fashion such a claim from a dullardly literal reading of his comments.

Nor was the President's pledge a rosy description of a disputed point, such as on the question of whether the ACA will add to the national debt. The President's "if you like it you can keep it" pledge, was not puffery or an optimistic, even incredibly optimistic, projection, but indeed was scripted and stated repeatedly in such as way as to make clear that it was not puffery or point of dispute, but a direct and sincere pledge and fact. It was not based on an incorrect reading of facts on the ground (as in Bush's rationale for invading Iraq), or to protect national security. It is not even a tendentious or unusual characterization of a plan (such as FDR describing social security as an insurance plan).

Rather, if Crooks is right, the President deliberately and intentionally lied to the public in order to pass a domestic policy initiative that he believed could not be passed even with the usual puffery, optimistic projections, and salesmanship of politics. And that is something I've not seen in my lifetime, nor am aware of in U.S. history.

But this is a digression, albeit probably a necessary one. What I want to suggest is that while Crooks is right that the President lied, and that this is damaging to public perception of the ACA and the President, he is wrong in suggesting that this is not a "design flaw" in the plan. (Crooks, by the way, agrees that there are many other actual design flaws in the ACA, though he believes that overall the ACA is worth it).

For what is a design flaw? A design flaw is something that means a product won't work as intended. Crooks defines the intent as "disrupt[ing] the individual health-insurance market [and] forcing insurers to meet new standards." But this is, I think, too technocratic a view of politics and policy. In a representative democracy, programs must have a reasonable level of public support to succeed. The ACA was ultimately designed to be popular - to be a new entitlement that Americans would like. The ACA was designed to create a popular program for which Americans would reward Democrats with political victories, and which could pave the way for further growth of government both in health care (including the holy grail of "single payer," or what used to be called "socialized" medicine) and in other fields. To do this, the program had to be designed to assure that consumers, the substantial majority of whom who already benefitted from outstanding care with unparalleled choice and access, would not find their existing plans and choice of physician disrupted. On this view, the ACA is indeed horribly designed.

Crooks and others who make the claim that this is not a "design flaw" my be correct that the design was intentional, but an intentional design can still be badly flawed. Crooks and other ACA defenders making the argument essentially are saying, "well, Americans were lied to to get them to buy the ACA, but the plan works as intended and soon enough they will realize that it is a good product - at least better than what they had before." This is, in essence, a variation of the Democratic theme from the fall of 2009 and the spring of 2010 - the idea that the law will become more popular over time. It has not proven true. Why not? Because the product is a stinker. It is a bad design. It is flawed.

If I ask my staff to design something that does X, and they design something that does Y, that IS a design flaw, even if it does Y really well, and even if that's what my staff wanted to do. That they try to pawn it off on me by claiming it does X may exacerbate my anger when I discover their product is flawed, but the true flaw is still in the design.

The design flaw in the ACA is based on a conceptual error, a misdiagnosis of the problem. Liberals have acted for 60 years on the idea that American health care delivery must be remade from top to bottom. Most Americans don't really believe that, which is why Democratic proposals for a government run system such as the ACA have long been popular in the abstract but deadly poison to the Democrat party when actually drafted as specific language and proposed for public consumption. Most Americans understand that they have superb health care coverage. They'd like the minority who don't to have the same thing. But they don't want their coverage changed.

Thus, the ACA is a flawed design because it offers the customer something that doesn't meet the customer's specifications. The lying is a problem on its own, and it may be that that's what convinced the consumer - in this case, the voters - to buy the product, but that is not what makes the ACA so unpopular. The failure is indeed in the design.

Posted by Brad Smith at 09:52 AM in Politics

December 09, 2012
The "Fiscal Cliff": You Got to Know When to Fold

Mercifully, sometime in January the phrase "fiscal cliff" is likely to disappear from the American vocabulary. Meantime, if you don't know what the "fiscal cliff" is, you probably aren't reading this site. If you've stumbled here and want to know, do a google search, then come back. But basically, unless Congress acts, after the first of the year income tax rates will increase across the board, and the budget will be subject to a "sequester," meaning automatic cuts in spending across the board.

I won't discuss the economics of this situation, and I'm not capable of adding much insight there anyway, except to note that most economists assume that if these events take place, it will be bad for the economy. But a few comments on the politics of things follow.

President Obama has insisted that the 35% tax rate on upper incomes be allowed to rise to 39%, which will happen automatically if Congress doesn't act. Publically, at least, he wants Congress to act to extend the current tax rates on all other brackets, rather than let them rise after January 1. Republicans think that raising the rates will damage the economy, and want the current tax rates maintained in all brackets.

Many Republicans, especially on the talk radio circuit, are arguing that Republicans should not give on extending the current tax rates on all brackets. They seem to think Obama is bluffing and will cave at the end. And such a view seems to be extremely popular with the Republican base and with conservatives commenting on websites and elsewhere.

I don't think these advocates of "no compromise" quite grasp the situation. For the President and Congressional Democrats, there are three options:

1. Allow all tax rates to increase;
2. Allow tax rates on the top bracket to increase, while maintaining currents rates on everybody else;
3. Maintain current tax rates in all brackets.

Conservatives must understand that the President and Democrats prefer options 1 and 2 to option 3, and that if they do nothing, option 1 kicks in automatically. In other words, they simply have no incentive to agree to option 3. They do not believe that raising the top bracket, or raising all brackets, will damage the economy, or if they do, it is a price they are willing to pay in order to get more funding for the welfare state, or the emotional satisfaction of "asking the wealthy to pay their fair share," in the President's oft-repeated, Orwellian line.

Moreover, they justifiably feel confident that if all rates go up because no deal is reached, the press will blame Republicans, and the public will follow. Further, once the January 1 increase is sprung, it will be easy for Democrats in Congress to introduce legislation to cut taxes on all but the top rates, placing Republicans in the impossible position of opposing tax cuts that would benefit the overwhelming majority of tax filers. If Republicans did stand firm, the Democrats would get their across the board rate increases, while Republicans would suffer terrific political fallout. If Republicans caved at that point, Democrats would still get their increase on the top brackets, would get credit for lowering rates on everybody else, and the phrase "Obama tax cuts" would enter the political lexicon.

In short, the Republicans cannot win this game. The top rates will go up.

That being the case, the best thing Republicans can do is act now, and quickly, to minimize the damage to the economy and to the conservative, low tax position. The House ought to pass two bills. The first would maintain the current tax rates for the top bracket. The second would maintain the current rates for everybody else. The first will almost certainly die in the Senate, and if it somehow did not, the President would veto it. The the statist wing would have to take political responsibility for raising the top rate. The second bill would sweep through the Senate and be signed by the President, and would be a bill promoted by Republicans. Liberals, who have complained for years that our deficit spending problem is simply the result of the "Bush tax cuts" would finally have to buy in to the vast majority of those tax rates.

Meanwhile, those eager to reduce spending and tax rates would then have enormous advantages politically. The new House meeting in January could pass legislation to lower the top rate, which the Democrats would block, further clarifying that party's desire for higher taxes. The revenue from the top bracket increase will have almost no discernable effect on the deficit, thus exposing the President's popular but bald faced lie that serious spending cuts or broad based tax increases can be avoided by tax increases only on top earners. If Republicans are correct that the rate increases will harm the economy, at least they will have made Obama own it. If they are wrong, well, it would be good to know that, too.

Meanwhile, the President will still need authority to raise the debt ceiling early in the new year, so the Republicans will retain an incredibly powerful negotiating chip for future spending reductions. And the President will have lost his biggest chip for those negotiations - the threat of higher tax rates kicking in on the middle class. Serious entitlement and spending reform may then become a real possibility.

Conservatives, libertarians, and Republicans, who are taking the "no negotiations" or "no caving on the top rates" approach, simply are not facing the reality of the situation. Remember, the President and his party favor both option 1, allowing all tax rates to increase; and option 2, allow tax rates on the top bracket to increase, while maintaining currents rates on everybody else; over option 3, maintaining current tax rates in all brackets. And they'll option 1 if no deal is reached. The only reason for them to deal would be if they believed raising the top rate would actually be a bad thing. They don't believe that.

The top rate is going up. The GOP has no chips on that question. But they can end this in a smart fashion, one that minimizes the economic damage to the country, the political damage to the low tax case, and that might even improve the odds for long term budgetary and entitlement reform.

Posted by Brad Smith at 12:33 PM in Politics  ·  Comments (1)

November 26, 2012
New Heights in Polling Absurdity: The "Fiscal Cliff"

Here's an absurd poll: Pew asked respondents who they will blame if Congress and the President fail to reach an accord to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" come January. You've got to love how we now attach blame before we've seen the behavior of the participants that would allow us to attach blame.

Lots of possibilities here:
Who will you blame if Alabama loses to Georgia in the SEC Championship on Saturday?
Who will you blame if you go to see "Life of Pi" and don't like it for an as yet unknown reason?
Who will you blame if is the person elected president in 2016 turns out to be a space alien?
Who will you blame if your child grows up to be a jerk?

Oh, by the way: 53 percent of respondents say they will blame Republicans; 29 percent say they will blame President Obama. Gee, that means up to 18 percent are actually withholding judgment until they see who is actually to blame.

Posted by Brad Smith at 09:18 AM in Politics

November 07, 2012
Libertarian views score well on ballot issues

In addition to candidate races up and down the ballot, there were many ballot issues in the states. Here, libertarian and generally limited government views did well. A big night for same-sex marriage and medical marijuana, and a bad one for Obamacare. A recap, below the fold:

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 10:53 PM in Politics

Why are liberals so angry this morning?

I've been surprised today by how nasty, mean, angry, bitter, and vindictive so many liberals are this Wednesday, the day after a surprisingly easy and triumphant win at the polls. Below are just a few comments from the very first page of my Facebook feed early this morning:

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 03:56 PM in Politics

Tuesday's Results: Executive Offices Down the Ballot

I presume you've heard something about the Presidential results. Here we'll spend a couple sentences on U.S. House and Senate, and then move down the ballot to see what happened in the states.

Here I'll focus on state executive offices and courts; I'll do state legislatures, and then review the fates of ballot issues, later as more info becomes available.

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 02:12 PM in Politics

November 06, 2012
Election Day Ironies

1) We have a supposed separation of church and state, and the location where many people will vote today will be in a church.

2) We are voting to determine who will run our government, and the process of voting is run by government. On our local news last night, they said that an estimated 90 million people will vote today. I imagine that, on a given workday, at least 90 million people buy their lunch from somewhere, and they will not have to wait anywhere near as long in line as people will have to wait today to vote. Perhaps there is a lesson there in the efficiency of the private vs. public sector upon which people could reflect as they decide for whom to vote. They'll have plenty of time to do the reflecting.

Posted by Tim Shaughnessy at 10:54 AM in Politics

November 04, 2012
Down Ballot: State Legislatures

This post reviews state legislature makeups and possible changes in 2012. Scroll down the page for prior posts governors and lieutenant governors, attorneys general, secretaries of state, and other mayors and other state offices.

Entering election day 2012, Republicans control 59 state legislative chambers, Democrats 36. Three are tied, and one state, Nebraska has a non-partisan, unicameral legislature (although in fact, it is heavily Republican). Radical changes this year are unlikely, but here is the basic rundown:

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 11:11 PM in Politics

Way down the ballot: Treasurers, Auditors, and other people and offices you never heard of

Earlier entries - scroll down the page- have reviewed Governors, Lt. Governors, Aspiring Governors (aka Attorney Generals) and Secretary of State races for 2012. This post includes a review of miscellaneous state offices up for election in 2012, including Treasurer, Auditor, and similar positions.

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 10:20 AM in Politics

November 02, 2012
Downticket: Secretaries of State

This is a third posting on down ticket races this year, for hard-core junkies who want to know what's going on around the country beyond the presidential and U.S. House and Senate races. Today we're focused on Secretaries of State.

Secretary of State is traditionally a boring position dealing with corporate filings and the like, but in the last decade it has become a highly fought over office because, in most states, the Secretary is the state's highest election official.

47 states have such an office: 28 are held by Republicans, 19 by Democrats.

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 11:45 AM in Politics

November 01, 2012
Down Ticket: State Attorney General Races

In this post, I review 2012 races for state Attorney General positions.

State races for Attorney General have gained increased attention in recent years, not only because of the power that state attorneys general wield, but because these high profile positions are excellent stepping stones to higher office (the political joke, of course, is that "AG" is short for "Aspiring Governor.") Unfortunately, AG is increasingly a position where demogogues and abusers of power congregate to build reputations as "crime fighters" and "protectors of consumers."

Currently, each major party holds 25 AG's offices. Republicans lead 22-21 among AGs in elected office - 4 Democrats and 3 Republicans are in states which fill the position through appointment by governors, state legislatures, or the state supreme court. Ten seats are up for election, 6 held by Democrats and 4 by Republicans.

Here's the rundown on these 10 seats, in alphabetical order:

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 11:00 PM in Politics

2012 Elections: Governors

Political focus this time of year is heavily on the presidential race, and less so on U.S. Senate and House, with virtually no attention given to lower races and ballot issues. For political junkies, in the next few days I'll review of a few of those lower profile races. Nothing fancy, just the basics.

We'll start today with governors and lieutenant governors.

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 08:02 PM in Politics

October 28, 2012
Why this libertarian is voting Romney, with enthusiasm

Earlier this week, the flagship libertarian think mag, Reason, published its individuals staff members’ choices for president. Not surprisingly, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson was the overwhelming choice. As a libertarian, I think they are wrong.

Libertarian voters are variously estimated to make up ten to twenty percent of the electorate. It would be not only presumptuous but foolish to try to tell libertarians how to vote. We are, by definition, far too prickly and independent for that.

But for those that are interested, let me say why this libertarian plans to vote, with enthusiasm, for Mitt Romney.

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 04:20 PM in Politics  ·  Comments (31)

October 20, 2012
Ken Burns supports Obama: but has he seen It's a Wonderful Life?

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has a piece in the Manchester Union Leader this week entitled, "Why I am voting for Barack Obama." Burns is a wonderful director, but the column makes one wonder if he really understands the stories he sees on the screen.

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 09:54 AM in Politics

October 13, 2012
Quick check on the presidential race

A quick check-in on the Presidential race. These are the last publicly released national polls:

Rasmussen Tracking, Oct. 10-12: Romney 49, Obama 48.
IBD/Tipp Tracking, Oct. 6-11: Romney 46, Obama 46
Gallup Tracking, Oct. 5-11: Romney 49, Obama 47.
Survey USA, Oct. 8-10: Romney 47, Obama 46.
Fox News, Oct. 7-9: Romney 46, Obama 45.
Washington Times, Oct. 5-7: Romney 45, Obama 45.
Pew Research, Oct. 4-7: Romney 49-45.

It would seem pretty clear that Romney holds a narrow lead nationally. This is very bad news for Obama, as late undecided voters almost always break for the challenger, often by very large margins.

Obama is stronger on the electoral college front, where he still has more votes that are certain or likely to fall his way, and thus more paths through the remaining competitive states to a winning 270 votes than does Romney.

An interesting point is that the polls are not including two third party challengers who could affect the race. The Libertarian Party nominee, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, is a likely candidate to peel off five percent or more of the vote in his home state and could do well in other states, especially the competitive western states of Arizona and Colorado. Johnson argues that the second choice of his voters - i.e., whom they would likely vote for if Johnson were not in the race - is split almost evenly between the two major party candidates. But historically, libertarians have broken heavily Republican (typically 60-70%), and LP voters appear to have favored Republican candidates as their second choice by similar margins.

The Constitution Party, a conservative outfit, has nominated former Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode. Goode doesn't appear to be much of a factor outside of his home state, but in that battleground he could gain a couple percentage points. His old district basically consists of much of the conservative, rural south-central Virginia, and presumably almost all his votes would come from Romney.

But we ought to consider that this race may not be close at all, at least in the electoral college. A shift of just a couple points nationwide to either candidate would likely result in almost all of the battleground states falling in the same direction, producing a solid, if not landslide victory for the winner.

There are two presidential debates and one crappy job report left before the election; the burgeoning flap over Libya bodes ill for Obama. Overall, it seems unlikely that Obama will get any good news before the election, unless the November jobs report, due out less than 96 hours before election day, produces another tumble in the top line unemployment figures. On the other hand, if the numbers are bad - if the top line ticks back up (especially to an official rate over 8%), it will be devastating to the President's core argument that he at least has things moving in the right direction.

That puts enormous pressure on the President to perform well in the next two debates. But it's hard to see how he can reverse things in the debates barring a major Romney mistake. All Romney has to do is fight to a draw, or something close to it, to solidify his new status as an acceptable alternative.

At this point, the Romney people should feel pretty good.

Posted by Brad Smith at 10:52 AM in Politics

September 01, 2012
Out of Touch

The Wall Street Journal has a lengthy article (subscription required) today about President Obama, his efforts to win a second term, and some of his reflections on term one.

It is an interesting but very disappointing read, because it indicates that if Obama wins a second term, we can expect no change, no greater effort to compromise with Republicans (who will likely control both houses of Congress), nothing but an endless propaganda war.

Although recognizing that the President has done a poor job at such crucial political tasks as thanking those who help him, getting to know and socialize with members of Congress, and nurturing personal relationships and trust with lawmakers (for example, the President never opens up his golf foursome to lawmakers, nor has he ever invited any to Camp David, standard gestures for most Presidents), aides and advisors quoted in the piece make clear in the article that they blame all this on Republicans, and that this is not only their view, but the President's.

Moreover, it is clear that he really does see the major problem of his first term was not "communicating a narrative," and thinks he was "slow" to embrace the role of "national counselor." Aides say that "Obama has pledged to not again get bogged down in legislative sausage making but to emphasize connecting with voters."

This seems positively absurd. One of the biggest problems with the first term Obama administration was his decision to outsource his legislation, taking a hands-off role in the process. Indeed his "hands off approach to key legislation was noted repeatedly in the press:

- June 22, 2009: CBS News notes Obama's "hands off" approach to healthcare and notes that "from the diaries of Daily Kos to the party establishment, Democrats say they want a sharper message from a president who has tried not getting too involved."
- June 28, 2009: USA Today commented on the President's "hands-off approach to accomplishing his legislative goals. He prefers to provide broad policy principles on his priorities, leaving the details to Congress."
- July 9, 2009: Newsweek: "The prime-time event was supposed to mark an end to Obama's hands-off approach to the sausage-making on Capitol Hill, but he is still floating above the fray."
- Sep. 6, 2009: Philadelphia Inquirer: "President Obama's hands-off approach [to health care reform] hasn't worked... "
- Oct. 9, 2009: Scripps (supporting health care reform) editorialized that Obama had been "too hands off."
- Oct 24, 2009: The Hill, "[Rep. Frank] Pallone [D. N.J., Chairman of House Commerce Committee Healthcare subcommittee] suggested that Obama’s hands-off approach to the details of healthcare reform legislation has been the right one."
- Jan. 24, 2010: New York Times: "Obama's hands-off approach in the Senate stalled the climate debate when the President had the most political capital ..."
- Mar. 29, 2012: Politico, discussing Obama's failure to get cap and trade enacted: "Going back to Day One, Obama never turned his campaign proposals into formal legislative text, leaving lawmakers to shoulder the load."

We could go on ( a Google search for "Obama hands off legislation" limited to his first 20 months in office yields over 10,000 stories), but you get the picture.

Meanwhile, few presidents have spent more time jawboning the American public on issues. According to CBS News, in his first 12 months in office, Obama gave public "speeches, comments, or remarks" 411 times (including 178 using a teleprompter, suggesting longer speeches at least every other day), and gave 158 interviews, far more than any of his predecessors. He also did 28 fund raisers and 7 political rallies - in 2009 and the first three weeks of 2010 alone! Add in 13 signing ceremonies, and you see an image of a president who did little but talk in his first year in office.

It's an old but largely accurate canard that second presidential terms are almost never better than the first. It appears that the main thing Obama has learned from his first term is that he needs to be less interested in governing, and more interested in politicking.

It is hard to see any good that can come from a second Obama term.

Posted by Brad Smith at 05:37 PM in Politics

August 09, 2012
Is Harry Reid a Liar?

Is Harry Reid a liar? Well, I'm not saying so, but as Senator Reid might say, "it's out there."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D. Nev.) is catching a lot of well-deserved flack these days for his shameless, unsupported (that seems like too kind a word - perhaps "apparently made up out of thin air" would be more realistic) accusations about Mitt Romney's taxes, but in some ways, that is the least of Harry's offenses. After all, there are lots of shills out there who can flack nasty, unsupported (that seems like too kind a word - perhaps "apparently made up out of thin air" would be more realistic) accusations at Mitt Romney. But there is only one Senate Majority Leader, who has now refused, for over three years, to even allow the Senate to consider a budget, let alone pass one as required by law.

And because Harry Reid is arguably the nation's most important single legislator, his role as a legislator and his statements on legislation are of even greater consequence than his unsupported (that seems like too kind a word - perhaps "apparently made up out of thin air" would be more realistic) attacks on Romney.

So today I want to highlight Reid's misleading (well, "false" is a better word) comments about the "Affordable Care Act," aka "Obamacare." A recent study by the Congressional Budget Office concludes that repealing Obamacare would increase the deficit by a total of approximately $109 billion over the next 10 years. So, says Reid, "This confirms what we've been saying all along: the Affordable Care Act saves lots of money."

In reality, it does nothing of the kind. The CBO is an estimate of the effect of repeal on the deficit, not on "saving money." The CBO figures that Obamacare will cut Medicare spending by roughly $500 billion to help pay for Obamacare, and will increase taxes by another $500 billion or so, and that Obamacare will only cost about $900 billion, so, voila, repeal would increase the deficit. But a quick look at those numbers by any third grader tells us that it doesn't "save money." Rather, assuming all the cuts in Medicare spending actually take place, it still increases net spending by roughly $400 billion dollars, but results in a lower deficit because it raises taxes by roughly $500 billion dollars.

So, raise spending by $400 billion, raise taxes by $500 billion, and Harry Reid calls this the government "saving lots of money." Well, hey, let's "save" even more, by raising spending by $4 trillion and taxes by $5 trillion. (Actually, I guess that is pretty much the Obama plan, on paper).

Of course, note that even this idea of "deficit reduction" through higher spending only makes sense because the CBO was required to assume various optimistic projections of cost savings in the legislation, and because the tax increases kick in before the spending increases. If we would go out beyond 10 years, therefore, we would quickly find an increasing deficit because of Obamacare.

And all of that is assuming that spending on Obamacare stays within target. In 1967, the House Ways and Means Committee estimated that Medicare would cost $12 billion by 1990. In reality, it cost $120 billion by 1990 - the government estimate was off by a factor of 10. Over and over, Congress has underestimated the cost of new health care entitlements by 100% or more.

In short, let's ignore Reid's irresponsible statements about Mitt Romney, and focus on his irresponsible statements about the cost of the Affordable Care Act, and his irresponsible failure to get his Chamber to even consider a federal budget.

Posted by Brad Smith at 10:02 AM in Politics

July 27, 2012
"You didn't build that" - Stop digging, Democrats

Kim Strassel has a solid column at the WSJ on the continuing problems the President's "you didn't build your business" speech is causing his campaign.

First, a few quotes from Kim:

"You didn't build that" is swelling to such heights that it has the president somewhere unprecedented: on defense. Mr. Obama has felt compelled—for the first time in this campaign—to cut an ad in which he directly responds to the criticisms of his now-infamous speech, complaining his opponents took his words "out of context."

That ad follows two separate ones from his campaign attempting damage control. His campaign appearances are now about backpedaling and proclaiming his love for small business. And the Democratic National Committee produced its own panicked memo, which vowed to 'turn the page' on Mr. Romney's 'out of context . . . BS'—thereby acknowledging that Chicago has lost control of the message.

"The Obama campaign has elevated poll-testing and focus-grouping to near-clinical heights, and the results drive the president's every action: his policies, his campaign venues, his targeted demographics, his messaging. That Mr. Obama felt required—teeth-gritted—to address the "you didn't build that" meme means his vaunted focus groups are sounding alarms.

Republicans are doing their own voter surveys, and they note that Mr. Obama's problem is that his words cause an emotional response, and that they disturb voters in nearly every demographic.

I've enjoyed the Democratic response to this. First it was "context." Then it was "ignore broad context. Focus on that one sentence: 'that' clearly means 'roads and bridges.'" (we might call this the "Obama is no more ungrammatical than Bush who was stupid and ignorant" defense). Then it was back to "context," because if you say something was taken out of context, people who haven't seen the context might be inclined to think that must be true, because why else would someone say something so stupid as "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen"?

The argument in Obama's latest ad is "I was saying we need to get behind small business," which of course is clearly not what he was saying. Watch the speech here, and the ad here. Liberal apologists don't make that preposterous claim, but instead say that Obama was just stating the obvious (as the center point of his speech, apparently) that we all benefit from society. Of course, the problem is not that - everyone knows that and that would be unexceptional. Indeed, that's at the core of the libertarian message that government must not substitute itself for civil society. If that were it, the left wouldn't have been buzzing about this "you didn't build that" theme ever since Liz Warren tested it out in Massachusetts a few months ago. Why the left thought this was such a great riff is because of the purpose for which they would use that otherwise banal observation - to downplay the role of individual initiative and ability, to try to single out a group for higher taxes, to promote bigger government as the primary source of societal advancement, and to insinuate that their political opponents are opposed to - well, opposed to building roads and bridges and maintaining fire departments, even while falsely suggesting that these are big responsibilities of the federal government (as opposed to state and local government).

The increasingly ridiculous Ezra Klein was out on MSNBC the other night playing a speech from Romney opening the 2002 Olympics, in which he says:

"You Olympians, however, know you didn't get here solely on your own power. For most of you, loving parents, sisters or brothers, encouraged your hopes, coaches guided, communities built venues in order to organize competitions. All Olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them. We’ve already cheered the Olympians, let’s also cheer the parents, coaches, and communities. All right!”

This well illustrates exactly the difference between Obama and Romney. In the U.S. we have a time honored tradition when someone is recognized for his achievements, whether an Oscar, a Pulitzer, and Nobel, or as local Kiwanis Club Man of the Year: The recipient is introduced with praise for his work, and then the recipient starts his speech by saying, "I want to thank all the people who have helped me ..." then naming many. Even young men being awarded Eagle Scout know the drill. Romney is making that speech on behalf of the Olympians, who don't all get to speak at the ceremony because there are simply too many of them. Unlike Obama, he doesn't denigrate them and their hard work, dedication, or physical ability (he doesn't, for example, say - as Obama did about being smart - "there's lots of athletic people out there."). Romney's speech is the graciousness of the recognized: "Thank you all who helped me." Obama's is the meanness of the heckler: "Hey, you're to so great, pal." And of course Romney centers his praise around civil society - family members, coaches, small town communities - not big government. He praises these supporters - he doesn't use society to petulantly demand more of the athletes.

This would be Obama's speech, translated to the Olympians:

Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so physically fit. There are a lot of physically fit people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’re an olympian — you didn’t do that. Somebody else made that happen. Body hugging nylon snow suits didn't get invented on its own. Government research created that so that you athletes could gain recognition here at the Olympics.

Or something like that.


As the President's hard core supporters go to the mat to defend their man, they do him no favors, because they are isolating themselves from the bulk of the people. Most people quite easily see the difference between Obama's approach and the time-honored American tradition of celebrating achievement by sharing it, through recognition and thanking other individuals who have helped us. By insisting that their is no difference, Obama and his defenders emphasize the extent to which they view individual achievement, and society, differently than most Americans.

Posted by Brad Smith at 08:35 AM in Politics

July 25, 2012
While Obama keeps trying to get the poop off his shoes, Mitt finds his raison de etre

Watch this new Obama ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0yK5NakN2o. Now compare it to what Obama actually said:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the G.I. Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.

In the speech, Obama's message is, I think, pretty clear: "you owe us, and we're going to take from you once we banish these tea parties crackers in the fall." In the ad now disavowing the speech, Obama claims he was saying "we owe small business."

That Obama feels a need to make this ad demonstrates, I think, how much these comments have hurt him. I think that they've hurt him because 1) people already suspect that Obama is a big government guy who doesn't appreciate the private sector; and 2) the remarks are so, at their heart, nasty - vaguely accusatory, misleading, manipulative, and using a longstanding American tradition of recognizing our communal links (mainly the voluntary links of private, civil society) as a justification for singling out one group of people for higher taxes.

The Obama people don't quite know how to respond. First they said the most repeated sentences ("If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.") were taken out of context, but others (myself included), noted that the context really made them worse- the full context makes clear his disdain for private initiative and his apparent belief that government is the source of progress.

Then the mantra became "no, don't focus on context, focus on that one sentence. Clearly 'that' meant 'roads and bridges.'" Now they are back to arguing "context," because the isolated sentences are so explicitly damning there's no fooling anyone - better to go with context, which at least spreads some fog (though not wealth) around.

These recent comments really seem to have fired Romney up. Romney is no libertarian - he's a traditional, 1960s style American business man. He runs a successful business and generally believes in "capitalism" "free enterprise" and "the American Way" without being dogmatic or giving much thought to Hayek, Mises, and Friedman. He does things to make his community better, and when he can he takes action to help others, as Gerhaghty makes clear. He doesn't brag a lot about what he does. He's almost a Jimmy Stewart type, just getting' it done. Until now, in many ways he has seemed a fellow running for president because, well, because successful people give back to their communities, and volunteer their talents to those communities. He wanted to be president because it was a way to use his talents to help others.

But Obama's latest comments seem to strike at the core of Romney as a person. They attack his father's accomplishments in business as well as his own. He sees in them a clear attack on the "American Way," on "Free Enterprise." He hasn't become a libertarian, and many libertarians will still excoriate him for that. But within the broad context in which most Americans define the boundaries between government and the private sector, and still see the private sector as the expected norm and government action as the exception that exists to assure individual freedom and initiative can flourish, he seems to have suddenly grasped exactly why it is that Obama is a threat to his vision of America. The man is motivated and on fire.

The choice is becoming clearer.

Posted by Brad Smith at 11:03 AM in Politics

July 18, 2012
Obama's cramped vision of society

Following a bit on yesterday's post about Obama's "You didn't build that speech," it occurred to me that a key factor that is so irritating about Obama's speech - and many other comments he has made over the years - is his insistence that government is the source of our greatness and his inability to see the value of civil society.

A friend of mine keeps arguing at me that Obama is just stating the old theme, "no man is an island." OK, fine, I'm not sure why such banality needed to be the central topic of a full speech, but sure, OK, no man is an island.

But what does Obama think keeps us from being an island? Government. Look at all of his examples: a teacher, paid for by government (he doesn't seem to have any interest in private education); a firefighter, paid for by government (he never talks about volunteer fire departments); roads and bridges built by government; government support for scientific research (but no mention of private R&D).

Of course no man is an island, but except for the most hard core anarchy-capitalists, even most libertarians accept some need for government to establish a rule of law (including courts and some police presence), national defense, and a few other "public goods." But more importantly, everybody recognizes the importance of civil society and those who help us along, and most of the time it is not government. Almost every small business owner and successful professional will remember and be grateful to those who helped out along the way: the established professional - your competitor - who nonetheless gave you tips for your business to succeed (and therefore be in competition with his); the vendor who gave a cash-strapped start-up an extra month to pay; the venture capitalist or bank officer who took a risk because he believed in your personal qualities; the pastor or speaker who inspired; the customer who offered tips on improving service; the grizzled vet who simply served as a role model; the friends who bucked you up when things looked bad, and so on and on.

As is so often the case, many of these people were not working from pure altruism, but simply for profit or perhaps for some mixture of the two. Adam Smith's invisible hand is broad indeed. The experienced lawyer who helps the rookie may feel good about doing so, but he also has the self interest of knowing that he may need a favor some day; that a reputation as a good person is good for business; that the young man he helps out today may send him a million dollar case down the road. The established vendor may feel good about giving you more time to pay, about helping you out, but he also wants a good, long-term, prosperous customer.

Obama seems incapable of envisioning people working together or helping each other out other than through government. Hand in hand with that, Obama seems incapable of envisioning government - at least excessive government - hindering rather than helping. He seems incapable of recognizing the cost of a higher tax burden on the small business owner routinely working - as in my experience most do- 60 to 70 hours per week. It seems beyond him to consider that government regulation might make it harder to start or build a business.

Further, even if we accept all that Obama says, about how individual success depends on government, as David French points out, by the most liberal interpretation possible, all the stuff Obama points to amounts to no more than 30% of federal spending (in fact, it is really much less). Do we really need higher taxes and bigger government to handle that 30%?

Of course, as government grows, it actually displaces true, voluntary association and mutual aid. Americans give far more to charity than people in developed nations with a larger state sector; and moreover, surveys have long shown that Americans happier, more optimistic, and more apt to feel in control of their lives. It is important that government not crowd out the private sector or take over functions that we can perform as individuals. The Small Business Administration can never truly replace the service club as a source of advice and support. Teachers - and I'm one, so I like teachers - will never be as important as parents and family, neighbors, pastors, informal mentors, colleagues and community.

Finally, Obama seems unable to recognize that ultimately, it is what you do with the help you get from civil society that matters. There is a reason that most of us have government provided fire protection, but most of us don't build an Apple or a Microsoft. There is a reason most of us have teachers, but most of us don't make the automobile accessible to the common man. There is a reason we all have roads, but few of us develop ways to bring fresh produce to market and keep it fresh so that people can have produce of all types all year round. We do have different levels of ability, and also different levels of drive, ambition, vision, and willingness to make sacrifices.

It has often been noted by economists that the fortunes amassed by people such as Bill Gates and Henry Ford are peanuts compared to the benefits gained by society from their products. But Obama's message is not to celebrate achievement, but to denigrate it. Having no real first term record of achievement to run on, and still believing that government must grow bigger, Obama seeks to minimize the role of individual success. The message behind the words is this: those of you who are most successful actually owe the rest of us. It is only justice for us to redistribute your property to others. That's a very bad message.

Posted by Brad Smith at 11:10 AM in Politics

July 17, 2012
Obama reveals self in comments about small business

Permit me, today, a bit of armchair psychoanalysis about our president, and the controversy he set off this week with his comments about entrepreneurial success.

If you missed it, here's what Obama told an audience in Roanoke:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. (Applause.)

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

National Review's Rich Lowry has a good takedown at National Review, to which I'd like to add a few thoughts.

It's not surprising that Obama thinks this way. He's an arrogant man who thinks he's owed a great deal, and entitled to run the lives of others. Yet he must be frightened deep down to realize how little he's actually accomplished in life. He's held offices, but there are no accomplishments that come out of them. He was a community organizer? So? What did he actually accomplish? He was editor in chief of the Harvard Law Review, but how did he improve it? He was a part time instructor at University of Chicago Law, and offered a tenure track slot but he turned it down. Quite likely he just wanted the added power of politics. But somewhere, deep down, he must have realized that he had never then, and to this day still hasn't, written anything that would get him promotion to Associate Professor at Capital Law, where I teach, let alone get him tenured at Chicago. He was a state Senator - does he have any meaningful legislative accomplishment you've ever heard of? He was a U.S. Senator - same question, same answer. Now, as President, he's gotten legislation through, but mainly by turning it all over to Nancy Pelosi. And, worse, it hasn't really worked. At best he's left to say, effectively, "without me, it would have been worse." But he's smart enough to know that that is a hollow and unprovable assertion.

Contrast this with, say, Thomas Jefferson, a man who was a state legislator, congressional delegate, Governor, Secretary of State, Vice President, and President. Oh, he held offices. None of them are listed on his tombstone, at his request, because he didn't think holding office was important. It was doing things. So his tombstone notes that he founded the University of Virginia, wrote the Declaration of Independence, and wrote the Virginia statutes on religious liberty. Or Ben Franklin. Everyone knows him for his experiments with electricity, for inventing the rocking chair and hundreds of other gadgets, for his wit and wisdom. Most Americans would be hard pressed to say what public offices he ever held, though he held many. Obama has held offices. Nothing more.

So when Obama says "I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there," isn't he talking about himself? He's smart, no doubt, at least in a way. But he's built nothing. No accomplishments. At each phase of his life, others have pushed him forward simply on potential. And he knows that there are lots of smart people - many much smarter than him.

So Obama goes on, putting words in the mouth of his fictional entrepreneur, "'It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.' Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there," Obama must know that he's never really worked that hard. Of all the great adjectives people throw out about Obama, have you ever heard "hard worker"? So Obama knows deep down that he's smart, but also that he hasn't really done much with his smarts - rather, others have promoted him on that basis. And Obama knows that he's not really worked very hard, yet has eclipsed in wealth and fame most people who work much harder.* Why wouldn't he think, deep down, that he's not really entitled to his success? And why wouldn't he rationalize that perhaps no one else is, either?


*And note that this applies to Michelle, too, given a high paying, apparently do-nothing job because she was married to a rising political star. It sums up Obama's home deal with Tony Rezko, whose purchase of an adjacent lot from the same owner on the same day for full asking price may have helped Obama get his home for $300,000 below asking price.

Posted by Brad Smith at 08:57 AM in Politics

June 03, 2012
McCotter out: libertarian in?

U.S. Representative Thad McCotter has decided not run a primary election write-in campaign to retain his seat in Congress. This could lead to the election of one of the more interesting members of Congress, Kerry Bentivolio.

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 03:14 PM in Politics

May 18, 2012
Bush "tax break for ...

everyone." So sayeth Yahoo! finance:

You may think only individuals in the top two brackets will face higher federal income taxes if the Bush cuts go bye-bye as scheduled on Jan. 1, 2013. Not true. Unless Congress takes action and the president goes along (whoever that is), rates will go up for everyone -- not just "the rich." Specifically, the existing 10% bracket will go away, and the lowest "new" bracket will be 15%. The existing 25% bracket will be replaced by the "new" 28% bracket; the existing 28% bracket will be replaced by the new 31% bracket; the existing 33% bracket will be replaced by the 36% bracket; and the existing 35% bracket will be replaced by the 39.6% bracket.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 10:37 AM in Politics

April 12, 2012
Protecting the Politicians or the Citizenry? c. 1912

From the April 12, 1912 NYT:

Citizens of this town [Washington, DC] who carry any deadly weapon hereafter will be liable to penitentiary sentence or fine, or both, by terms of a bill passed in the House to-day. Any Washingtonian who has a pocketknife with a blade more than three inches long comes within the provisions.

Representative Madden of Illinois proposed an amendment to cause all capital policemen to hold up visitors to Washington and search them for weapons. It was quickly passed, but later withdrawn.

Posted by Craig Depken at 10:40 PM in Politics

March 14, 2012
Koch v. Cato

I have a long-standing relationship with the Cato Institute. They have been partners on the publication of the EFW index since 1996. I have published a couple articles in the Cato Journal, and students of mine have interned there. On a personal level, I am pleased to call many current and former Cato staffers my friends.

I have also developed a relationship with the Charles Koch Foundation in the last few years, which helped fund my research at Auburn and now SMU. I have lectured for the Koch Associates program. Students of mine have worked for the Foundation. I recently shot two short videos with their assistance. On a personal level, I am pleased to call many current and former Koch staffers my friends.

So I am saddened by this whole thing on many levels. Like a lot of people, I wish this wasn't happening. But it is. I don't understand the animosity between the Kochs and Ed Crane, though I certainly understand the loyalty of the Cato folks to Ed Crane, who has championed liberty for so many decades. Personally, I don't care who "wins" this battle though.

I am however worried about the damage being done to the libertarian movement, especially by the rhetoric on the part of the Cato supporters. They claim the "independence" of the Cato Institute is threatened by the Kochs. Do they not realize that each time they make this claim, they (a) INSULT friends at GMU, Mercatus, IHS, and hundreds of scholars elsewhere (like me) who have benefited from Koch Foundation assistance but who do not feel any loss of independence in their own research agendas?, and (b) provide fodder for the Left's tired (and untrue) claim that we are all just corporate stooges?

Go ahead and defend your boss and your jobs if you must, but in doing so, don't call into question my independence.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 03:04 PM in Politics

March 01, 2012
Losing the Blues

Walter Russell Mead on the demise of the "blue model": "It took me a while to see it, but since the 1980s I’ve come to understand that the shift away from blue is not all loss. The blue model was a very comfy couch, but there is much more to do in this world than watch Simpsons reruns while eating chips."

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 02:33 PM in Politics

December 26, 2011
Unicorns found?

Paul Gregory's inconvenient arithmetic:

"Millionaire tax filers earn $221 billion – almost a quarter of a trillion — from business and professions, partnerships, and S-corporations. This is puzzling: If Harry Reid’s figure is correct (2,361 millionaire businesses), then the average millionaire-owned business earns almost a hundred million dollars, and [they] do this without hiring anyone. These super heroes do their own typing, selling, drafting. public relations, building, and manufacturing. They do not need employees. Remarkable!"

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 10:27 AM in Politics

December 01, 2011
Public Sector Millionaires

From an article by Manhattan Institute's Lawrence Mone:

[M]ost dictionaries define a millionaire as someone with wealth (i.e., assets) of $1 million. By that definition, many New York teachers and the vast majority of police and firefighters are millionaires, because the “net present value” of their retirement benefits is well in excess of $1 million.

That is, if they had to fund their retirements from their own savings, they’d have to set aside seven figures today.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 09:13 AM in Politics

November 12, 2011
An Outrage, If Accurate

According to this post, the Michigan SEIU recieves about $6 million per year from caregivers who receive Medicaid. "For the SEIU, this makes them public employees and thus members of the union, which receives $30 out of the family's monthly Medicaid subsidy. The Michigan Quality Community Care Council (MQC3) deducts union dues on behalf of SEIU."

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 01:42 PM in Politics

November 09, 2011
A Quick Take on the 2011 Elections: There is no Quick Take

If one theme emerged from Tuesday's off-year mid-terms, it is that there is no obvious theme or narrative.

Let us start with ballot issues. Apparently voters have had enough of Republican efforts to make it harder to vote: Maine voters by a 60-40% margin overturned a law passed earlier this year that would have ended same day voter registration. Or apparently voters remain quite concerned about voter fraud and willing to impose modest restrictions on the ease of voting to address the issue despite protests from Democratic officials: Mississippians voted 62-38% in favor of a law requiring voter ID at the polls.

Also in Mississippi, the right to a thrashing when a pro-life amendment defining personhood as beginning at conception was crushed, 58 percent to 42 percent. But the state's voters also passed a law vastly restricting the use of eminant domain by a ridiculously lopsided 73 percent to 27 percent margin.

Meanwhile, Ohio voters swung back to the Democrats, delivering a crushing 61-39% defeat to a law, passed earlier this year by the Republican dominated legislature, trimming government employees collective bargaining rights. Or maybe they didn't -

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 02:14 AM in Politics  ·  Comments (0)

October 14, 2011
Is Obama's new attack style working?

In a column today in the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer excoriates President Obama's new style of more aggressively "scapegoating" Republicans and "the rich," and giving succor to the OWS crowd. But while Krauthammer calls it "dangerous," he concludes, "it's working."

Is it? In it's August monthly poll, Gallup showed the President leading a generic Republican by 45-39%. On September 8, the President kicked off his re-election campaign with his call for the "American Jobs Act," (the AJA) and spent the next several days pushing for it. Gallup conducted its September monthly from September 8 through the 11th. The result: Generic Republican led the President by 46% to 38%. In late September, Occupy Wall Street began to garner attention - it crowded the Brooklyn Bridge on the last weekend of the month and has been almost non-stop in the news since. But Gallup's October poll, released today, shows a generic Republican leading the President by 46-38% - exactly the same as a month before.

Amongst Independent voters, the generic Republican edge has grown from 40-35% in August to 43-30% in October (though down slightly from September).

When he gave his AJA speech in September, Obama's average approval was 43.8, per Real Clear Politics. Today it stands at 43.6, though with a slight uptick in the last week - almost entirely the result of a surprisingly strong (for the President) poll from Rasmussen, the pollster liberals love to hate. The most recent polls from other pollsters in the field since OWS briefly seized the Brooklyn Bridge, compared to their prior poll, show him down in Gallup, flat in Ipsos/Reuters, down in ABC/Washington Post, and down in Fox New.

Meanwhile, the old "right track/wrong track" numbers have reached a ridiculously (and historically) bad 17-76%. That's slightly worse than the 19-74% split at the time of his AJA speech, and down from 21-72% when OWS seized the Bridge. These small declines are probably just statistical noise, but they certainly don't show OWS or the President moving the needle.

The President's numbers against his specific possible Republican opponents, however, remain stable. In September, as in August, he was competitive, with slight leads or slightly behind, depending on the particular match-up. The latest round of such polling (by Gallup) should be out soon, and we'll see how he looks then. He'll also have a huge cash advantage over his GOP opposition, and by February if not sooner we should expect to see that money being deployed to bash Republicans.

So the President remains a formidable opponent. But that's because of his cash advantage, and the weakness of the GOP field. There's no sign - yet anyway - that his new style is moving things in his direction.

Posted by Brad Smith at 11:59 AM in Politics

October 13, 2011
In a nutshell

George Will provides this summation of the "message" (he dignifies it by calling it the meta-theory) of the Occupy Wall Street bunch: Washington is grotesquely corrupt and insufficiently powerful.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 02:03 PM in Politics

September 27, 2011
Unlike

Changing layouts, sharing private information, meh. Didn't get my dander up. But I'm seriously considering typing a snarky status update to register my displeasure about the following:

Facebook to start a PAC

Facebook filed paperwork Monday to form a political action committee called "FB PAC," CNN has learned.

"FB PAC will give our employees a way to make their voice heard in the political process by supporting candidates who share our goals of promoting the value of innovation to our economy while giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected," said Andrew Noyes, manager of public policy communications at Facebook.

The move comes on the same day the social networking giant sponsored an hourlong "Facebook Live" discussion with three top Republican House members: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.

Event participants asked questions through Facebook, while the congressmen discussed the struggling economy and the role of technology in government.

Don't bother clicking the link; I copied the whole story.

If you or someone you know has been personally affected by the high prices due to influence peddling among special interest lobbyists, post this to your status for one hour.

Posted by Tim Shaughnessy at 11:44 AM in Politics

September 21, 2011
Obama: Most economically ignorant president ever?

I've been saying for some time that Barack Obama is the most economically ignorant president since Zachary Taylor, but I increasingly fear I've been doing the general a disservice. It's not just erroneous economics, but sheer ignorance of markets and economics.

You see it in periodic comments of the President. Perhaps the most famous came when he said that ATMs and airport ticket kiosks lead to unemployment: “When you go to a bank you use the ATM, you don’t go to a bank teller. Or you go to the airport and you use a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate.” (An interesting tidbit - do a Google search for this - you'll see the comment was more or less uncommented upon in the "mainstream media.") He's used this a couple times, here also blaming internet travel sites.

But there have been numerous others, as when he explained that auto companies had to make more electric cars in order to satisfy the market. This showed a titanic ignorance of how markets work, the President apparently of the belief that "the market" was what a central planner decided was needed, not what consumers actually wanted. He shows know concept of consumer preference, the subjective value of goods and services, or even the role of prices in providing information to firms.

Now comes this quote from Ron Suskind's book, Confidence Men:

"Both [Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors Christina Roemer and National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers] were concerned by something the President had said in a morning briefing: that he thought the high unemployment was due to productivity gains in the economy. Summers and Romer were startled.

“What was driving unemployment was clearly deficient aggregate demand,” Romer said. “We wondered where this could be coming from. We both tried to convince him otherwise. He wouldn’t budge.”

So our President really does think productivity is bad for the economy. As economist Scott Sumner says, "So for 200 years rapid productivity growth didn’t cause any serious unemployment problems in America, but now, right after NGDP collapses, we are to believe it is producing mass unemployment, even though recent productivity gains have been rather low. I’m at a loss for words. We elected a Luddite as President of the United States."

Posted by Brad Smith at 10:14 PM in Politics

September 13, 2011
More on tolerant conservatives

For a long time, I've noted that conservatives and libertarians live happier, more active lives than liberals, and are generally more tolerant. (Yes, that anonymous friend is me). I have also long noted that in my experience, conservatives are, on the whole, more tolerant than liberals.

These observations cut heavily against the typical liberal's sense of self, but it really makes sense, if you think about it. The core of conservatism, no less than Ronald Reagan used to say, is libertarianism - the live and let live philosophy. And equally at the core of libertarianism is a tolerance for lifestyle choices. Liberals and hippies and free love types and survivialists and all kinds of crazies can move to Vermont or New Hampshire or Idaho, and the flinty natives just accept them (with the immigrants gradually changing the political culture of the two former states to match their intolerant liberalism). Modern liberalism, by definition, seeks to impose its will on individuals, largely in the belief that it can perfect society through politics. This doesn't mean that they are bad people. And perhaps we should be more intolerant. (In fact, that's the argument that my liberal friends routinely give me when I point these things out, although they don't put it in those terms - instead the argue, for example, about the evils of smoking, or paying people less than the minimum wage, or making racist comments, or the dangers of owning a gun, etc. etc.). It's modern liberalism that imposes smoking bans, and mandates speech codes, and so on. I say "and so on" because I am off on a digression.

My point was simply to note that evidence continually trickles out for the proposition that I routinely observe - liberals are less tolerant of differing beliefs than conservatives.

The latest comes from Match.com, which has been running algorithms on their members in order to better match people. One result: says Amarnath Thombre, Match.com's lead researcher, "the politics one is quite interesting. Conservatives are far more open to reaching out to someone with a different point of view than a liberal is."

I leave it to the more highly trained economists here to explain the dynamics of dating and mate choice.

Posted by Brad Smith at 10:30 AM in Politics

September 04, 2011
Some early electoral college math

In 2008, John McCain won 173 electoral college votes. It is very difficult to imagine any state that voted for McCain in 2008 not supporting the GOP candidate in 2012. So that means the GOP nominee has to swipe 97 votes from the Obama column to win in 2012. Where might they come from?

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 10:42 PM in Politics  ·  Comments (0)

August 31, 2011
Color Blind

The irony is just too good: The Davis-Bacon Act, designed to anti-Black (see here), turns out to be anti-Green (see here).

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 03:48 PM in Politics

August 13, 2011
Iowa Straw Poll: Dumbest Event in Politics

It's hard to imagine a dumber event in American politics than the Iowa Straw Poll. Or more precisely, it's hard to imagine anything dumber in American politics than the attention paid to the Iowa Straw Poll.


Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 08:28 PM in Politics

July 19, 2011
Apology accepted, Mr. Murdoch. Now how about Bush and Obama?

Lopez: "A professional clown sneaks in and throws a pie in Rupert Murdoch's face. He'll go to jail and have a record. And he'll be immortalized among that wacky society known as comedians. Surprised no one's done it before. I abhor it, of course."

Lawson: "I just don't understand our world. Our government, complete with guns, electric chairs, and prisons, can snoop, hack, bug, and pry with impunity and NO ONE CARES. A few reporters, armed with mere pens, do it and it's apparently the moral crisis of our age?"

Lopez: "I'm reminded of George W. Bush's insistence, to unseemly lengths, in 2004 that he had the right to listen to anyone's conversations. And he got re-elected for it. Below is a paste of a Glen Greenwald piece in Salon from last month. It's got to be one of the most vivid examples of lawyers upholding the rule of law, and shows where the line is drawn for giving impunity to people acting in their official capacity. It's just drawn way too far out. The Murdoch situation shows us that.

These lawyers, evidently despite political loyalties, were keeping the President from abusing his powers. “Comey explained that, in 2004, shortly after he became Deputy AG, he reviewed the NSA eavesdropping program Bush had ordered back in 2001 and concluded it was illegal. Other top administration lawyers -- including Attorney General John Ashcroft and OLC Chief Jack Goldsmith -- agreed with Comey, and told the White House they would no longer certify the program's legality. It was then that Bush dispatched Gonzales and Andy Card to Ashcroft's hospital room to try to extract an approval from the very sick Attorney General, but, from his sickbed, Ashcroft refused to overrule Comey. Bush decided to reject the legal conclusions of his top lawyers and ordered the NSA eavesdropping program to continue anyway, even though he had been told it was illegal (like Obama now, Bush pointed to the fact that his own White House counsel (Gonzales), along with Dick Cheney's top lawyer, David Addington, agreed the NSA program was legal). In response, Ashcroft, Comey, Goldsmith, and FBI Director Robert Mueller all threatened to resign en masse if Bush continued with this illegal spying, and Bush -- wanting to avoid that kind of scandal in an election year -- agreed to "re-fashion" the program into something those DOJ lawyers could approve (the "re-fashioned" program was the still-illegal NSA program revealed in 2005 by The New York Times; to date, we still do not know what Bush was doing before that that was so illegal as to prompt resignation threats from these right-wing lawyers).”
Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 12:48 PM in Politics

May 12, 2011
FSU gets "Koched"*

Well, another muckraking journalist attacks the Charles G. Koch (CGK) Foundation, this time for its support of FSU's economics department.**

Here are the facts of the matter stripped down to the basics:

(1) FSU wants to hire new faculty in an area in which they have built up a 20+ year international reputation with Gwartney, Benson, and Holcombe et al., but resources do not exist to do this.
(2) FSU says to CGK, "Hey if we find people we want to hire in this area, will you fund them?"
(3) CGK says to FSU, "Sure, if you find people you like who we also like, we will fund them."

Oooooooo. Yeah, sure "smells" to me. It smells about as much as when I was at Capital University and some donor gave us money for "service learning" and all of a sudden we were told we had to hire faculty in that area and approve new courses and curricular changes to accommodate this donation. Funny, I don't remember the outcry about academic freedom there.

Pay attention the next time a foundation offers a university money for (say) lung cancer research. I guarantee you won't see a story about how THAT violates academic freedom. Why not though? How dare the donor "dictate" that we study lung cancer instead of breast cancer! Nope, you won't see that story.

The ONLY reason this is a story is because the left doesn't like the ideas that Koch supports (and much of the FSU econ department supports). It is increasingly obvious to me that these tiresome stories are part of a well-planned effort on the part of the left. I guess it is easier to yell corruption than it is to actually engage the ideas.

The only test for whether a university should accept a donation is (1) if the faculty in the area support the idea and (2) if the donation supports the teaching/research mission. The CGK gift to FSU passes both tests. If some people don't like it, then that's just tough. Telling the economics department that they can't raise funds to support programs that they want? Now that would violate academic freedom!

* Title reference here.

**Full disclosure: I have been a direct and indirect recipient of CGK Foundation funding, and am a graduate of FSU's economics program.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:34 AM in Politics

May 05, 2011
The perfect way to observe Marx's birthday (today)

Listen to this lecture by Alan Charles Kors, titled "Can There Be an 'After-Socialism'?"

Update: Professor Kors gave substantially the same lecture at Clemson this semester, which can be viewed here. (Thanks to Eric Daniels, of the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism, for pointing this out.)

Posted by Mike DeBow at 01:43 PM in Politics

April 24, 2011
Poisoning the Grass Roots

I second Frank's offering of kudos to Dan Alban and IJ. This article from The Economist reports other IJ work: "All states regulate professional lobbyists: ie, paid agents who communicate directly with politicians in the hope of swaying them. Fair enough. But a new report from the Institute for Justice, a libertarian group, reveals that 36 states also impose restrictions on "grassroots lobbying' ...."

Also from this article:

The first sentence of the Massachusetts guidelines for grassroots lobbyists is but a whisker shorter than the Gettysburg address and comprehensible only to a lawyer. Small groups cannot afford lawyers. Yet a few states even threaten criminal penalties for breaking the rules. In Alabama, the maximum sentence is 20 years in jail.

The most severe punishments are seldom, if ever, applied. But they still have a chilling effect on the exercise of free speech. The constitution says people have a right “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances”. Politicians hate that.

See Richard Epstein on the implictions of passing laws that are not consistently applied.


Law is not just an idealized system of rules: It also involves the public administration of those rules by a wide range of elected and appointed officials in an endless array of particular circumstances. For those who would defend a just legal order, the basic challenge is to strike a proper balance — between limiting the discretion of these officials so that they do not undermine the rule of law, while also allowing them enough leeway to perform their essential roles.

Lately in America, we have done a poor job of preserving this balance. In practice — and, increasingly, in legal theory — government officials have been given unprecedented ability to make exceptions to the law, both in enforcing it and in respecting the rights granted under it. Indeed, the past year has seen two of the most enormous pieces of legislation in U.S. history — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act — make the imbalance far worse. Both laws seek to dramatically transform vast swaths of the American economy; both give enormous power to the government to bring about these transformations. And yet both laws are stunningly silent on exactly how these overhauls are to take place. The vague language of these statutes delegates much blanket authority to government officials who will, effectively, make the rules up as they go along.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 10:17 AM in Politics

March 27, 2011
Early evidence shows benefits of Citizens United, SpeechNow.org decisions

The early evidence continues to support the wisdom of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and other recent court decisions striking down campaign finance regulations on First Amendment grounds, most notably SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission. I discuss the latest bits of data here.

Posted by Brad Smith at 02:34 PM in Politics

March 08, 2011
On the Southern Border c. 1911

Consider these headlines from a story in the March 8, 1911 NYT:


20,000 TROOPS AND TWO NAVAL DIVISIONS TO MOBILIZE NEAR MEXICAN BORDER

Fourth of United States Army Ordered to Concentrate in Texas and Southern California.

Cruiser Division of Atlantic Fleet to Proceed to Gulf - Pacific Fleet Held Ready.

2,000 Marines Assembling

Washington Explains it as Mobilization Test and Joint Army and Navy War Game

Here are the opening paragraphs:
The United States is making a move as to Mexico that looks like a potential interference in the affairs of that country, though it wears the official aspect of a military mobilization test. Nearly 20,000 troops, or practically one-fourth of the entire United States Army, including the forces in the insular possessions, were last night and to-day ordered to entrain for points near the Mexican boundary.

Simultaneously the Fifth Division of the Atlantic fleet, including the powerful armored cruisers Tennessee, Montana, North Carolina, and Washington, has been ordered from New York to the Texas coast of the Gulf of Mexico, while a force of 2,000 marines has been directed to assemble at Guantanamo.


Wow.

Posted by Craig Depken at 12:53 PM in Politics

February 24, 2011
Moron More On Unions

This is just from memory, but a story on the local radio news program this morning talked about how the Louisiana Federation of Teachers is against business tax cuts in the current budget. They played a clip of the head of the AFT saying that, since the tax cuts "cost the state" some tax revenue, schools "may have to lay off employees" (emphasis mine). This seems odd to me since the BLS shows the number of mass layoffs in Louisiana in 2008, 09, and 10 as greater than zero each year.

So even though many businesses in Louisiana (and the rest of the country) are struggling, laying off workers, or closing entirely, that is less significant than the possibility of schools laying off workers.

Posted by Tim Shaughnessy at 11:54 AM in Politics

February 22, 2011
The plight of the (Wisconsin) refugee

Today my heart bleeds for the dispossed refugees fleeing a brutal dictator.

At least that's what some liberals are calling Wisconsin's elected governor, Scott Walker.

Fleeing this brutal dictator (their words) are Wisconsin's 14 Democratic state senators. As is now well known, all 14 have fled the state, depriving the legislature of a quorum needed to conduct budget business.

But it's not easy being a legislator on the lamb. Check out the sad reports in this unintentionally humorous article from the Los Angeles Times.

"It's sort of like being a refugee," said runaway Senator Spencer Coggs. Indeed, and we know how hard it is to be a "refugee." "'Each day brings its own challenges,' Sen. Spencer Coggs said by telephone. 'Somebody will need an electric shaver or somebody will need provisions.'"

Oh the horrors! The Times reports that Coggs has had to purchase more underwear, socks and T-shirts. Thank heavens there are so many non-union Walmarts around. We'd hate to see Senator Coggs unshaven, let alone in day old underwear.

As so often happens in crowded refugee camps, medical care is hard to come by. Reports the Times, "Sen. Julie Lassa needed more contact lens solution."

"The senators have gone into survival mode in Illinois, doing small loads of laundry and eating 'whatever we can get our hands on,' said one senator." One can envision the senators, scrounging from garbage cans, slaughtering their dogs and horses, leaving them to pull their carts by hand. Fortunately, they are aided by "relatives and staff who trek across the border." Trek mind you. You know, that arduous jaunt down I-94 and I-39 (hey, don't laugh - ever drive I-94 at rush hour?).

Oh, the humanity!


Posted by Brad Smith at 08:40 AM in Politics

February 04, 2011
No Quixotes!

Damn! Munger v. Google has such a nice ring to it. But it was rejected by the NC Supreme Court.

Sure, it was actually "Munger, et al. v. State of North Carolina." But it was Google that took all that cash and built a "server farm." (That's basically an insulated warehouse with some extra HVAC, btw)

Read More »

Posted by Michael Munger at 03:22 PM in Politics

February 03, 2011
Citizen Threatened for Being Too Smart!

I would have thought the oppressive apparatus of the state could no longer surprise me with its never-ending creativity. But...I am surprised, by this.

The NC DOT did an engineering study of a local road widening project, and concluded that no new signals were required at two intersections. A citizen, David Cox, had the gall to disagree. He did some research, and put the research in the form of an organized argument.

The state could have responded by ignoring the request. Or the state could have pointed out the errors in the study. (I myself have no position on the merits; haven't studied it, don't know the issues).

But the state engineer instead threatened the citizen with legal action... for... being smart! They investigated charging him with "practicing engineering without a license." Yes, really. The state DOT head engineer, Kevin Lacy, did not dispute the facts, the analysis, or the conclusions of the report. All he did was try to get the report dismissed because it was "engineering quality work." Read that again: the citizen made a petition to government for redress of a grievance, and the state wants to prosecute the citizen because the quality of the analysis is too high. (If the petition, redress, etc. thing sounds familiar that's because it is a right guaranteed in the 1st Amendment).

Read More »

Posted by Michael Munger at 07:36 PM in Politics

Good one from my hometown newspaper

Posted by Craig Depken at 03:11 PM in Politics

February 01, 2011
On government and the hat pin c. 1911

There were two hat-pin stories in the Feb. 1, 1911 NYT. The first from Boston:

"If I should carry a fish knife as long as this I would be arrested as a dangerous character," said Representative Newton to-day, holding up an eighteen-inch hatpin to the Legislative Committee on Legal Affairs, before which he appeared in support of a bill to limit the length of hatpins.

Mr. Newton, who is a fish peddler, advocated a fine of $20 for any person wearing a hatpin, the point of which projects more than half an inch beyond the hat, and cited an instance of a car conductor whose ear was pierced by a hatpin of a passenger.

"It does not seem to make a difference whether a girl wears a cart wheel or a little ding-dong affair on her head," said Mr. Newton,"the pins are just as long as she can get them. It is time something was done to put an end to this murderous practice.

I am not sure the "fish peddler" was intended to make people feel that Mr. Newton had more or less authority to speak about fish knives, hatpins, or anything in general. It seems a bit odd - but maybe representatives in 1911 still called themselves something other than a politician?

The second story pertains to New York:

The Aldermen voted down yesterday, by 37 to 29, the proposed city ordinance to restrict the length of women's hatpins. Alderman Alexander S. Drescher of Brownsville, who introduced the measure, made a hard fight for it, and was supported by Republican members of the board, but the Tammany opposition was too strong. The ordinance fixed a penalty of $50 for wearing a pin protruding more than half an inch from the crown of a hat.

{snip}

Alderman Dowling, the Tammany leader, led the opposition. "I would be for this ordinance," he said," if I believed that it would stop the wearing of long hatpins, but it would be a physical impossibility to enforce it. The whole police force and the National Guard and all the battleships of the country could not do it. If you want to put any ridiculous ordinance on the books this is the way to do it.

I guess the machine was good for at least one thing. Mr. Dowling continues:
"The way to get at this matter is to have the Legislature pass a bill prohibiting the sale of long hatpins. The next thing you will want to do will be to pass an ordinance to make a man wear mufflers over his ears so that he cannot hear any one asking him to have a drink. It is the most ridiculous ordinance I ever heard of.
Drat!! Here, but not here,I sarcastically suggested that going after hatpin manufacturers was exactly where this was headed. Perhaps it still will sometime in the future, but I don't peak ahead so as not to ruin the surprises of opening up last century's paper to the day.

But I digress a bit. Mr. Dowling brings it home:

"How can we regulate the dress of women? I don't believe in passing a law to prohibit a woman from keeping her hat on."

Drescher pointed to the fact that no one appeared before the Law Committee against the ordinance.

Alderman Nicoll, whose engagement was announced only a few days ago, raised a laugh by saying: "I have received most explicit instructions on this matter, and, under protest, mind you, I am compelled to vote against this ordinance.

And women never influenced politics before given the ballot - yeah, right.

Posted by Craig Depken at 03:16 PM in Politics

January 31, 2011
On license plates c. 1911

I wonder why the state is involved with auto licensing. It would seem that many of the things the state wants - tax revenue, ability to track automobiles (on behalf of both the state and individuals), and so forth - could be privatized. If it could be (and perhaps it has been and I am just not aware of it) then why not? I haven't had a lot of time to think this through, but the thought was brought back to the front of my mind while reading this op-ed piece from the Jan. 31, 1911 NYT:


Under the operation of the Callan automobile law the manufacturers of motor cars are obliged to lend to purchasers for a period of fifteen days duplicate license tags bearing their numbers. The purchaser is supposed to obtain within the fortnight his own license number by a tedious process of application to the Secretary of State. Through delay, neglect, or loss, the manufacturer tags are frequently not returned. Chauffeurs, particularly, are fond of keeping and using them for "joy rides." If they come to grief, the civil and criminal liability to damages to persons and property is avoided. The "joy riders" escape, and suits are brought against the dealers who license tags were used.

The lending of tags to purchasers should be done away with. In the first place, they should have the privilege of obtaining their own numbers without [unreadable] and upon the filing of their applications, with the amount of license fee. When the Callan law went into effect the owners of motor cars were subjected to needless inconvenience through the cumbrous process of registration. Secondly, dealers ought not to be placed in a position where they would incur, even for a day, a liability that should attach to the owners and drivers of motor cars. We understand that the manufacturers have signed a petition to Secretary Lazansky, asking him to empower a deputy to issue licenses direct to purchasers at the time of purchase, upon evidence that the purchaser has complied with the requirements of the law. That is a sensible appeal. The manufacturers are confident that the things it asks for are practicable, and that they would afford relief to all concerned.

Yet another addition to the "things never change" drawer.

Posted by Craig Depken at 04:28 PM in Politics

January 27, 2011
Un Discurso de postre

Mi amiga linda Carolina gives me a chance to talk about the SOTU in El Mercurio.

And she quoted me accurately, because I did say "Fue un discurso 'de postre': dulce cuando lo estás comiendo, pero después te sientes con sueño y algo lento y te preguntas qué había en él", añadió.

That is, "It was a dessert speech: sweet while you were listening, but afterwards you felt all sleepy and sluggish, and wondered what was in it."

Posted by Michael Munger at 12:26 PM in Politics

January 25, 2011
Someone needs to call Diebold

A friend on facebook linked me to this:

"There's times when we don't break for lunch, and we don't break for dinner, we don't have bathroom breaks..." It would seem an obvious solution, rather than vote fraud, would be to stop passing so much legislation.

I'm sure there's a dissertation here. Public choice scores again.

Posted by Tim Shaughnessy at 11:35 AM in Politics

January 04, 2011
David Stockman Interview

The former Congressman talks to Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie on Austrian Economics, tax cuts, TARP, and Ronald Reagan.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 09:20 AM in Politics

December 23, 2010
Final National Congressional Vote Totals

Courtesy of Richard Winger's Ballot Access News, we now have the final national vote totals for the U.S. House of Representatives in the fall election. Here we go:

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 07:02 PM in Politics

December 21, 2010
On the rationally ignorant voter c. 1910

From the Dec. 21, 1910 NYT:

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. - After many years in the license column, this city, at the annual election to-day, swung over into the no-license ranks by a majority of 1 vote. The result was a general surprise for the city has so long had a "yes" majority that it was looked upon as "safe," and there had been little work done to get out the voters on either side.

The vote to-day was "yes" 1,478, "no" 1479. Last year there was a majority of 258 for license, the vote being yes 1,654 and no 1,396. Charles L. Frink, Republican, was elected Mayor. The City Government remains Republican.


Just to clarify, the city voted to go "dry," I am sure to the utter shock and amazement to the good folks who were in the bar while the polls were open.

And 90 years later the Simpsons will parody this:

Kent Brockman: "The controversial bill passed by only a single vote."

Marge: "You really should have voted, Homer."

Homer: "Oh, it wouldn't have made a difference."


More on Votes Decided by One

More on rational ignorance and non-voting

Posted by Craig Depken at 10:24 AM in Politics

December 13, 2010
I swear I don't make this stuff up c. 1910

Reading the paper from 100 years ago often makes me feel like I have run down a rabbit hole where sixes are sevens and some things are backwards but almost everything is sadly familiar. Take this op-ed from the Dec. 13, 1910 NYT:


As is well known, the Republicans think that the happiness and prosperity of the Nation are due to high tariff taxes, and the expenditure of an enormous surplus thus produced. The election gave signs that others than Republicans, and even many Republicans, have had enough of that kind of happiness, but the information has not yet extended to all those still exercising authority. The President's message appreciated the situation, and he sounded a note of warning against extravagance. When commenting upon this counsel of perfection we remarked that it would do well to await the action of Congress before taking it for granted that the President's counsel would be heeded. The clerks off the appropriation committees have completed their tabulations, and the figures indicate such an excess over last year's expenditures that there is talk of raising more money by new taxes.

Really? This is how far we have come in 100 years?

Posted by Craig Depken at 10:21 AM in Politics

December 09, 2010
On Campaign Financing c. 1910

A report in the Dec. 9, 1910 NYT provides an interesting contrast to today's campaign financing:

That the race is not always to the rich nor the battle to the well-heeled appears in the statements filed to-day with the clerk of the House of Representatives by the Republican and Democratic Congressional Committees, showing the expenses of each during the recent campaign. It cost the Democratic committee $27,771 to gain the next House, and the Republicans $74,373 to lose it. As Camp Clark observes, the Republicans seem, comparatively speaking, not to have "got their seed back."

The Democratic Committee started out in the campaign with $13,258 on hand; the Republicans had $47,030. Under the law the committees are allowed to show contributions of sums over $100 separately from those of lesser amount. The Republicans had fifty-two contributors who gave sums larger than $100, and Congressman McKinley, Chairman of the committee, himself gave $5,000. The Democrats had thirteen contributors who gave more than $100.

The folks over at eh.net provide the following conversions to 2009 dollars:

$27,771 = $647,000
$74,373 = $1,730,000
$13,258 = $309,000
$47,030 = $1,100,000
$100 = $2,330
$5,000 = $116,000

Posted by Craig Depken at 03:04 PM in Politics

November 22, 2010
Libertarian Party Founder David Nolan Dead at 66

David Nolan, a founder (arguably the founder) of the Libertarian Party passed away yesterday at age 66. The Libertarian Party was founded in Nolan's Colorado home in December, 1971. Although the Party has never made a breakthrough in American politics - it's high point probably came in 1980, when presidential candidate Ed Clark received 1.1 percent of the national vote and two Libertarians were elected to the Alaska state legislature - most libertarians have, at some point, had contact with the Party, and many have voted for or more actively supported its candidates.

Nolan's other claim to fame may be his invention of the "Nolan Chart," now, in somewhat revised form, frequently referred to as the "World's Smallest Political Quiz." Nolan developed the chart to better capture electoral/political philosophies than the traditional "left/right" paradigm used by most commentators.

One can read more on Nolan here. R.I.P.

Posted by Brad Smith at 05:15 PM in Politics

November 18, 2010
What is seen and what is not seen

Louisiana film tax credits aren't paying their way, researchers find

Posted by Mike DeBow at 11:57 AM in Politics

November 12, 2010
More federal workers' pay tops $150,000

From USA Today (via the Atlantic Wire and Instapundit):

The number of federal workers earning $150,000 or more a year has soared tenfold in the past five years and doubled since President Obama took office, a USA TODAY analysis finds.

The news story brings to mind this recent cartoon from the Rome News-Tribune's Mike Lester:


Lester_Are_You_Paying_to_Elect_Dems.jpg

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:46 AM in Politics

November 03, 2010
Election Wrap Up: What Happened in the States

[Note: federal results are reviewed here].

*[This post was updated on November 6.]

In addition to a very good night in federal races, including the best Republican showing in the U.S. House since the election of 1946, Republicans did very well in the states on Tuesday, picking up hundreds of state legislative seats and gaining control in numerous state legislative chambers. This will not only influence policy, but also will strengthen Republicans in redistricting, and provide a larger "farm team" of candidates down the road. The run down - including such important but under reported races such as Attorney General and Secretary of State, is below the fold. We'll have one more long post, on state ballot initiatives, later in the week.

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 02:07 PM in Politics

Election Wrap-up, Federal Races.

Well, it was a big night for political junkies. Soon enough we should worry about what it means for policy, but first, let's find out who, and what, won. In this post we'll review the federal races. A later post will cover what's happened in the states, which may be more interesting because it's harder to find! Go below the fold for more.

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 11:00 AM in Politics

November 02, 2010
Election Day 2010: Read, Watch, Listen

On this election day, here's something to...

1. Read. My paper with Mike Hammock in which we apply some of the insights of Bryan Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter to environmental issues.

2. Watch. The Public Choice Society Symposium in Caplan's book from 2008.

3. Listen to. An EconTalk podcast with Caplan in which he discusses the book.

Posted by Art Carden at 10:04 AM in Politics

October 20, 2010
Mike Lester on the Constitution

Glenn Reynolds's comment "that to the credentialed-instead-of-educated, the Constitution is a wish-fulfillment device rather than, you know, an authoritative text" reminded me of this recent Mike Lester cartoon in the RNT (though I think it would be more accurate to say that the left and right view different parts of the Constitution as rocks and lava lamps).

LesterConstitution.jpg

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:52 AM in Politics

October 07, 2010
Is raising taxes on "the rich" inherently good?

Jonathan Cohn's column in today's New Republic leads off with an assertion that I hear frequently these days, and one that I think provides a good bit of insight into the soul of modern, mainstream liberalism. Cohn writes that a Republican controlled Congress would "obviously not good news for liberals or for liberalism. The Republicans will try to slash taxes for the wealthy, shrink the federal government, and repeal major legislation starting with health care reform."

Now, I can understand why one might think that "shrink[ing] the federal government" is an obviously bad thing, though I wouldn't agree. One might feel that we need a strong, active, federal government. One might openly favor a move toward a more social-democratic state. And so on. Similarly, if one favored Obamacare, one would see its repeal as inherently bad. But why is there such a widespread view on the left that "slash[ing] taxes for the wealthy" is self-evidently bad? The idea is that high taxes on "the wealthy" (whoever they are) is an inherently good thing. I would think have thought that everybody would have agreed that in the dream world, low taxes on everybody would be a good thing.

Of course, the reality is that the world is full of tradeoffs. But the assertion that higher taxes on "the wealthy" is rarely tied to any tradeoff. Perhaps liberals view it as self-evident, and therefore implicit in the statement, that higher taxes on "the wealthy" bring in more government revenue and that revenue can be spent on valuable things. But that's not really what they say. Do they view it as self evident that higher taxes on "the wealthy" will always bring in more revenue? The evidence doesn't support that as a universal proposition, although certainly it often can lead to greater government revenue. Do they see it as a given that higher taxes on "the wealthy" will lead to a healthier economy? Sometimes that might be true, but there's certainly no evidence of that as a general proposition - if anything, the evidence seems to suggest that in most cases lower taxes on "the wealthy" will lead to greater economic growth. And it strikes me, again, that the default position for normal people of good will would be that it is always better, all other things equal, to leave people in possession of the fruits of their labor. This is not a "no taxes" position. I am merely suggesting that higher taxes, among people of good will, must always be justified.

The only way that one can really see higher taxes on "the wealthy" as an acheivement in and of itself, independent of its actual effects, is by an appeal to envy. "The wealthy" have more, and we want to take it from them. Leaving them with less is ipso facto a good thing.

It strikes me as strange - and as a very bad thing - that this view can be stated so openly and cavalierly, and with so little push back.

Posted by Brad Smith at 10:47 AM in Politics

September 08, 2010
"They talk about me like a dog." Er,...

The President says that his critics "talk about me like a dog." I just want to be clear that I never talk about the President like I talk about my dog.

Posted by Brad Smith at 11:50 PM in Misc. ~ in Personal ~ in Politics

Transantiago

In 2008 I wrote this piece on Transantiago, in Chile.

Just did this update.

English version of update.

(Oh, and I'm afraid I have to recognize: Cards suck, Reds rule. It's killin' me, Bob)

Posted by Michael Munger at 10:36 AM in Politics

September 01, 2010
California Cities: D Is for Disincorporate

Story here. So how is the California Senate spending its time? Debating (and ultimately rejecting) a ban on plastic bags. Of course the CA Senate might be more likely to make matters worse than better.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:05 AM in Politics

Obama & the Mendoza Line for Keeping Political Promises

Last night President Obama took to the tube to congratulate himself for keeping his campaign promise to end combat in Iraq (never mind that 50,000 troops remain there and that they still carry firearms and wear body armor).

The president's crowing about keeping this promise is akin to a baseball player bragging about getting his batting average above the Mendoza line. There are lots of Obama campaign promises that have not been kept--closing Gitmo, not hiking taxes on people earning below $250k, posting bills on the internet for a few days before signing them--but I suppose he hopes we won't remember those.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:08 AM in Politics

August 18, 2010
Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Zoning!

Multiple ironies, sad threats.

Now, I have been to the LSS before, myself. It is way out in the country. It is held on the grounds of a very large (40 acre) plot of land. The main structures on the plot are some outbuildings, and a legally zoned bed-and-breakfast.

No one parks on the street, and nothing is visible from the street.

Now, it is true that they have amplified speeches, and amplified music on Saturday night.

But the local gubmint thugs are after them for:

1. Health concerns. So they had the food professionally catered, instead of cooking it on bbq grills as in the past.

2. Sanitation concerns. So they had port-o-potties brought in, in the proper ratio for such an activity, with that many people.

3. Ex post giant d*ckhead concerns about this being a permanent commercial activity. Hard to predict the ex post part, to the tune of a $50k fine. This is already a commercially zoned property, by the way, because of the b-n-b. And the Institute for Liberal Studies is a registered non-profit. The LSS breaks even, every year. What makes it commercial? If five of us split the cost of some chicken, and cook it, would that be commercial? This was less than 75 people, one event per year, for two nights. Sure, if it was every weekend, that might be commercial.

But this is just thuggery. The local government is doing this because they can.

Posted by Michael Munger at 10:10 AM in Politics

August 16, 2010
NPR understands the reason for campaign finance laws

The headline: Report: Too Much Money Going To State Court Races

The punchline: Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler was the first incumbent in the state in more than 40 years to lose his court seat.

Repeat after me: Campaign finance restrictions are all about, and only about, incumbent protection.

[Link]

Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:06 AM in Politics

August 13, 2010
Paris in the Terror

I am always working my way through several books simultaneously - I trust I am not alone in this. One of my current reads is "Paris in the Terror" by Stanley Loomis.

I read this passage earlier tonight:


The Law of Suspects was passed during the first week of September [1793]. This bit of legislation defined in vague and allusive terms those who were to be considered suspect and therefore liable to arrest - "persons who, by their conduct or language either written or spoken, have shown themselves to be partisans of tyranny or Federalism [a knife thrust at the Girondins] and enemies of Liberty." The number of fish that might be scooped up in this net left nothing to be desired by the Revolutionary Tribunal or its energetic prosecutor, Fouquier-Tinville. Also suspect were those citizens "who could not give a satisfactory account of their means of support or their discharge of civic obligations since the preceding March 21."

The Girondins had been in "charge" for about a year before they started to lose power - eventually 21 of them would be sent to the guillotine in one day (I note that the bracketed term referring to the Girondins is Loomis, not me). The Law of Suspects was crafted by one Robespierre and seems very similar to the laws of other authoritarian systems. The "means of support" clause seems to be aimed at Danton (Robespierre's main rival for control) who, it was suspected, had been taking a little extra from the government till.

However bad the preceding "law" seems to be, it gets worse:

The third article in this list was particularly odious. It stated that persons who had not received "good citizenship certificates" from their local Section leader were also to be considered suspect.
Now, students of public choice should be able to fill in what comes next. The remainder is below the fold:

Read More »

Posted by Craig Depken at 09:08 PM in Politics

July 15, 2010
The Forensic Economics of Rent Seeking in Action

From the politics section of the WSJ.

Senate VIP Loans Mount. Countrywide Dealt With More Lawmakers and Staffers Than Previously Known July 15, 2010

U.S. senators or Senate employees received 30 loans—far more than had previously been known—under a controversial lending program at Countrywide Financial Corp. that provided cut-rate terms to favored borrowers.

The information is contained in a letter sent to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics by Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), who has been spearheading the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's investigation into Countrywide's so-called VIP mortgage program.

No specific loan recipients were named in the letter. But Mr. Issa's letter said borrowers on a dozen loans listed their place of employment as the office of "Senator Robert Bennett." Available public records don't indicate that Sen. Bennett, a Utah Republican and member of the Senate Banking Committee, received a Countrywide home loan.

Full story (ungated). Stay tuned...

Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 04:09 PM in Politics

July 13, 2010
Building Brand Equity: Crazy in Alabama?

My new Forbes piece considers the question I raised in a letter to the Birmingham News last week.

Posted by Art Carden at 02:39 PM in Politics

July 07, 2010
The Rent Seeking Society

From Ronald Bailey in Reason:

The nonprofit Center for Public Integrity reported in March that an “analysis of Senate lobbying disclosure forms shows that more than 1,750 companies and organizations hired about 4,525 lobbyists—eight for each member of Congress—to influence health reform bills in 2009.” Lobbyists for unions opposed taxes on gold-plated health insurance plans; lobbyists for doctors opposed cuts in Medicare reimbursements; a lobbyist for Dunkin Donuts opposed a soda tax to pay for health care reform; and a Cigar Association lobbyist fought a tobacco tax.

Hope and change!!

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:50 AM in Politics

July 05, 2010
Should Alabama's 7th Congressional District Secede from Alabama?

My mother-in-law directed me to this story a few days ago: an Alabama politician has been looking into what it would take for Greene County (and the seventh Congressional district) to secede from Alabama and form its own state. The 7th district covers the University of Alabama and parts of Birmingham. I doubt those areas would go, but if the seventh district seceded, it would create a state roughly the size of New Jersey with a population larger than Wyoming's. If only the Black Belt counties seceded, they would still have a higher population than Wyoming (it would split the rest of Alabama into non-contiguous chunks, though). I sent the following letter to the Birmingham News:

"The push for the 7th Congressional District to secede from Alabama isn't as crazy as it sounds at first. To put things in perspective, there are about 4.7 million people in Alabama. In 1790, there were about four million people in the entire United States. A quick search suggests that the 7th Congressional District had about 635,000 people as of the 2000 Census, which would have made it one of the largest states in the union just a few years after the Constitution was adopted. A lot of commentators have suggested that the political order has become too large and too unwieldy to be responsive to the citizenry; see in particular the "Secession Week" entries at www.athousandnations.com that led up to Independence Day, particularly the entry about what we can learn from the formation of the Swiss Cantons. The idea that governments would function better if the states were smaller has merit and should not be dismissed out of hand.

Would secession be a wise move for the 7th District? According to the US Constitution, that's for the district itself, Congress, and the State Legislature to decide. It's certainly an idea that deserves serious consideration rather than mockery."

Posted by Art Carden at 06:19 PM in Politics

June 30, 2010
"Trial lawyer for Big Oil"

The Alabama Education Association is the 800-pound guerilla of Alabama politics. Long a (perhaps "the") dominant player in the state Democratic Party, the AEA is branching into this year's GOP gubernatorial race in a major way. Its objective is to try to ensure that Bradley Byrne is not the GOP nominee. Byrne's claim to fame is a fairly short tenure as head of the state's community college system, whose employees are members of AEA. Byrne was effective enough as a reformer of the community colleges that he earned the AEA's undying enmity. Now that we're in the runoff campaign, the AEA is supporting Byrne's opponent, Robert Bentley. At least, that's what appears to be happening. A series of slickly produced anti-Byrne radio ads are currently running sponsored by an outfit that calls itself the "Christian Coalition for Alabama." Their overall message is that Byrne is not conservative enough for Alabama -- which is rich, coming from the de facto teachers union. This morning I heard one that pointed out that Alabama will need to squeeze BP for big bucks, but Byrne would not be up to the job since he has been "a trial lawyer for Big Oil."

What a phrase.

Hearing the ad brought to mind one of my favorite H.L. Mencken quotes: "[T]he true charm of democracy is not for the democrat but for the spectator. That spectator, it seems to me, is favoured with a show of the first cut and calibre. Try to imagine anything more heroically absurd! What grotesque false pretenses! What a parade of obvious imbecilities! What a welter of fraud! But is fraud unamusing?"

Posted by Mike DeBow at 03:30 PM in Politics

A Great Question from George Will

For Elena Kagan:

Can you name a human endeavor that Congress cannot regulate on the pretense that the endeavor affects interstate commerce? If courts reflexively defer to that congressional pretense, in what sense do we have limited government?

More here (HT: Don Boudreaux). We have a couple of tomato plants. Of course, the court has already established that this is interstate commerce.

Posted by Art Carden at 10:02 AM in Politics

June 29, 2010
Another voter faces up to the unforgiving reality of "politics without romance"

The Portland, Oregon, masseuse who attended to Al Gore in 2006 and now claims he sexually assaulted her spoke to police about the incident in January 2009. The Smoking Gun has published excerpts from the 87-page transcript. This statement struck me as especially poignant, and applicable to many, many American voters in a somewhat more elevated way:
“I was further deeply shocked and repulsed as my realization of what was happening sunk in and especially as my mind was now reeling from this absolute betrayal by someone I had inherently trusted as a good guy who cares about people including me because of his public persona.”

Posted by Mike DeBow at 02:44 PM in Politics

June 28, 2010
Politicians, Compromise, and Public Office

Don Boudreaux clears the bases with this letter to the editor on Robert Byrd's association with the KKK. Just because something is politically expedient doesn't excuse it.

I'm trying to understand the following empirical regularity: voters accept that politicians will lie, cheat, steal, and do other horrible things to get elected. Then voters are shocked--shocked!!--when politicians continue to lie, cheat, steal, and do other horrible things once in office. Why?

Posted by Art Carden at 02:07 PM in Politics

June 14, 2010
Now We See the Violence Inherent in the System!*

*--This was Mike Hammock's apt characterization. Was it rude to stick a camera in the Congressman's face? Yes, it was. Did it justify assault and battery (and yes, this was assault and battery)? I'm going to guess "no."

Posted by Art Carden at 11:00 AM in Politics

May 23, 2010
GOP Picks up Hawaii Seat

Republicans finally picked up a U.S. House seat Saturday in the special election in Hawaii's 1st Congressional District. Ed Djou defeats Colleen Hanabusa 40% to 31%. Djou benefitted from a split Democratic Party (Democrat Ed Case received 27%), and will have a very difficult time holding the seat in November, when presumably only one Democrat will be on the ballot.

Still, Republicans have to be happy - despite the apparent wave building for Republicans in November, Democrats had won all 6 special elections for the House since Obama took office, so this win stops that streak. Moreover, there is a bit of symbolism in that this is the seat where the President was born. Substantively, both President Obama and former Congressman Neil Abercrombie carried the district with over 70% of the vote in 2008, so the combined Hanabusa/Case vote was still down about 13 points from the Democratic percentage in 2008.

The last Republican to win this seat was Pat Saiki, in 1988. Until yesterday, Saiki, who served two terms, was the only Republican ever to win a House election in Hawaii.

Posted by Brad Smith at 12:55 AM in Politics

May 19, 2010
On taxation and representation c. 1910

Great opening and closing paragraphs from an op-ed piece in the May 19, 1910 NYT:

It is hopeless to expect unanimity regarding the merits of the income tax amendment, but there should be no disagreement upon the proposition that the action taken regarding it ought to be in accord with the opinions of those who will pay it. Taxation without representation is bad enough, but taxation contrary to representation is an indictment of representative institutions, and an issue superior to the income tax itself, whatever views are taken of its importance.
The op-ed goes on to decry the passage of a Democratic income-tax proposal in a Republican controlled state house. The piece ends with a brilliant indictment of the system (as it stood then, and perhaps even now):
Thus our voters are being taught that it is of little consequence what are the issues of the election, or what the decision upon them may be. After election the party managers decide what political strategy requires, and that is what is done. It is of no consequence what was the mandate of the electorate. Platforms are intended for campaigns, not for administrations. The representatives of the people are chosen not to execute a declared policy, but to take a line which shall keep the party in power. Who knows what were the issues of the last campaign? Who cares what may be the issues of the next campaign, since they may be dodged after election like the issues of past campaigns?

Posted by Craig Depken at 10:47 AM in Politics

May 18, 2010
Sunshine Isn't Silence

Should "Third Parties" Be Included in Debates?

I say yes, in this little op-ed.

Posted by Michael Munger at 01:39 PM in Politics

May 12, 2010
If It Keeps Them Busy
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held hearings Wednesday on the "Potty Parity Act," a bill that seeks to address the unequal number of restroom facilities for women in federal buildings.

This is a much better way for the honorables to spend their time rather than mucking around in health care or passing cap and tax. Source.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 01:43 PM in Politics

May 04, 2010
Never Forget: 40 Years Ago Today

Today is the 40th anniversary of the infamous shootings at Kent State University.

Posted by Art Carden at 04:27 PM in Politics

May 01, 2010
There's No Way This Can Be Real, Right?

Here's a commercial from the Pennsylvania Tax Amnesty (HT: Lew Rockwell). This raises a question for privacy advocates: taxation requires that people basically have no financial privacy. How are government invasions of financial privacy different from other kinds of privacy? Has the ACLU ever sued the IRS or state taxing authorities for inserting themselves into every financial transaction? Comments are open.

Posted by Art Carden at 11:31 PM in Politics  ·  Comments (4)

April 20, 2010
Quote of the Day: Otteson on Rights and Duties

Jim Otteson asks about rights and duties with respect to health care. A choice line:

"What is not the test for having a right to something is that one really, really wants it."

From the perspective of economics, there's a subsidiary question: if I have a duty to provide others' health care, what, then, do I have a duty to forgo in order to provide it? How are these obligatory costs identified, and by whom? Right now, I'm blogging about rights and duties, watching Sesame Street clips with Jacob, and intermittently talking to the plumber who is fixing some of our faucets. Is this OK? What should I be doing instead? Whose blessing do I require?

The comments on Jim's post are interesting. Common apologetics for universal health coverage ("Europe does it," "we have Social Security," etc.) are canards because these are all financially unsustainable. Welfare state public finance is an exercise in (presumably well-intentioned) institutional prodigality. We could probably throw a heck of a party if we cashed in all of our assets and spent everything on booze, but the money and the liquor would run out eventually.

For more, here's Bryan Caplan's resource page from a recent debate in which he participated.

Cross-posted at the Mises Blog.

Posted by Art Carden at 10:11 AM in Politics

April 19, 2010
One Flew atop the cuckoo's nest

Via Mark Brady, here the IEA Blog on the late British philosopher Antony Flew (1923-2010):

Several newspapers (e.g. the Guardian and the Telegraph) have recently carried obituaries of the English philosopher Antony Flew. These obituaries have emphasized the remarkable change of mind by which Flew, for most of his life an internationally renowned atheist, became convinced at the age of 81 of deism. What this emphasis has overshadowed - and what some readers of this blog may not know - is that Flew was for several decades a heroic defender of classically liberal political philosophy and indeed by far the best known professional philosopher in Britain over that period to champion classical liberalism. His heroism lay in the fact that, in challenging the spirit of the age as sharply and as unapologetically as he did, he was, and must have known that he was, irreparably damaging his reputation among his overwhelmingly left-leaning professional peers. That reputation – sufficient for his appointment to a chair at the University of Keele at the age of 31 - rested on a prolific output of books and of papers in the most prestigious philosophical journals. His work ranged widely, and especially in the philosophy of religion and the interpretation of David Hume had a major international impact.

To me this says: Do excellent work in order to advance good ideas.

Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 06:10 PM in Politics

April 17, 2010
Could Ron Paul Beat Obama?

I guess pollsters have lots of empty time on their hands, because to recent polls are out that make one wonder, "who paid for that?"

Rasmussen Reports has polled on a hypothetical presidential matchup of Ron Paul vs. President Obama. Obama wins 42-41. Which probably means that if the election really were held today, Ron Paul wins - you know how undecideds break agains the incumbent!

Meanwhile, Public Policy Polling, another reputable outfit, polls Obama vs. George W. Bush, with Obama again eeking out a victory with less than 50% - in this case, 48-46% over the man whose unpopularity as President has so much to do with the Democratic victories of 2006 and 2008.

How can it be the unpopular ex-president and Ron Paul, a guy who got about 0 percent of the vote in the 2008 Republican primaries, should be neck and neck in hypothetical matchups with the sitting President? What does it mean?

First, it means that Obama has totally lost GOP moderates and dissenters (except, perhaps, for David Brooks and Christopher Buckley). In the PPP poll, 87 percent of Republicans favored Bush, quite a bit higher than his ratings with the party at the end of his term. From mid-2008 through the end of his term, Bush's approval rating among Republicans stood at roughly 60 percent; it was 18 percent among independents and 10 percent among Democrats at the end of his term,according to Pew. While a plurality of Independents still favor Obama over Bush, the margin is just 49-37, down from the 52 percent Obama won over McCain, who was much more popular with Independents than Bush.

Rasmussen's poll similarly shows that Obama has simply lost Republicans. Republicans scarcely gave Ron Paul the time of day in last year's primary. That he polls even with Obama is substantially a sign that Republicans will support any Republican over Obama - 66 percent support Paul in this poll, better than the much more traditional Republican Bush was doing a year ago. (Indeed, if you look at the Rasmussen link above, you'll see that Paul is actually quite unpopular in the GOP. That he draws more party support against Obama than Bush did a year ago suggests the degree of GOP disillusionment with the President. And in a Paul-Obama match up, independents break decisively for Ron Paul, 47 to 28 percent.

While many Democrats have been trying to convince themselves that you just can't deal with Republicans and to convince the nation that Republicans are "the party of 'no,'" the reality is that the President has squandered a remarkable opportunity to create a true realignment favoring the Democrats. A year into his presidency, Republicans have regained basically all the ground they lost from 2005 to 2008. That George Bush and Ron Paul can poll even with the President (as one with some real affection for Ron Paul - I have even represented him in my legal practice - I can still say that it would be hard to imagine two weaker Republican candidates, if the election were really held today, than Congressman Paul and President Bush) is indicative of the opportunity that Obama has lost. He hoped to create "Obama Republicans," as Reagan created "Reagan Democrats." He has failed. And he has sent independents flocking back to Republicans as well.

Obama's numbers could recover some. While he is doing great long term damage to the economy, he could look pretty good for a while. The huge influx of money from the Fed and the stimulus should have some effect, and the economy has a natural resiliency. There are some signs that recovery may be underway and that it could be strong, but also signs that it could be truly "jobless." But whatever happens with the economy, I think it unlikely that the President will have any chance to truly set off a major realignment. Republicans and Independents are returning to their pre-2006/2008 voting patterns, and indeed if any major realignment is on the horizon, it could be one that would benefit a new, can-do Republican Party epitomized by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Posted by Brad Smith at 08:54 PM in Politics

April 11, 2010
What Is A Libertarian?

Allan Handleman talks to John Stossel and me about "What is a Libertarian?"

Link to show.

Link to WZTK web site.

Posted by Michael Munger at 02:50 PM in Politics

April 10, 2010
State Law Suits: False Hope

Can the states win their law suits, on Obamacare?

I have a guest op-ed in today's Durham Herald Sun, with my answer.

To summarize: No, the states cannot win.

Posted by Michael Munger at 04:55 PM in Politics

April 06, 2010
Addendum

Re: Intrusive government. See this pre-Patriot Act article by Charlotte Twight, "Watching You: Systematic Federal Surveillance of Ordinary Americans."

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 10:46 AM in Politics

Intrusive Government

On the presumptuousness of, and the presumption of, increasingly intrusive government.

On presumptuousness: From a scary article in The Weekly Standard:

The American Community Survey wasn't around when Ronald Reagan declared that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." If it was, he'd probably agree that having a government representative knock on your door, try to threaten their way into your home, and demand that you give them very personal information is far more terrifying.
[...]
The ACS [American Community Survey} is an extension of the U.S. Census that all households receive. While the U.S. Census form contains 10 questions and is sent out every 10 years, the ACS form contains 48 questions and is sent to 250,000 households each month on a rolling basis.
[...]
What's especially problematic about the ACS are the answers it demands from citizens. The least threatening of them are just strange -- such as asking whether your home has a flush toilet and whether "there is a business (such as a store or barber shop) or a medical practice" on your property. Then there are the financial questions. The ACS asks everything from your sources of income (in dollar amounts) to how much you spend on gas, electricity, and water. The IRS just asks what you earn; the Commerce Department wants to know how you spend your money as well.

Even more invasive are the personal questions. The questionnaire asks how many people live with you and their relationship to you, along with their names, ages, gender, and race. Most creepy of all are the questions about your daily routine. The ACS wants to know where you work, what time you leave for work, how you get to work, how long it takes you to get to work, and how many people travel with you
[...]
[T]oday's government and its workers have forgotten is that government is accountable to the people, not the reverse. It is "government of the people, by the people, for the people," in Abraham Lincoln's immortal words.

On presumption: About those "immortal words," Alfred J. Nock says this:

Spencer does not discuss what he calls "the perennial faith of mankind" in State action, but contents himself with elaborating the sententious observation of Guizot, that "a belief in the sovereign power of political machinery" is nothing less than "a gross delusion." This faith is chiefly an effect of the immense prestige which the State has diligently built up for itself in the century or more since the doctrine of jure divino rulership gave way. We need not consider the various instruments that the State employs in building up its prestige; most of them are well known, and their uses well understood. There is one, however, which is in a sense peculiar to the republican State. Republicanism permits the individual to persuade himself that the State is his creation, that State action is his action, that when it expresses itself it expresses him, and when it is glorified he is glorified. The republican State encourages this persuasion with all its power, aware that it is the most efficient instrument for enhancing its own prestige. Lincoln's phrase, "of the people, by the people, for the people" was probably the most effective single stroke of propaganda ever made in behalf of republican State prestige.

Thus the individual's sense of his own importance inclines him strongly to resent the suggestion that the State is by nature anti-social. He looks on its failures and misfeasances with somewhat the eye of a parent, giving it the benefit of a special code of ethics. Moreover, he has always the expectation that the State will learn by its mistakes, and do better. Granting that its technique with social purposes is blundering, wasteful and vicious - even admitting, with the public official whom Spencer cites, that wherever the State is, there is villainy - he sees no reason why, with an increase of experience and responsibility, the State should not improve.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 10:22 AM in Politics

March 22, 2010
Mike Lester on Obamacare

LesterHealthcare_and_Colonoscopy.jpg

Source.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 04:24 PM in Politics

March 18, 2010
Something is spinning under the altar of St. Peter's Basilica

This Yahoo News piece caught my eye: President Barack Obama's sweeping health care legislation won precious support from a longtime liberal holdout in the House on Wednesday and from a retired Catholic bishop and nuns representing dozens of religious orders...

Shortly after Kucinich's announcement, a letter was released from 60 leaders of women's religious orders urging lawmakers to vote for the legislation...a letter released by Network, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby.

So I did some snooping and found Network's Voting Record of the 111th Congress, First Session. Here are some summary stats of the score received by legislators voting with Network:

House Dems
Mean 0.947
Stan Err 0.007
Median 1.000
Mode 1.000
Stan Dev 0.113
Sampl Var 0.013
Range 0.670
Minimum 0.330
Maximum 1.000

House Repub
Mean 0.169
Stan Err 0.011
Median 0.160
Mode 0.160
Stan Dev 0.143
Sampl Var 0.020
Range 0.660
Minimum 0.000
Maximum 0.660

Senate Dems
Mean 0.961
Stan Err 0.008
Median 1.000
Mode 1.000
Stan Dev 0.061
Sampl Var 0.004
Range 0.230
Minimum 0.770
Maximum 1.000

Senate Repub
Mean 0.334
Stan Err 0.022
Median 0.330
Mode 0.330
Stan Dev 0.139
Sampl Var 0.019
Range 0.550
Minimum 0.110
Maximum 0.660

It's hard to argue, as the article does, that "The endorsements reflected a division within the church," as if a group that is so partisan in its rankings of legislators could be called a legitimate unbiased voice of Catholic opinion. The words "peace and justice" are splashed all over the site, which won't help shake the image of such groups being more concerned with economic issues than life issues or fidelity to the Church. Instead of quoting one retired Bishop who supports this bill (even with the inclusion of abortion funding), the article downplays the opposition to the bill (here & here) of the US Conference of (nonretired) Catholic Bishops.

Posted by Tim Shaughnessy at 01:16 AM in Politics

March 11, 2010
Mr. Smith Returns to Washington to Discuss Citizens United

Yesterday I was back in Washington to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. As these things go, it was a pretty lively event, as Jeff Patch of the Center for Competitive Politics describes below the fold.

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 10:05 AM in Politics

March 03, 2010
Justices Set to Make Gun Ownership a Right?

You've gotta love the LA Times, which has a big banner headline today, "Justices signal they're ready to make gun ownership a national right." Well, there is that Second Amendment thing...

Posted by Brad Smith at 08:46 AM in Politics

February 28, 2010
The Pinto Treatment Once More

Steve Chapman weighs in on Congress and Toyota:

When it comes to defects, the company is hardly unique. Over the past five years, The Wall Street Journal reports, the federal government got more complaints from owners of Fords than owners of Toyotas. Out of 20 carmakers, says Edmunds.com, Toyota is fourth best in the number of complaints per vehicle sold. But none of the others is being used as a piñata.

A more expansive government role is one of those answers that is neat, simple and wrong. "There are 250 million vehicles with 3,000 parts apiece," says Hurley. It's safe to assume the government couldn't police them all, even if it chose to do nothing else.

Fortunately, it doesn't have to do that in order for consumers to be protected. A carmaker's need to attract buyers is a far more powerful force for safety. As Yoshimi Inaba, head of North American operations, told Congress, "Nothing costs Toyota more than the loss of customer trust in our vehicles." Another reliable motivator is the urgent desire not to pay millions of dollars in damages, as Toyota is likely to do once the courts have had their say.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 09:45 AM in Politics

February 20, 2010
Death of Global Warming

Walter Russell Mead at The American Interest has the best analysis I've seen about the death of global warming as a polticial issue. He writes from the viewpoint of one who considers climate change to be a real danger and, as such, he shows special disregard for and anger toward those who led to this political reversal. From his most recent post:

Anyway, as the [Washington] Post now belatedly acknowledges, the movement to stop climate change through a Really Big and Comprehensive Grand Global Treaty is dead because there is no political consensus in the US to go forward. It’s dead because the UN process is toppling over from its own excessive ambition and complexity. It’s dead because China and India are having second thoughts about even the smallish steps they put on the table back in Copenhagen. [. . .] A year ago [the global greens] were the last, best hope of the world, a shining band of brothers (and sisters) who were saving the planet and taming the excesses of self-destructive capitalist greed. The Force was with them and the world lay at their feet. They were going to be greeted as liberators by a grateful world desperate to be saved.

Now they are just another piece of roadkill on the heartless historical highway–an unforgiving place for people who seek to change the behavior of the world through comprehensive treaties, like the nuclear freeze proponents before them and like the advocates of the Grand Global Treaty Against War in the 1920s. (And at least the 1920s peace movement got its Grand Global Treaty: the 1929 Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawed war forever, sparing all future generations from this terrible scourge.)
[. . .]
Failure to deal sternly and coldly with those who made these errors will leave the same incompetents in charge for the next stage of the movement. This will probably happen; social promotion is something liberals do very well and the blame for this mess is so widespread that few of the movement’s leaders will want any uncomfortable questions to be asked.

Frankly, I blame Al Gore. Unlike naive scientists who know little about life beyond the lab, or eco-activists whose concepts of the international political system come from writing direct-mail solicitations to true believers in rich countries, the former vice-president had decades of experience with high politics.
[. . .]
The greens claim to understand the dynamics of complex ecosystems better than the rest of humanity; the simplistic assumptions and unrealistic strategies with which they’ve approached the complex ecosystem of international politics don’t provide the dispassionate observer with much evidence in support of this claim.


Posted by Wilson Mixon at 10:22 AM in Politics

February 04, 2010
Do We Need a Deficit Reduction Commission?

The President is promoting a special, bipartisan commission to deal with deficit reduction. It is supposed to produce proposed tax hikes and spending cuts to bring the deficit down. I thought we already had such a commission: it's called Congress.

Posted by Brad Smith at 01:02 AM in Politics

February 02, 2010
Mike Lester on TOTUS

Today's offering from the Rome News-Tribune's Mike Lester:

LesterTOTUS.jpg

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:46 AM in Politics

January 30, 2010
"Education Secretary Duncan calls Hurricane Katrina good for New Orleans schools"

Is this story another data point for Mancur Olson's thesis in The Rise and Decline of Nations?

Posted by Mike DeBow at 11:28 AM in Politics

January 28, 2010
Obama vs. the Supreme Court

I confess that I did not watch the State of the Union address, but I have seen the clip where the President calls out the Supreme Court over its 5-4 campaign finance/First Amendment decision last week -- and I have to say that that's the creepiest thing he's done to date, IMO. The standing O he got from Congressional Democrats added immeasurably to the creepiness factor. Legal Insurrection makes some very good points and links to an Instapundit post. (If Legal Insurrection is not already part of your web routine, you really should think about adding it.)

Posted by Mike DeBow at 02:17 PM in Politics

January 27, 2010
A Bad Idea for a Drinking Game

Anyone taking a gulp anytime Obama said "I" in this speech likely ended up more hungover than Keynes in the rap video.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 04:32 PM in Politics

Irrational politics, and are you a real person?

It's getting hard to maintain the illusion that fiscal policy is done in a rational way when the solution to a recession one year is to spend $787 billion and the solution a year later is to freeze spending.

On CNN.com's homepage, there are links to "Stimulus doesn't help middle class" and "Stimulus helps real people," so I guess you can use your W2s to figure out whether you and your family earn enough income to be considered real.

Posted by Tim Shaughnessy at 03:13 PM in Politics

January 26, 2010
Rand's political philosophy

Cato Unbound has an interesting discussion this month under the title "What's Living & Dead in Ayn Rand's Political and Moral Philosophy?" Of course, it's of special interest in MY household, because my wife is one of the discussants ...

Posted by Lawrence H. White at 01:41 PM in Politics

January 20, 2010
"Politics is getting so weird"

A friend writes:

Politics is getting so weird.

Last month I was blessing the commies in China for killing the Copenhagen conference.

Now I’m blessing the most liberal state in the union for burying Ted Kennedy and Obama’s agenda.

Posted by Brad Smith at 09:39 AM in Politics

January 18, 2010
Lindsey Graham opposes the industrial revolution

Wow. “'All the cars and trucks and plants that have been in existence since the Industrial Revolution, spewing out carbon day-in and day-out, you’ll never convince me that’s a good thing for your children and the future of the planet,' [Graham] told a crowd in South Carolina,... ."

Graham thinks it would be a good thing if we had no cars and trucks, no electricity in amounts that could serve any purpose (and no serious means to construct hydroelectric plants in any case)? He thinks it would be better for us and our children if we lived as in 1800, when the average life expectancy was about 40 - if you survived childhood?

Wow.

Posted by Brad Smith at 11:42 AM in Economics ~ in Funny Stuff ~ in Politics ~ in Science

December 24, 2009
Christmas Eve wisdom from Harry Reid

From "Long history of vote-trading on Capitol Hill" in today's Washington Times --

Mr. Reid . . . said the trading is no different than what happens with the thousands of earmarks in the dozen annual spending bills.

He said senators should be embarrassed if they weren't able to carve out exemptions.

"There's 100 senators here, and I don't know if there is a senator that doesn't have something in this bill that was important to them," he said. "And if they don't have something in it important to them then, it doesn't speak well of them."

-End quote-

And on that note I'd like to wish the faithful readers of DoL a Merry Christmas!

Posted by Mike DeBow at 10:58 AM in Politics

December 22, 2009
I'm Shocked

Banks with political ties got bailouts, study shows

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 03:22 PM in Politics

NIMBY, California

From the NYTimes:

Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation in Congress on Monday to protect a million acres of the Mojave Desert in California by scuttling some 13 big solar plants and wind farms planned for the region

At least one Kennedy (as in NIMBY, Massachusetts) takes exception:

“This is arguably the best solar land in the world, and Senator Feinstein shouldn’t be allowed to take this land off the table without a proper and scientific environmental review,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmentalist and a partner with a venture capital firm that invested in a solar developer called BrightSource Energy. In September, BrightSource canceled a large project in the monument area.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 09:25 AM in Politics

NIMBY, California

From the NYTimes:

Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation in Congress on Monday to protect a million acres of the Mojave Desert in California by scuttling some 13 big solar plants and wind farms planned for the region.

At least one Kennedy (as in NIMBY, Massachusetts) takes exception:

“This is arguably the best solar land in the world, and Senator Feinstein shouldn’t be allowed to take this land off the table without a proper and scientific environmental review,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmentalist and a partner with a venture capital firm that invested in a solar developer called BrightSource Energy. In September, BrightSource canceled a large project in the monument area.
Posted by Wilson Mixon at 09:19 AM in Politics

December 21, 2009
A Fish Rots ...

Rent-seekers in action:

American catfish farmers have demanded that tougher safety rules be imposed on certain fish from Vietnam -- which are hurting their business, the industry says. But U.S. catfish farmers must first get the U.S. Department of Agriculture to say the Vietnamese fish is a catfish. That is a little awkward since just seven years ago the farmers successfully urged Congress to ban the Vietnamese fish from ever being labeled a catfish.

In Washington and elsewhere, trade, sometimes as much as science, has a way of defining a species. Something might look, taste and feed off the bottom like a catfish, but until an agency calls it a catfish, it might as well be a duck.

American catfish farmers aren't alone in trying to manipulate food names. Three years ago, the Maine lobster industry fought restaurants that offered "langostino lobster," saying that the Chilean crustacean isn't a lobster at all. They called it a crab.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:30 PM in Politics

December 18, 2009
And These Folks Think They Can Design the Health Care System
When he earmarked $100,000 in taxpayer spending to go to Jamestown's library, Rep. James E. Clyburn meant for it to go to the library in Jamestown, S.C., which is in his district.

But in the bustle to write and pass the $1.1 trillion catchall spending bill, Congress ended up designating the money for Jamestown, Calif. - 2,700 miles away and a town that doesn't even have a library.

"That figures for government, doesn't it," said Chris Pipkin, who runs the one-room library in Jamestown, S.C., and earlier this year requested $50,000, not the $100,000 that Congress designated, to buy new computers and build shelves to hold the books strewn across the room.

Spend twice as much as necessary and still screw it up--that sums up the U.S. Congress pretty nicely.

Source (HT: Betsy's Page).

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:42 PM in Politics

December 14, 2009
The Myth of Campaign Finance Reform

Oh no, I've been published in a neo-con journal!

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 11:31 AM in Politics

Anti-Science Liberals

The public perception of conservatives (and I have to lump libertarians into this category, which I think is accurate here, and there's not really separate polling data for libertarians - see below), fostered by Hollywood and TV, many major media publications, and of course liberals, is that conservatives are uptight, unhappy, nasty people.

I have noted in this space that these perceptions are not true - polling data has consistently shown that conservatives are more likely to say they are happy with their lives; they are more active, both in terms of hobbies and sports and in terms of volunteer activities; they are more likely to be satisfied with their sex lives (and to have sex more often), than are liberals.

The latest part of the mantra from the cultural elites is that conservatives are also anti-science. Remember how Barack Obama even promised to restore science "to its rightful place."

Well, now comes an interesting survey from Pew that debunks the idea that liberals are more science oriented, too. In fact, it turns out that liberals are nearly twice as likely as conservatives to believe in astrology (30% to 16%), "spiritual energy" (35% to 18%), or reincarnation (33% to 18%). It's interesting to note that while conservatives and liberals are equally likely to believe in the "evil eye" (17% each), Democrats are more likely than Republicans to believe in the evil eye by 19% to 12%.

Maybe all those "Reagan Democrats" of a generation ago were just fans of Nancy, who was said to have an interest in astrology. But clearly the rejection of science for superstition knows no ideological boundaries.

Posted by Brad Smith at 11:24 AM in Culture ~ in Politics ~ in Science

December 07, 2009
Newspeak c. 2009

From an interesting report by the House of Commons on the use and abuse of language in government:

Q2 Chairman: In a sense, we know all this stuff that is floating around us, and we know what Orwell told us back in 1946, that "prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house." We have that all around us in official language, and what I really want to ask you is: Does this drivel matter or does it just irritate us?

Interesting (and sometimes painful) reading.

Posted by Craig Depken at 01:17 PM in Politics

December 03, 2009
On respect c. 1909

Okay, I couldn't come up with a clever title for this blog entry but a story in the Dec. 3, 1909 NYT drew my attention for some reason:

Orders abolishing the standing guard of one company of regular army troops about the tomb of the late President William McKinely have been received here [Canton, Ohio]. Secretary Hartzell of the McKinley National Memorial Association was notified yesterday by Lieut. Householder of the Second Infantry that Secretary of War Jacob M. Dickinson had decided to reduce the guard to two non-commissioned officers. It is believed that this guard will be ample.
I wonder what this is all about. A company of regular army troops is around 100 soldiers. Why would such a force be required to guard the tomb of the late president? Granted McKinley was assassinated and it is plausible that there might have been concern that his grave would be desecrated for some reason, but the cynic in me wonders if the company was in place as some form of "pork spending."

The not so subtle sarcasm of the last sentence is also somewhat interesting.

Posted by Craig Depken at 12:40 PM in Politics

December 02, 2009
Warack Obama

The situation: My 14 year old daughter and I at Moe's last night for dinner. Me casually watching President Obama on a (muted) television screen behind her. She causaully watching PTI on ESPN on a television screen behind me.

Me [grimacing]: Grrrrr.

She: What?

Me [pointing to the tv behind her]: The president.

She: What's he talking about?

Me: Oh, he's decided to kill a lot more people.

[Long pause.]

She: My tv is pretty good.

It saddens me that we both can be so accepting.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 11:13 AM in Politics

My Frivolous Reaction to the President's Speech on the Afghanistan Surge

I watched the President's speech on Afghanistan last night, and I keep seeing clips of it replayed, and one question keeps gnawing at me: where the heck is this place "Pockeestan" that the President kept referencing? Is it near Pakistan? Will our allies from Scotland and France - or are they now to be called "Scootlund" and "Frhawnse?" - know where to find it?

Would the President have referred to our southern neighbor as "Mejico" in a speech? If mentioning India, would have done his best impersonation of Apu?

Me thinks his effort to show off his world knowledge sounded a bit dumb.

Posted by Brad Smith at 08:39 AM in Politics

November 22, 2009
Gary Johnson for president?

The two term governor of New Mexico (1995-2002) appears to be taking the early steps in a long-shot presidential bid.

As governor, Johnson set a record for most bills vetoed, and earned a reputation as the most libertarian governor in the country. A Johnson campaign would focus on runaway government spending and taxes. Could Johnson win the GOP nomination, or even become a player in the primaries?

Pluses:
- Compelling life story (started as a handyman, eventually built New Mexico's largest construction business, which he sold in 1999; has climbed Mt. Everest, completing the hike with a broken leg)
- Never part of Washington scene; executive experience; out of politics since 2002 means no Bush taint, and no controversial votes over last decade.
- Twice won landslide victories in New Mexico, a state with a Democratic tilt. Beat the incumbent Democrat by 10 points the first time out.
- My theory - after the stress of impeachment, the 2000 election, and a pair of crusading presidencies (Bush abroad, Obama at home), people will want a common sense, libertarian approach to government - effective government, no great new initiatives, getting the fiscal house back in order.

Minuses:
- No name recognition
- Unproven as a fundraiser. Johnson self-funded his first run for office and much of his second. But he's not a Mitt Romney, capable of dropping $100 million into a presidential race.
- The big killer - during his second term, Johnson came out against the war on drugs and in favor of legalization and decriminalization.

Johnson offers libertarian voters a new, improved version of Ron Paul. He's got executive experience with proven accomplishments, not a bunch of protest votes; though an "aw shucks" type of speaker, he is better spoken than Dr. Paul; he is better focused, not as likely to drift off into obscure theory or second tier issues; the political climate will be better for an anti-war Republican.

There is already a grassroots rumbling starting to build for Johnson, coming from many of the same folks who had such enthusiasm for Paul. The question is whether Johnson can do what Congressman Paul could not - build on that enthusiastic base to appeal to a broader section of the GOP electorate. That will require not scaring the middle class on the drug issue.

A few links - all of these sites are unofficial, as Johnson has not announced his candidacy:

Johnson for America
Gary Johnson 2012
Johnson for President Facebook Group
"America's Most Dangerous Politician" - a Reason Magazine profile from 2001.

Posted by Brad Smith at 09:13 AM in Politics

November 21, 2009
Bread and circuses

A short list of the headlines on CNN.com that appear (11:24pm central time, 11/20/09) before stories about the Senate's health care reform bill being voted on tomorrow:

1) Fans mourn end of 'Oprah' show

2) Arrests in human fat ring in Peru

3) Bishops slam Obama bill

Here's betting there is more mourning for the loss of Oprah's show than for the loss of liberty if the health "reform" passes. In what other private industry can you be arrested for refusing to engage in activities you consider immoral?

Finally the bishops come out swinging, but where were they for the House bill? Only a few have expressed their disapproval on the grounds of subsidiarity subsidiarity: "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."

And why did Butterbean get arrested in Peru?

Posted by Tim Shaughnessy at 12:47 AM in Politics

November 10, 2009
More libertarian movie moments

"These are my sons. They don't belong to the state."

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:47 AM in Politics

November 09, 2009
"We meddle."

Libertarian moments in the movies:

"Why would they fight so hard against us?"

"We meddle."

"River?"

"People don't like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think. Don't run. Don't walk. We're in their homes, and in their heads, and we haven't the right. We're meddlesome."

Posted by Robert Lawson at 11:50 AM in Politics

November 08, 2009
Relativism: Lazy and Strong

My friend and colleague Dr. J writes what is rapidly becoming one of my favorite blogs, Readmorewritemorethinkmorebemore. She recently posted two interesting notes on lazy relativism and strong relativism. Here's my comment on the latter:

And have you ever wondered if, like, what I see as "red" is what you see as "red?" And are you saying that "like, whatever" isn't a defensible position?

Seriously, thanks for the detailed explanation. The man or woman on the street--someone like me--probably thinks that all relativism is of the lazy variety.

Perhaps there's another idea for a SEGA panel: what are the biggest misconceptions non-specialists have about your field? The analogue to lazy relativism in economics is the mistaken view that "economics" means "money" or that "costs and benefits" are necessarily or exclusively financial. I think of "cost" very generally as whatever we give up when we make a choice and "benefit" very generally as whatever we gain when we make a choice. Every action is an attempt to change the world and to make it a better place (however we choose to define "better," and this is the point at which I refer students to the philosophy department) than the world we leave behind. The cost of an action is the action we didn't take.

The cost of reading this blog post and writing a comment is whatever else I could have done (nap, for example, or grade homework). The benefit was that I now have a better understanding of the difference between lazy relativism and strong relativism. If we really wanted to we could evaluate these in monetary terms. By investing my time in reading the blog post I gave up the opportunity to earn income now by going around the neighborhood offering to rake leaves (like a couple of kids on the sidewalk appear to be doing now) but I gained knowledge that might increase my income in the future. This is one way to think about action, but I think it actually limits our knowledge by throwing out non-pecuniary reasons for action.

Posted by Art Carden at 02:31 PM in Politics

November 07, 2009
Tuesday's Democratic losses bode well for freedom

The more one digs into Tuesday’s election results, the worse they look for Democrats. This is almost certainly a good thing - the battleground this fall was generally over taxes and spending, and GOP gains indicate voter skepticism of the Democrats efforts to nationalize health care, pass cap & trade, and try to spend us out of economic difficulties. Thus the GOP gains should slow the statist Democratic Agenda in Washington. Let's start by reviewing the high-profile gubernatorial and congressional races, and then talk about down ballot races around the country that emphasize the Republican success.

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 07:58 AM in Politics

November 03, 2009
Good News--Well, Not So Fast

From the Hill:

Lobbyists are quitting the business at a record pace, according to a study released Monday.

Over 1,400 lobbyists "deregistered" with Congress in the second quarter of 2009, according to a study conducted jointly by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) and OMB Watch.

Typically, only a few hundred lobbyists quit each quarter.

The giant spike in resignations came just after the Obama administration instituted strict new rules on lobbyist activity.

“While we can’t draw a direct link between the president’s executive order and the increased pace of terminations during the second quarter of 2009, we can say that they came at a most controversial time,” said Lee Mason, director of Nonprofit Speech Rights for OMB Watch.

But the study's authors warn that not all of the deregistered lobbyists may actually be out of business.

"At the federal level, many people working in the lobbying industry are not registered lobbyists, instead adopting titles such as 'senior adviser' or other executive monikers, thereby avoiding federal disclosure requirements under the Lobbying Disclosure Act," CRP and OMB Watch said in a statement.

With federal govt spending on an upsurge, I'll bet on the latter effect--lobbyists disguising themselves as advisers--rather than a reduction in lobbying activity.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:04 PM in Politics

Hillary Clinton, Tea Partier!
We (the United States) tax everything that moves and doesn’t move ...

Source and context.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:09 AM in Politics

October 19, 2009
They Allowed This on PBS?! (updated)

HT: Tom Woods.

Update: Steve Horwitz reminds me that he is guest-blogging for PBS's Nightly Business Report. So what does PBS stand for now? Praxeology Broadcasting Station? I'm expecting Ashton Kutcher to fling my office door open and explain that I've been punk'd.

Posted by Art Carden at 11:51 PM in Politics

October 16, 2009
Nothing Succeeds Like Political Failure

Check out Dwight Lee's column in today's Investors Business Daily, for a double shot of public choice and wry humor.

Posted by Mike DeBow at 11:55 PM in Economics ~ in Politics

October 13, 2009
The only question is when

I don't think anyone can dismiss this assertion by Sawhill and Aaron.

Anyone who thinks that health-care reform alone is going to close the massive current -- and even larger projected -- U.S. budget deficit is deluded. President Obama has pledged that health-care reform will not make matters worse. But that isn't good enough. There is no way to restore this nation to fiscal health without higher taxes -- for the middle class as well as for the rich. The only question is when. Those increases should be enacted now, phased in gradually after the recovery is well established, and tied to the increased spending that health-care reform will generate. [Emphasis added.]

My only question regards timing. Why didn't this column appear last year, when Obama's platform made the conclusion inescapable?

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 11:16 AM in Politics

On lightening up

Maybe Italy has it right, if the conclusion of this WaPo article is correct.

Besides, with Berlusconi as your prime minister, you don't have to take yourself too seriously. You don't have to trouble yourself with geopolitics or the state of the planet, or poverty and failed states. You can stay at home, remain unserious and argue about the latest legal scandal. And maybe that, too, is part of the Italian prime minister's appeal.

I disagree with one point. I would write the first two sentences this way: "Besides, with Berlusconi as your prime minister, you don't have to ... trouble yourself with geopolitics or ...." You can take yourself and things that really matter quite seriously, while marginalizing the goings-on of the state, treating it as the absurdist theater that it often is.

Given Bastiat's provisional definition of the state, "the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else," having it generate a bit of humor is probably not a bad thing.

You may insert your latest Nobel Peace Prize joke here.

To quote the fine theologian, M*A*S*H's Father Mulcahy: Jocularity, jocularity, jocularity.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 10:56 AM in Politics

An endangered species c. 1909

The October 13, 1909 NYT has a headline you won't see today:

SENATOR FLINT WILL RETIRE.

MUST LEAVE THE SENATE, HE SAYS, TO EARN MONEY FOR HIS FAMILY.

Turns out the good Senator from California felt that there wasn't enough money in being a Senator and that he had to go out in the real world to earn some scratch:

Senator Frank P. Flint announced yesterday that when his present term expires, on March 4, 1911, he would not be a candidate for re-election.

"If I were a rich man," said Senator Flint," I would like nothing better than to remain in the Senate all my life. But I feel that I owe it to my family to get out of politics and gain a competency while I am able.

"My associations in the Senate are very congenial, indeed. I have practically no opposition for a renomination, and the sole reason for contemplated retirement is the urgent necessity of providing for my family.

It is quaint that a U.S. Senator would suggest that there wasn't enough money in national politics to make it worth his while. Perhaps there was a time when this was true. Perhaps Mr. Flint was "clean" and didn't partake of the largess his position would seem to attract.

On the other hand, perhaps this is a thinly veiled jab at the lobbyists of the day. In essence, Flint throws down the gauntlet saying "pay up or I'm outta here and I'm taking my political capital with me."

Do you wonder, as I, whether Flint really retires from public service in 1911? Oh wait, I can look that up (see below the fold for the spoiler)....

Read More »

Posted by Craig Depken at 10:55 AM in Politics

October 08, 2009
Another Division of Labour Essay Contest on Voting

On October 15, Memphians will choose a new mayor in a special election. I'm deep in the same moral and intellectual crisis that faces me every election: should I vote? I decided that (once again) I will farm this out to Division of Labour readers. I'll offer a prize of some kind for the best 250-500 word essay explaining why I should or should not vote, and the winning entry will be published on DOL. Entries will be accepted via email, and I'm looking for something that addresses the opportunity cost of voting.

Update: Here's Per Bylund on voting.

Posted by Art Carden at 09:35 AM in Politics

October 04, 2009
Curious roll call vote patterns in Italian Parliament...

... a.k.a. "The Pianists".

HT: Mario Pagliero

Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 12:05 AM in Politics

September 23, 2009
Real Members of Congress

Ht: Instapundit

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:22 AM in Politics

September 22, 2009
On Presidential Busy-ness c. 1909

From an op-ed piece in the Sept. 22, 1909 NYT:

It is true that our new President [President Taft] during the first six months of his term had the extraordinary session of Congress on his hands, called expressly to redeem the pledges of the party - pledges made on his personal initiative and strong recommendation. It was natural, and, in a sense, unavoidable, that for this important task he should hold himself peculiarly accountable, and that he should hasten to render his account to the people as soon as practicable.

So, another president, this one a Republican, also brought an active agenda to the first few months of his administration? Haven't heard anyone bring that up lately.

The op-ed continues:

But that chapter is but one of many which he plainly intends to present to the attention, we may say to the anxious and somewhat weary attention, of his fellow-citizens. Even while the tariff job was still unfinished, and at a point where the honest and decent fulfillment of the pledges of his party and himself was trembling in the balance, Mr. Taft sprung upon the country the twin projects of a tax on corporations, avowedly intended as the first step toward minute and comprehensive Federal inquisition and of corporation business, and an income tax, requiring a Constitutional amendment.
Ambitious projects indeed. Would we characterize today's uncertainty regarding public policy as drawing "anxious and weary attention?"

We continue:

Here in the very dawning of his Administration, before he had had an opportunity to address a formal regular message to Congress, we have thrown upon the country a scheme of change more far reaching, more intimately affecting the affairs of all classes of the people than any accomplished, or even proposed during the seven crowded years of Mr. Roosevelt's incumbency.
Change the names to reflect their modern analogues and the statement might apply equally (more so?) today.

But then comes the coup de grace:

It is true that the Constitutional amendment authorizing the income tax and the tax on corporate business were, in effect, if not in intent, a diversion which saved Mr. Aldrich and "his men" from a damaging defeat. It is not exactly reassuring, however, that measures of such scope and portent can be made a mere incident in the campaign of the protracted interests for control of the taxing power of the Government in the pursuit of their selfish interests.

Amen.

Posted by Craig Depken at 01:57 PM in Politics

September 16, 2009
Health Care Redux: Teddy Roosevelt

The Gray Lady has an excellent interactive archive of the history of health reform in the U.S. Clicking on Theodore Roosevelt's 1912 campaign platform, we see early glimpses of the eventual breadth and depth of central government control. "[O]ur aim should be," said Roosevelt, "to use the Government as an efficient agency for the practical betterment of social and economic conditions throughout this land." Praising the social plans of Bismarck, Roosevelt blames America's woes on the Republican Party (and no, notwithstanding spastic claims to the contrary, I am not an "ethics-free GOP hack") en route to declaring, "In the National Government one department should be intrusted with all the agencies relating to the public health... This department, through its special health service, would co-operate intelligently with the various State and municipal bodies established for the same end.... [T]he aim would be merely to secure under one administrative body efficient sanitary regulation in the interest of the people as a whole."

Notice the implicit assumptions of benevolence and omniscience that support the claim of government achieving an efficient outcome. There is also, but more subtly, a tension between two conceptions of liberty: the liberty of individuals that informed the American Founding versus the liberty of people as members of a noble collective that was successfully advanced by the Progressives.

Today, the faces have changed. The tag lines are new. The delivery is honed on both all sides to tip-toe around these basic tensions. But the politics and the principles are ancient. I wonder: what have we learned?

Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 02:36 PM in Politics

September 11, 2009
Should Obama Be More Like Reagan?

Rasmussen Reports has a poll out on political labels, and it seems that people want politicians who are "like Reagan."

Results below the fold.

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 11:39 PM in Politics

Mr. Rogers Obama: Can you say, serve the state? Yes you can!

My 14 yr old daughter sent me this txt msg on Wednesday, "had to watch the effin obama speech, soooooooo stupid. very mad. please complain," which I posted on Facebook because I thought it was pretty funny. Several friends chimed in with less than flattering things to say about the Great Leader's speech.

An old and dear, and left-of-center, friend wrote me:

Are your friends ACTUALLY advocating that their chidlren NOT listen to a speech by the leader of the free world? Seriously, this is not a statement in the form of a question.

I was just wondering with a colleague why anyone would keep kids from listening to the POTUS - even if it was only to build your case for debate.

(Though why anyone would debate - work hard, keep trying, etc. is a bit...well way...beyond me.)

My reply:

As Thomas Sowell would say it's a conflict of visions. You see him as the leader of the free world. I see him as a power-hungry man who managed to win some kind of beauty contest. I owe him no fealty for this per se. In my book I owe my plumber more respect than my president. He at least provides me with something I want on an honest basis.

I felt the same about Bush and Clinton too (Reagan not so much then but my views have changed a lot since then). Most of my fb friends would have felt the same I bet. Though I have to be honest that some of them wouldn't have minded one bit if Bush had done this. Be honest, what you you have thought if Bush wanted to do this?

Btw, I could have gotten her out of it. But didn't because I figured she should hear him out. But she was genuinely unhappy with the message: "Work hard and stay in school so you can serve the almighty State?!"

Oddly we really don't talk politics much at all. Obviously, my kid has picked this attitude up from me/us, but I really don't push it on her. She's her own person.

My daughter and I had a nice conversation (thank you, Prez Obama for that much at least) this morning. I told her about Aron Ralston who quit his big fancy corporate job to become a full-time mountain climber bum (and had an unfortunate accident if you remember his story).

In Obama's view I guess Ralston is a bad person for "dropping out" and not contributing to the economy and government as much as he should. What a waste of a great college education Obama would say. But in my world view, he's following his own dream on his own terms and not those of the state or society (whatever that is) and is worthy of respect.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 11:55 AM in Politics

September 10, 2009
Arnold Kling on the Obama Speech

Best line of the night.

[Obama] said,
Reducing the waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan.

And if we don't pass this plan, does he intend to keep the waste and inefficiency, out of spite?

HT: Elliott

Posted by Joshua Hall at 10:22 AM in Politics

September 09, 2009
"I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you"

Camille Paglia in Salon (emphasis added):

An example of the provincial amateurism of current White House operations was the way the president's innocuous back-to-school pep talk got sandbagged by imbecilic support materials soliciting students to write fantasy letters to "help" the president (a coercive directive quickly withdrawn under pressure). Even worse, the entire project was stupidly scheduled to conflict with the busy opening days of class this week, when harried teachers already have their hands full. Comically, some major school districts, including New York City, were not even open yet. And this is the gang who wants to revamp national healthcare?
Posted by Wilson Mixon at 05:42 PM in Politics

September 07, 2009
Why I hate Obama's Speech to School Kids

I describe in a pair of posts at the Politico, here and here, why I don't like Obama speaking to school kids. I wouldn't mind, actually, if he were using the kids as a backdrop to make a major policy speech - what I dislike is the fact that there is no reason for this speech, really, except that the President seems to think he needs to step in and help us all parent our kids. It's really obnoxious.

But looking at the text of his message, that's pretty obnoxious, too. Some excerpts below the fold.

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 11:48 PM in Politics

September 04, 2009
Citizens United: Corporate Political Speech and Shareholder Rights

On Tuesday of next week the Supreme Court will meet in special session to rehear the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In Citizens United, the government argued that a documentary produced by Citizens United, Hillary: The Movie, could be banned from distribution as a partisan political communication. The Court has specifically asked the parties to argue whether or not it should overrule Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a 1990 decision that upheld a ban on all corporate funded political expenditures. The Court's concern was prompted by the government's argument, at oral argument in March, that under Austin it could ban even the publication of books and films containing so much as one line of political candidate advocacy.

Supporters of the ban are in a rhetorical hole, because the reality is that, if Austin is good law and means what is says, the government is right. Yet few really believe that the First Amendment allows for book banning. And while advocates of "campaign finance reform" have long advocated limiting speech, they don't really like to be seen as quite so nakedly in favor of limiting political speech.

Hence, the latest tack of the "reform" community is to claim that corporate spending on politics should be prohibited in order to protect shareholder rights. Below the fold, we slice and dice this argument.

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 12:30 PM in Politics

August 27, 2009
Gordon Brown Gets Pwned

HT: Justin Ross.

Posted by Art Carden at 11:01 AM in Politics

August 24, 2009
Politics Corrupts Money

Here's David Henderson correcting a common mistake. Corporations aren't allowed to give money to candidates directly. Tracing money in politics is wickedly difficult, but I'm struck by the disproportionate representation of labor unions in big-money politics. At the very least, this suggests that people deriding opposition to the President's health care plan as an elaborate corporation-funded-and-directed "astroturf" movement need to check their premises--particularly since Big Pharma, insurance companies, and Walmart are in bed with the administration on this issue.

Posted by Art Carden at 01:54 PM in Politics

August 21, 2009
I Dreamed I Saw Joe the Plumber Last Night: Health Care & Guns Edition

When I first saw these clips, my gut reaction was "there is no way this is true; the MSNBC video has to have been doctored to make the network look bad." From what I can tell, the MSNBC video is unadulterated. It's a tale of two clips: one is an MSNBC clip in which commentators discuss racial tension and people bringing openly-carried firearms to rallies. The discussion is motivated by video footage of someone carrying an AR-15. You can't identify him from the MSNBC video, but the other clip (and a story on MSNBC.com) reveals that he is an African-American. Needless to say, right-wing groups are seizing on the apparent shenanigans and claiming outright dishonesty on the part of the Liberal Elite Media. I think some of the anti-Obama backlash is racially motivated--see the flood of "Barack Obama is a secret Muslim" emails that went around during his campaign and the Statement of Principles from the Council of Conservative Citizens, which affirms a commitment to "Cultural, national, and racial integrity"--and I don't think the presence of one African-American man toting a gun and protesting the President's plan blows this thesis out of the water. In this light, I thought I'd do a bit of political prognostificationizing. I see two possibilities:

1. MSNBC used judiciously-edited footage of an African-American man carrying an AR-15 at a health care rally to scare viewers about well-armed white racists. If this is true, then I predict that it will strengthen the right's conviction that there is a liberal media bias. Right-wing groups will have an easier time raising funds because they will have clear evidence that the Elite Liberal Media is distorting the news to further a political agenda. Further, the gentleman carrying the AR-15 will become the Right's next Joe the Plumber.

2. Newsbusters.org or a similar conservative group created a judiciously-edited clip that will backfire. Current developments and an MSNBC statement suggest that this isn't the case, but if it is true, then I predict that it will strengthen the left's conviction that the protesters are dishonest corporate flunkies. Left-wing groups will have an easier time raising funds because they will have clear evidence that the Corporate Conservative Media is lying about them to further a political agenda. Still, the gentleman carrying the AR-15 will become the Right's next Joe the Plumber.

Comments are open. HT: Natalie Danielshen, Mason Drake.

Posted by Art Carden at 11:16 AM in Politics  ·  Comments (5)

August 20, 2009
GM Bails out Cash for Clunkers

At Marketplace.org, Scott Jagow lays out some of the main issues, and he does so nicely until the takeaway:

[Cash 4 clunkers] does seem to be decent stimulus, but car sales will collapse, at least temporarily, no matter when this program ends. C4c is a drug. It even sounds like one. At some point, the car makers need to stop relying on incentives. The car-buying public is addicted to them. Not to mention, these particular incentives are being paid for by the taxpayers.

In the comments, I added:

Market prices are incentives. Government subsidies are distortions. To get correct, car makers and buyers need to stop relying on subsidies, not incentives.

Sorry for being all word police. But it’s a really, really important word. Incentives matter. The rest is commentary.

Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 08:12 PM in Politics

August 14, 2009
Creating Jobs Obama-Style

Today's cartoon from the Rome News-Tribune's Mike Lester:

LesterCraigsList.jpg

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:20 AM in Politics

August 13, 2009
Britain The U.S. needs a Bill of Rights

UPDATE: This was in Chicago not the U.K. So I guess we need a 6th Amendment.

I have previously noted Britian's lack of a 4th Amendment but they also apparently lack a 6th Amendment.

Clifton Williams, 33, of Richton Park, is facing six months in jail for making what court documents call a yawn-like sound in Will County Judge Daniel Rozak's court last month. The yawn happened as Williams' cousin, Jason Mayfield, was being sentenced for a drug charge on July 23.Rozak found Williams in contempt of court and sentenced him to six months in jail...Six months is the maximum sentence judges can give for criminal contempt without a jury trial.

Emphasis added.

HT: Todd

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:14 AM in Politics

What Kind of Munger?

"The young grass-roots army that swept Obama into office has yet to mobilize
now that the fight is about something complicated rather than a charismatic
hope-munger. No, they can’t?" [Maureen Dowd, NYT op-ed]

Posted by Michael Munger at 06:57 AM in Politics

August 12, 2009
Wild speculation

Prompted by Frank's wondering, I offer this prediction: If AARP does endorse a policy, it will be one that redounds to the advantage of the United Health Group.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 02:53 PM in Politics

Just Wondering ...

In a dog and pony show yesterday, President Obama incorrectly claimed that the AARP was "onboard" with his health care reforms. Hmmm ... a fishy claim ... I wonder if anyone has alerted flag@whitehouse.gov.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:12 PM in Politics

August 09, 2009
The Administrative State

The Heritage Foundation paper "Congressional Ethics and the Administrative State" contains the following conclusion: "The system of government that has transformed congressmen from legislators to ombudsmen has spawned the corrupt favoritism that once defined New York's Tammany Hall, but now defines Washington and its emerging scandals. The framers of the Constitution understood the inevitable corruption of the administrative state, and had sought to avoid it with their constitutional prescriptions of federalism and separated powers."

The occasion for this paper was the S & L corruption (McCain, Keating, et al.), but the the analysis applies broadly. One of my favorite applications is to ethanol. There, EPA experts argued in Congress against allowing ethanol onto the list of oxygenating fuels, which Congress was about to mandate. Congress punted by refusing to specify a list. Rather, the EPA was to construct the list. After a few contacts from the likes of Bob Dole, the EPA saw the light and added ethanol to the list. Before long, it became the only oxygenating additive on the list.

A recent column by John Stossel brought this ancient history to mind. He says, "They've given us a system that now can be saved only if bureaucrats limit coverage by second-guessing retirees' decisions. Government will decide which Medicare services have value and which do not. Retirees may have a different opinion."

Dollars to donuts that the legislation, for all of its bulk, contains little specificity. Rather, the bureaucracy that will be created will surpass the EPA as a target of lobbying efforts by members of Congress, as the details are worked out.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 02:49 PM in Politics

August 03, 2009
Uh oh...

I strive hard to avoid what I call Youtube moments - especially when a student asks a loaded question the answer to which might be very easily taken out of context. I am not sure if this compilation is necessarily taken out of context but it would definitely seem to be a "Youtube moment":

via Drudge

Posted by Craig Depken at 11:39 AM in Politics

August 01, 2009
Evidently Some Scare Tactics Are Better Than Others

In his town hall dog and pony show (transcript) held in Raleigh earlier this week, President Obama decried the use of "scare tactics" by people opposed to his health care socialism reform. Well, it's not just opponents who are rolling out scare tactics. Check out this commercial that recently came through my tele--pay particular attention about 10 seconds in to the kid on the swing.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:49 AM in Politics

July 20, 2009
Now we know why it's called pork

This is from the front page at Drudge (I claim fair use):

If the stories are true (evidently they are HT: Phil Miller's facebook page), then this should put all debate over the merits of the stimulus package to bed. If the Republicans or some third party cannot come up with enough arguments to dethrone the current ruling class (not that the Republicans were/are great but would likely not pursue such policies as depicted above - though I admit that's not guaranteed) then we should all plan our exit strategy.

From my travels, the northern coast of Morocco is beautiful (I'll leave it up to the game theorists to think about whether that is an honest claim or not).

Cross posted at Heavy Lifting

Posted by Craig Depken at 06:35 PM in Politics  ·  Comments (29)

July 18, 2009
Commissars, not Tsars

From Pravda, Czar? You Mean Commissar:

There is a new silliness in the Western Anglo Media, comparing the US Emperor's Czar program to the number of Tsars that Holy Russia had. It is a good thing that the US/UK public is ignorant not only of ancient history but also of recent history, otherwise they might start to worry.

So let us go back and establish some historic references. Czar or rather Tsar, is a degradation of the Latin term Ceasar, similar to Germany's Kaiser. [...]

In order to control the vast nation and its revolutionary reshaping during a chaotic time, Lenin and later Stalin, created a system of Commissars. These were not limited to military and instilling party loyalty, but were used throughout Soviet society. A commissar and his staff had absolute authority, answering only to the dictator and by-passing the various local councils and people's senates. Two things to note here:

1. their spheres were ambiguous and often over lapped responsibilities of other commissars. This in turn caused a large volume of infighting. Sure this is very wasteful of resources and confusing, but what it does do, is allow the dictator to keep ultimate power by keeping his most powerful minions at each others throats with the dictator as the ultimate arbitrator of power.

2. The commissars were mostly young, had little achievement outside the power structure, self assured, true believers. They knew very well that outside their positions, created and granted by the dictator, they had little hope of career success. They were given responsibility much higher then their experience levels, further beholding them to their owner. It made them extremely jealous of their power, which in turn made them vengeful against anyone who stood in their way, especially other power hungry commissars.

Fast forward to modern transitional America. The American Emperor has taken the six commissars of his leftist predecessor and created at least 28 more. Yes, commissars do multiply quickly at first and many more are in the works, until the American parliament (congress) and the oblasts (states) assemblies (state senates) are powerless show pieces and all power centers (commissars) flow only to the dictator.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 04:34 PM in Politics

July 16, 2009
Take my picture boy and I'll search your car!

James Waylett, the boy who plays Crabbe in the Harry Potter movies, just got busted for possessing and growing a little mj.

On Thursday, he pleaded guilty to producing cannabis at a court hearing where it emerged that the pair were detained after Waylett took a photo of police while driving past a group of officers.

I know they don't have a 4th Amendment in England, but holy cripes? All he did was take a photo of the police? I guess in England only the police are allowed to take photos now? Sheesh.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 03:01 PM in Politics

July 11, 2009
Age of Convenience

Mark Steyn on princes and such:

As the British newspaper The Independent reported;

“Capitalism and consumerism have brought the world to the brink of economic and environmental collapse, the Prince of Wales has warned… And in a searing indictment on capitalist society, Charles said we can no longer afford consumerism and that the ‘age of convenience’ was over.” [...]

In the old days, we didn’t have these kinds of problems.

But then Mr and Mrs Peasant start remodeling the hovel, adding a rec room and indoor plumbing, replacing the emaciated old nag with a Honda Civic and driving to the mall in it, and next thing you know [...] they begin taking vacations in Florida.
[...]
[A]t this week’s G8 summit, America’s allies would commit only to the fuzziest and most meaningless of environmental goals. Europe has been hit far harder by the economic downturn. When your unemployment rate is 17 per cent (as in Spain), “unsustainable growth” is no longer your most pressing problem.

The environmental cult is itself a product of what the Prince calls the “Age of Convenience”: it’s what you worry about it when you don’t have to worry about jobs or falling house prices or collapsed retirement accounts.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 11:47 AM in Politics

July 02, 2009
Bad news or bad reporting?

The AP headline: Baaad news? Global warming now shrinking sheep

The content: local warming is reducing mortality among some wild sheep in Scotland. Wonder if the runts that now survive would count this as baaad news? Did I insert enough a's?

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 04:41 PM in Politics

June 28, 2009
Shut Up, He Explained II

From Powerline:

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has obtained an EPA study of the "endangerment" to human well-being ostensibly caused by carbon dioxide emissions, together with a set of EPA emails indicating that the study, which concludes that carbon dioxide is not a significant cause of climate change, was suppressed by the EPA for political reasons.

The Powerline blog entry provides links to the CEI correspondence and supporting email messages, and to the suppressed study.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 02:23 PM in Politics

June 16, 2009
The Median Voter Casts Lots

I caught this on NPR's "Morning Edition:"

When last month's town council race ended in a two-way tie, Mayor Vincent Francia thought it should be settled cowboy-style: "The two candidates would assemble downtown Cave Creek at High Noon and go at it with paintballs."

Instead they turned to Arizona law, which says tied local elections may be determined by chance: rolling dice, flipping a coin or cutting cards.

Cave Creek Magistrate George Preston, dressed in his black robes, shuffled the deck of cards Monday night that would finally decide the race. About 60 people crowded council chambers, including a few lawyers who had hashed out two pages of rules for the drawing.

The candidate drawing the highest card would be declared the winner.

Which got me to (barely) thinking: if the median voter theory is true, why not just save everyone the expense and headaches of campaigning and decide elections this way? Instead of three hourlong televised debates, you could, during a commercial break, show 30 seconds of McCain and Obama rolling dice to decide the winner. It certainly seems more efficient, since the FEC seems to indicate that there were almost $1.4 billion in total contributions to candidates in the 2008 Presidential campaign. How much does a deck of cards cost?

It also reminded me of the rhetoric of elections. How often do you hear of Presidents winning "landslide" elections? The Stat Abstract shows that the biggest percentage a recent candidate has garnered was Johnson's 1964 61.1%. If you had a student with a 61.1% average, would you consider him to have a "landslide" level of knowledge?

Posted by Tim Shaughnessy at 01:07 PM in Politics

June 15, 2009
On Food Independence

Frank's post reminds me of the situation in Saudi Arabia in 1985. Saudi had supported the production of wheat to the extent that they were self-sufficient, at least for a while.

The rationale was to diversify so that Saudis wouldn't depend so much on oil revenue and could become trained in other endeavors. The reality was that Europeans set up and ran large wheat farms and used foreign labor. Few, if any, Saudis developed any farming skills.

To make the scheme feasible, the government sold water to the farmers at a fraction of the cost of desalination, and it set a price at about five times the world price (if my memory serves). The Economist ran an article saying that the price was high enough to make it worthwhile for smugglers to bring food-aid wheat from Ethiopia via Yemen to sell to the Saudi government.

I'm not sure, but I'm guessing the scheme went belly-up when the price of oil plummeted post-1985.

But these things never go away. Witness the "end" of the farm subsidies negotiated between Newt's Republicans and President Clinton.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 08:14 PM in Politics

June 14, 2009
The Chicago Approach, Take Two

The first paragraph of a Barrons article on GM's chairman:

DON'T BE HARD ON GM'S NEW CHAIRMAN EDWARD WHITACRE for confessing during an interview last week that he knows nothing about cars. He simply suffered a Joe Biden moment. Texans often tumble over their tongues when taking a stab at humility. In fact, few car companies, let alone their CEOs, know how to build cars, which is why so many of them are conking out. The Obama administration, in my view, picked Whitacre to run General Motors (ticker: GM) because he has a more important talent: He knows how to play Chicago-style politics.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 06:07 PM in Politics

June 13, 2009
Folly and Presumption: Federal Reserve Lending Edition

I just sent this letter to the New York Times:

Your June 12 story about political influence on Federal Reserve lending decisions was distressing, but predictable. When the government commits to the principle that some industries and firms are "too big to fail," identifying those firms that are "too big to fail" necessarily becomes a political decision. Adam Smith addressed this over two centuries ago:

"The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it."

HT: Alex Tabarrok.

Posted by Art Carden at 10:32 AM in Politics

June 09, 2009
Shut Up, He Explained

This letter to the Economist offers a useful suggestion:

There used to be, in the world of restructurings in the London market, a practice operated in a firm but gentlemanly manner by the Bank of England called the London Approach. It sounds as if the process under way for Chrysler, and widely anticipated for General Motors, could probably be dubbed the Chicago Approach.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 02:12 PM in Politics

May 30, 2009
Bootleggers, Part One


So Kenny Boy wasn't just W's buddy. From the first of a series of articles in the Financial Post (Canada):

The climate-change industry ... has emerged as the world’s largest industry. ... Some of the climate-change profiteers are relatively unknown corporations; others are household names with only their behind-the-scenes role in the climate-change industry unknown. ... This series begins with Enron, a pioneer in the climate-change industry.

Almost two decades before President Barack Obama made “cap-and-trade” for carbon dioxide emissions a household term, an obscure company called Enron — a natural-gas pipeline company that had become a big-time trader in energy commodities — had figured out how to make millions in a cap-and-trade program for sulphur dioxide emissions, thanks to changes in the U.S. government’s Clean Air Act. To the delight of shareholders, Enron’s stock price rose rapidly as it became the major trader in the U.S. government’s $20-billion a year emissions commodity market.

Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay, keen to engineer an encore, saw his opportunity when Bill Clinton and Al Gore were inaugurated as president and vice-president in 1993. To capitalize on Al Gore’s interest in global warming, Enron immediately embarked on a massive lobbying effort to develop a trading system for carbon dioxide.... To magnify the leverage of their political lobbying, Enron also worked the environmental groups.

The intense lobbying paid off. Lay became a member of president Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development, as well as his friend and advisor. In the summer of 1997, prior to global warming meetings in Kyoto, Japan, Clinton sought Lay’s advice in White House discussions. The fruits of Enron’s efforts came soon after, with the signing of the Kyoto Protocol.

[From an internal memo, posted from Kyoto]: “Enron now has excellent credentials with many ‘green’ interests including Greenpeace, WWF [World Wildlife Fund], NRDC [Natural Resources Defense Council], German Watch, the U.S. Climate Action Network, the European Climate Action Network, Ozone Action, WRI [World Resources Institute] and Worldwatch." [Furthermore]: “I now predict ratification within three years. I predict business opportunities within 18 months. I predict this agreement will have very significant influences on the energy sector within OECD and transitional economies and will accelerate renewable markets in developing countries. This agreement will be good for Enron stock!!”

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 03:26 PM in Politics

May 22, 2009
On military planning c. 1909

The May 22, 1909 NYT reports on French military planning at the time:

PARIS - The Superior Council of the Navy has decided upon a programme which includes bringing the number of French battleships up to thirty-eight, a total that would insure France fourth place among the naval powers of the world. It is proposed to lay down in 1910 two 21,000 ton vessels of an enlarged Danton type.

The armament has not yet been decided upon, but the Council is in favor of twelve 12-inch guns in six turrets, those aft to be superposed. The naval artillery experts, however, have brought forward arguments in favor of sixteen 10.8-inch guns in eight turrets.

All of which will mean squat to the men in Verdun some seven years later.

Posted by Craig Depken at 11:23 AM in Politics

Don't tax you, don't tax me...

When govco discovers that the masses aren't remitting as expected it turns to long-forgotten means with which to extract the resources it so desperately needs. An example comes from today's Sporting News Today:

Some Bears season ticket holders were surprised to receive a notice saying they owe a city-issued amusement tax on seat licenses purchased up to seven years ago, according to the Chicago Tribune. A Bears spokesman, who says the team was unaware of the tax or the certified letters that were mailed out, says the franchise is looking into the issue.

From today's Tribune:

The city always planned to levy amusement taxes on Chicago Bears season ticket licenses, a city Department of Revenue spokesman said Thursday.

Ed Walsh also said a 7 percent amusement tax was paid by the Bears on the initial sales of the permanent seat licenses between late 2002 and early 2003. The amusement tax was raised to 9 percent this year.

"The amusement tax is applicable when a license is sold," Walsh said. "The tax burden is on the purchaser. This includes initial sales and re-sales, as any amount paid for the right to witness a game is subject to the tax."

Who's the guy behind the tree?

Posted by Craig Depken at 11:01 AM in Politics

May 15, 2009
Gourmet Beer Bill in Riley's Office!

In today's inbox from Fine Wine & Beer by Gus here in Auburn:

Just before 3:00pm today, the Gourmet Beer Bill was brought up by the chair and we passed the Senate by a vote of 19-9. The House concurred with the amended Senate version just before 5:00pm. The amendment attempts to restrict beer with an ABV over 6% from being sold in convenience stores.

Celebrations are certainly in order, but we're not done yet.

At this point, we need the governor to sign the bill. Governor Bob Riley has two options:

He signs the bill and it becomes law.
He doesn't sign the bill and it doesn't become law.
There's no real veto at this point, thanks to the Constitutional "pocket veto" power of the governor this late in the session. The fate of our bill is solely in Governor Riley's hands.

Because of this, we're asking everyone to call, email, and/or fax the Governor's office asking him to sign HB373, the Gourmet Beer Bill.

I just talked to our political grassroots point-man, Dan Roberts. I think he put it best: "If that nice lady that answers the phone in Riley's office doesn't get sick of us and disconnect the phone, we're not doing enough."

One of the Governor's former staffers is a supporter, and offered the following advice:

The volume of letters and phone calls that he receives on a particular issue is reported to him every morning, and he takes them seriously. ... A couple quick points: They have a pretty sophisticated constituent database, so multiple calls/mail from the same person won't accomplish much. They report to him the number of persons, not the number of communications. Any arguments that sounds like something the gambling folks would say should be avoided ("People go over state lines to do it anyway..."). You don't want to equate yourself with those guys in his mind. Arguments about personal liberty and economic development will probably have more sway. Pointing out the surrounding states that allow it will also be helpful. The fact that GA, NC, SC, and WV have passed these bills in the past couple years is persuasive.

To contact Governor Riley's office:
Phone: (334) 242-7100
Fax: (334) 353-0004


Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:53 AM in Politics

May 11, 2009
On motive c. 1909

The May 11, 1909 prints a letter to the editor that attempts to distinguish among the various Socialist movements:

Materialistic Socialists, alienated from religion by such religious leaders and teachers as Mr. Haldeman, set as their goal the material well-being of the masses. This is precisely why Christian Socialists so designate themselves, and sedulously seek to be so designated. it is not because their economics are different - the difference is not in their method, but in their motive. What is the Materialistic Socialist's goal is the Christian Socialist's first milestone, for he seeks the material advancement - the industrial enfranchisement - of the working classes chiefly as the starting point for them of a life race worth running - not, as now, a mad scramble for the bread that perisheth.

In this material advancement - that is, in the industrial justice which Socialism really means, however variously it may be defined - the Christian Socialist sees the foundation on which every man (not simply the few beneficiaries of past inequality or the present holders of favored and secluded positions) may, if he choose, live the life of Christ.

Without full Socialism, the past one hundred years has led to a dramatic increase in well-being and standards of living in the developed world (and some progress might have been made in the developing and undeveloped world as well). Notwithstanding the Romanticizing of the past, today's world includes so many diversions and opportunities for leisure that it is not clear whether the majority of us would want to actually be "industrially enfranchised."

What I found interesting upon reading the letter is that writer feels the need to distinguish one brand of (low?) Socialism which seeks to use coercion and theft to provide bread alone and another brand of (higher) Socialism which seeks to use coercion and theft to provide bread and circuses. According to the letter-writer, the latter form is to be lauded more because, ostensibly, the ability to address "industrial justice" is simply a matter of organization not a matter of understanding how wealth is generated by individuals not by "the masses."

If the letter was written only to Socialists, perhaps the letter writer can get away with the assumption that Socialism will work in its broad goals; after all, preaching to the choir does not require addressing first premises. However, a letter directed toward a general (i.e., non-Socialist) audience would seem to require stronger evidence in support of the coercion and theft required to introduce and maintain any form of Socialism.

Posted by Craig Depken at 10:54 AM in Politics

Wanda Sykes on kidney failure

The New York Times reports that at the White House Correspondents' Dinner on Saturday night, comedian Wanda Sykes said about one of the President's prominent critics: "I hope his kidneys fail, how about that?”

Really? Wanda, I wish you hadn't said that. Try visiting a dialysis clinic and you'll see why it isn't funny. I'm hard to offend, but that offends me. I'm going to have a hard time finding you funny from here on. Kidney failure is something you shouldn't wish on anyone, even for laughs.

Posted by Lawrence H. White at 01:39 AM in Politics

May 08, 2009
Strings Attached

From an LA Times article:

The Obama administration is threatening to rescind billions of dollars in federal stimulus money if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers do not restore wage cuts to unionized home healthcare workers approved in February as part of the budget.

Schwarzenegger's office was advised this week by federal health officials that the wage reduction, which will save California $74 million, violates provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Failure to revoke the scheduled wage cut before it takes effect July 1 could cost California $6.8 billion in stimulus money, according to state officials.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 01:56 PM in Politics

May 06, 2009
On temperance and de-criminalization c. 1909

The May 6, 1909 NYT has an interesting letter to the editor:

The only relief in sight from existing conditions [concerning the consumption of high-alcohol drinks such as "whisky, cocktails, and various other mixed drinks"], lies, in my opinion, in the imposition of a virtually prohibitive Governmental tax on all highly alcoholic liquors, whose increased cost would have a tendency to lessen their use by the masses. This would have the effect of an increased consumption of milder beverages like beer and wine and would mitigate the evil. To abolish it is impossible.

You can prohibit the manufacture and sale of intoxicating drinks by law, but you cannot prevent their use, even if you make their use a crime.

On the one hand the author wishes to impose prohibitive taxation to alter behavior - looking for a substitution effect - but ignores the possible "scale" effect that individuals might drink more beer or wine in order to obtain the same level of "bliss" that the harder liquors provide.

The author then argues that prohibitions will not work - as the country will so ably prove over the next twenty odd years in the case of alcohol and is still proving today in the context of illicit drugs.

However, what is the difference between prohibitive taxation and prohibition? Granted, when facing two bad choices of taxation versus prohibition, taxation might be marginally more efficient (from society's point of view) as evading a tax is more likely to be penalized with a monetary fine whereas violating a prohibition is more likely to lead to incarceration and the associated social costs of that incarceration.


Both policies increase the expected and actual costs of consumption from the point of view of the consumer, and as such will price at least some individuals out of the market for the good - perhaps driving individuals to substitute goods. However, there is an additional cost to such policies because in both cases sime consumers, in their quest to obtain an arbitrarily expensive or banned product, face increased risk of consuming an adulterated product, the so-called "bathtub gin" problem, which might prove more dangerous than the original "sin."

When open markets are closed, whether through taxation or prohibition, many of the self-reienforcing mechanisms that consumers take for granted are likewise lost. Under-appreciated elements of the open market such as contestability (that is, the threat of entry and competition), reputation, self-imposed quality and innovation, and, ultimately, the threat of legal action for maltreatment of consumers, are all lost when either prohibitive taxation or prohibition is employed.

The letter writer makes a plea against prohibition, something that might be gaining more traction in today's world, but makes the mistake of assuming that behavior of the masses can be materially and permanently manipulated through arbitrary taxation. Unfortunately, this philosophy is alive and well in our modern world.

Posted by Craig Depken at 10:37 AM in Politics

On Socialism c. 1909

From the May 6, 1909 NYT:

The professed aim of the Socialists, or the one as to which most of them are, so far as we can make out, most nearly agreed, is the abolition of certain kinds of private ownership and of competition. The reason for the adoption of this aim that most of them advance is that private property, in the hands of its actual owners, is made the source of infinite wrong to the people generally; that it stimulates greed and injustice and cruelty and dishonesty; that it makes men heedless of the rights of others, and of the law which is intended to protect those rights; and that it gives rise to a system of organized plunder, under the form of law sometimes, often in violation of the law, by which the rich grow richer and the poor become poorer. They - the Socialists - insist that under the demoralizing and perverting influence of absolute ownership, the wealthy constantly evade their obligations to their fellows, and especially that they resort to every means acute and highly paid brains can devise to shift their share of the burdens of the cost of Government to the shoulders of the helpless poor. Competition the Socialists regard as a system that aids in the attainment of these ends, arming the rich, disarming the poor, reinforcing the strong, tending to make the weak helpless.
It seems that the current administration takes a similar view to competition. Whether in the area of consumer credit, student loans, home mortgages, health care, foreign profits, K-12 education, radio and print media, tax breaks for the "rich," "corporate greed," financial industry "stress tests," or any number of other issues, the continuing mantra that the private sector is fundamentally flawed and that it can only be efficiently replaced by the benevolent bureaucracy of the Federal and State governments seems to fit nicely with the characterization offered by the NYT editorial.

Free-market philosophy seems to be against the ropes at the moment; perhaps it will be for the next few years. However, when the ponzi scheme is revealed, whether through bureaucratic rationing or through massive overt and covert taxation, will the political will exist to roll back the regulations and policies that the current generation of politicians are using to purchase their continued employment?

Posted by Craig Depken at 10:23 AM in Politics

May 05, 2009
Unintended consequences c. 1909

I seem remember President Clinton referring to his early years in Hot Springs, Arkansas, as having some impact on his life. To be honest, I didn't pay that much attention.

But if true, then an event that merited four lines in the May 5, 1909 NYT might have yielded such unintended consequences:

LITTLE ROCK - The Senate, by a vote of 27 to 12, today passed the Wadley bill, permitting racing at Hot Springs. The bill will be reported to the House tomorrow.

Posted by Craig Depken at 02:10 PM in Politics

April 30, 2009
Mission Creep

Frank and Earnest


Posted by Robert Lawson at 11:11 AM in Politics

April 24, 2009
Can They All Take a Long Nap?

Larry Summers's nap at a White House meeting yesterday has been circulated around ye olde internet. Here's hoping he's started a trend of nice long siestas among Washington officials at both ends of Penn. Ave. It's hard to imagine we'd be much worse off. The Congressional Effect Fund seems to bear out my thinking.

While I'm being snarky about politics ...

... here's a brickbat for Dick Morris. The title of his recent column is "Obama’s leap to socialism." Excuse me--that's no leap--it's Obama's true character as was abundantly clear during last year's campaign.

... and here's a swipe at Obama's Cuba policy. From a news report: "Obama administration lifted restrictions Monday on Cuban-Americans who want to travel and send money to their island homeland." Fantastic, but what if I--not a Cuban American--want to travel to Cuba? And isn't it unconstitutional to enact policies based on nationality and the like? Surely one couldn't pass a law saying that Cuban American must pay higher income tax rates just for being Cuban American. In fact, isn't there a cottage industry of lawyers who bring suit over policies that don't explicitly single out some group or another but supposedly have "disparate impact"? Maybe I should find one and file suit against Obama's policy on grounds that it has disparate impact on non-Cuban Americans. (Snark aside, I suspect the weasel wording that avoids the legal problems is a reference to relatives living in Cuba not to being Cuban American per se.)

SummersNapping.jpg

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:31 AM in Politics

April 23, 2009
Frustration c. 1909

The April 23, 1909 NYT published the following letter:

A man with a moderate fixed salary finds it impossible now to support his family decently with the high price of food, clothing, and rent. Those in this class, and it comprises the bulk of the country's population, read of the wild extravagance of Congress, but don't seem to realize that they are taxed for it; that if it was not for this wicked extravagance the cost of their living would be greatly reduced; that there would be no deficit in the Treasury, and that food, beef, mutton, poultry, butter, eggs, etc. would be brought into the country free of duty.

Now, on top of all of this, comes the prospect of dearer bread.

No new problems, only our problems.

Posted by Craig Depken at 11:17 AM in Politics

On politician salaries c. 1909

An editorial from the April 23, 1909 NYT:

State Senator Timothy Sullivan is not wholly unreasonable in his contention that $1,500 per year is poor pay for Assemblymen and Senators, though he oversteps the bounds of reason when he declares that amount of wages would hardly pay a street cleaner...Some of the competent and earnest men in both houses are worth more. But on the whole the State pays a pretty high price for its annual lawmaking, considering the result. The Legislature as a body is worth no more than it is paid. Doubtless it is not worth as much as it gets. Whether or not better service could be obtained for larger salaries, under present political conditions, is an open question.
Amen.

Posted by Craig Depken at 10:58 AM in Politics

April 22, 2009
Mother Nature is one ungrateful whore.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Man V. Earth: The Wreckoning
thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

I gotta get me one of those portable air conditioners on a hand truck set ups!

Posted by Robert Lawson at 12:20 PM in Politics

April 21, 2009
On taxation c. 1909

The April 21, 2009 NYT reports on tax policy as seen through the eyes of President Taft:

President Taft agrees with Senator Aldrich that no new form of taxation will be necessary or advisable in case the Tariff Bill, as finally enacted, will raise sufficient revenue to meet the expenses of the Government. In case additional revenue is necessary, the President is in favor of trying first an inheritance tax, and next an excise tax on corporations.
How refreshing that the President didn't want to tax for taxation's sake.

An income tax is the kind of additional revenue measure least of all favored by Mr. Taft. In fact, he is of the opinion that such an income tax is undesirable, because, in the first place, it would fly directly in the face of the Supreme Court, and, in the next place, it would be a direct incentive to perjury. Certain men would be sure to evade it by perjury, while others paid it honestly, and it would be an unequal tax.
The President does not mention, or at least it wasn't reported, the incentive to avoid, rather than the more distasteful (from the government's point of view) evade, an income tax. One wonders if Taft is taking a merely pragmatic view that the perjury would reduce the ability to collect the tax or if he is making a moral pronouncement.
In that event [that there is insufficient revenue raised by the Tariff bill] his effort would be to secure the adoption of the inheritance tax. He believes that an inheritance tax is the most certain of collection and the easiest of all forms of additional taxation suggested.
It is true that dead men tell no lies, thus the perjury concern is probably off the table in the case of an inheritance tax. However, there is still an incentive to avoid the inheritance tax or at least the incentive to reduce the impact of the tax on one's estate. Again, no mention of avoidance.
If the Federal inheritance tax is not to be tried, then the President is in favor of an excise tax on the profits of corporations. He is convinced that it would entirely constitutional, and that no great difficulty would be experienced in its collection.
As if corporations are black boxes rather than being managed by the same households about which the the President expresses perjury concerns? Excise taxes on corporate profits are simply profits on the individuals who hold the residual claims on the firm. Supposedly the corporate profits tax is a path of less resistance but a corporate profit tax is still distortionary and creates incentives to avoid the tax.

Taft then hits a theme that sounds rather similar to today:

Mr. Taft agrees with Senator Aldrich in the effort to reduce expenses and has told his callers that he would back the Senator to the limit in everything aimed at that end. He thinks that there could be great savings in the War and Navy Departments. He has been informed by navy officers that consolidation of the bureau work in the navy yards will save at least $5,000,000 a year. The President means to go at this question of reducing expenditures with the greatest possible vigor.
Perhaps there was a culture of "small g" government in the early 1900s which would give Taft's words credibility. On the other hand, generally speaking vigorously trying to reduce the expenditures of the government in one area seems to be offset by vigorous increasing expenditures in other areas.

Alas, no new problems, only our problems.

Posted by Craig Depken at 05:13 PM in Politics

April 20, 2009
Reefer Gladness

Will Wilkinson makes a forceful argument for de-stigmatizing casual marijuana use, and tops it off with "My name is Will Wilkinson. I smoke marijuana, and I like it."

Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 09:15 PM in Politics

April 16, 2009
Take the terrorist quiz for yourself!

terrorist-certificate.jpg

Posted by Robert Lawson at 04:19 PM in Politics

xkcd on Borders

http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/borders.png


Borders are nothing except lines that politicians draw on maps.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 03:37 PM in Politics

April 15, 2009
I'd Take the Tea Party Movement More Seriously If ...

... the one in Rome didn't feature a congressman who scored a paltry 52% on the Club for Growth's RePork Card. The congressman isn't the solution--he's part of the problem (though, to be fair, he's not alone and is hardly the most egregious).

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:39 AM in Politics

April 11, 2009
The Greedy Hand: Streetlight User Fee Edition

'Streetlight user fees' among the new charges as governments get creative

HT: Drudge

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:52 AM in Politics

April 10, 2009
Shocked! Shocked!

The headline provided by Real Clear Politics says it all: "Poor, Black School Kids Don't Pay Union Dues." The rest of this article is details, but they're telling details.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 03:29 PM in Politics

If Only It Were That Few ...
Rep. Spencer Bachus, the top Republican on the Financial Services Committee, told a hometown crowd in Alabama today he believes there are several socialists in the House.

Actually, he says there are exactly 17 socialists in the House of Representatives.

Source. A more accurate count would be something around 400, perhaps including Rep. Bachus.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:43 AM in Politics

April 07, 2009
The art of the understatement c. 1909

From the April 7, 1909 NYT:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The State Senate to-day passed a bill placing a heavy penalty on persons drinking intoxicants on trains in the State or on station platforms. This will probably affect buffet cars, although intended only to stop rowdyism.

Posted by Craig Depken at 01:36 PM in Politics

April 06, 2009
Very NICE

How's this for an Orwellian ministry acronym?

In Britain, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) reviews new medical treatments to determine whether or not a treatment's effectiveness justifies its price tag. Based on this assessment, NICE recommends whether new treatments should be covered under the country's public health care system, the National Health Service. Most of the time the NHS makes those recommendations hard-and-fast policy. As a result, NHS physicians are often prohibited from prescribing newer, more expensive treatments because NICE has determined they're not worth the cost.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 04:35 PM in Politics

Misplaced Faith

Headline News just reported about a letter sent to President Obama by a couple of young girls asking why it is taking Congress so long to help people like their father, who is looking for work. The dark cloud: after piles of government make-work programs, the state might get numerous devotees and fans for life. The silver lining: maybe massive state failures will cause crises of faith among young statists.

Posted by Art Carden at 08:46 AM in Politics

April 02, 2009
Libertarian blind spots

A commenter at ryanavent.com says:

Libertarianism has much to offer our political discourse, but every belief system has its dogma, its blind spots. Libertarianism classically has two:

1. Government is the only agent of oppression.
2. Government can do nothing right.

Hmmmm....well this libertarian believes the following:

1. Only people can be agents of oppression. All people in government are agents of oppression; people engaged in market exchanges are never agents of oppression; people not in government or in markets are sometimes agents of oppression (theives) and sometimes not (friends).

2. People in government can do the right thing or the wrong thing, but either way, only by violating my freedom.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 11:43 AM in Politics

March 26, 2009
Not From the Onion

Read this headline carefully:

"Alabama House Panel votes against two bills to limit politics in judicial elections"

Posted by Art Carden at 10:06 AM in Politics

March 25, 2009
Thugs Called Out

This letter to Edward Liddy addresses at least three questions:
1. Why do we need to give the AIG executives bonuses? After all, do they really have any alternatives?
2. Didn't they just lose a bunch of money, and now they want to be compensated for incompetence?
3. What are the identities of two of the thugs who are leading this witch hunt?

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 09:56 AM in Politics

March 24, 2009
The Toxic Assets We Elected

That's the title of today's superb column by George Will. Here are three paragraphs but read the whole thing:

TARP funds have, however, semi-purchased, among many other things, two automobile companies (and, last week, some of their parts suppliers), which must amaze Sweden. That unlikely tutor of America regarding capitalist common sense has said, through a Cabinet minister, that the ailing Saab automobile company is on its own: "The Swedish state is not prepared to own car factories."


Another embarrassing auditor of American misgovernment is China, whose premier has rightly noted the unsustainable trajectory of America's high-consumption, low-savings economy. He has also decorously but clearly expressed sensible fears that his country's $1 trillion-plus of dollar-denominated assets might be devalued by America choosing, as banana republics have done, to use inflation for partial repudiation of improvidently incurred debts.


From Mexico, America is receiving needed instruction about fundamental rights and the rule of law. A leading Democrat trying to abolish the right of workers to secret ballots in unionization elections is California's Rep. George Miller who, with 15 other Democrats, in 2001 admonished Mexico: "The secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose." Last year, Mexico's highest court unanimously affirmed for Mexicans the right that Democrats want to strip from Americans.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:07 AM in Politics

March 23, 2009
All in the family: Thugs version

I wondered why ABC News would spend 2 1/2 minutes of their Sunday night broadcast interviewing the granddaughter of Bank of America's founder, who trashed current management. No suggestion was made that she has any expertise. Then this article ("Cuomo wins ruling to name Merrill bonus recipients") made it clear. Andrew Cuomo is, of course, the brother of Chris Cuomo of ABC News.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 08:54 PM in Politics

Real March Madness

Michael Goodwin on the recent witch hunt:

Everybody makes mistakes, and I made a beaut the other day. I was wrong to call members of Congress blow-hards and buffoons and declare them worse than useless.

I was too kind.

I should have said our representatives are gangsters in pinstripes and pearls. They are petty tyrants and the more power they grab, the more at risk we are. Homeland Security should flash Code Red any time this Congress is in session.
[...]

The House vote to use the tax code to retroactively punish bonus babies was an act of sheer madness. What started as phony outrage at AIG has crossed the line into insane policy. It is stunning that the vote was lopsided and bipartisan.

[...]
That Congress is a gang of cheap connivers is not news. Chris Dodd, Charlie Rangel, Charles Grassley, Barney Frank - they have been national embarrassments for years.

But now they are dangerous, emboldened by public fear and anger. They know nothing, but have power and smell opportunity for more.

Missing in action is the Barack Obama who vowed to unite the country around common values. Lately he has been the very opposite of the man he promised. Instead of hope, many have a growing fear of the arrogant government he leads.

Obama is smart, quick and charming, and, as he showed on "The Tonight Show," owner of a thousand-watt smile he can deploy at will. He silkily manages to make the ridiculous sound reasonable.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 01:06 PM in Politics

March 21, 2009
Of Happiness

Charles Murray is back on ground that he covered in his second (and, of the ones I've read, best) book, In Pursuit: Of Happiness and Good Government. Here's the central paragraph, plus one sentence:

For some years a metaphor has been stuck in my mind: The 20th century was the adolescence of Homo sapiens. Nineteenth-century science, from Darwin to Freud, offered a series of body blows to ways of thinking about human life that had prevailed since the dawn of civilization. Humans, just like adolescents, were deprived of some of the comforting simplicities of childhood and exposed to more complex knowledge about the world. And 20th-century intellectuals reacted precisely the way adolescents react when they think they have discovered that Mom and Dad are hopelessly out of date. It was as if they thought that if Darwin was right about evolution, then Aquinas was no longer worth reading; that if Freud was right about the unconscious mind, then the Nicomachean Ethics had nothing to teach us.

The nice thing about adolescence is that it is temporary, and when it passes, people discover that their parents were smarter than they thought.

Let's hope that the last sentence is correct.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 01:34 PM in Politics

March 20, 2009
Going for the Capillaries

I don't think Krauthammer hammers enough on the rank indecency of the posturing over the AIG bonuses, but he gets in some zingers. Two follow:

It is time for the president to state the obvious: This recession is not caused by excessive executive compensation in government-controlled companies. The economy has been sinking because of a lack of credit, stemming from a general lack of confidence, stemming from the lack of a plan to detoxify the major lending institutions, mainly the banks, which, to paraphrase Willie Sutton, is where the money used to be.

Free trade is the one area where the world indisputably turns to Washington for leadership. What does it see? Grandstanding, parochialism, petty payoffs to truckers and a rush to mindless populism. Over what? Over 97 Mexican trucks -- and bonus money that comes to what the Yankees are paying for CC Sabathia's left arm.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 08:14 PM in Politics

March 18, 2009
Juxtaposition

February:

Talented political performer that he is, Obama primed the audience by promising that Caterpillar would give some workers their jobs back if Congress passed the rescue plan.

"The chairman and CEO of Caterpillar said that if the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan passes, his company would be able to rehire some of those employees," Obama said in a speech in Virginia yesterday.

March:

Caterpillar Inc. on Tuesday announced plans to lay off more than 2,400 employees at five plants in Illinois, Indiana and Georgia as the heavy equipment maker continues to cut costs amid the global economic downturn.

Among the affected workers are 1,726 people at plants in Illinois. They include 911 workers at a plant in East Peoria that makes track-type tractors and pipelayers and 815 at a plant in Aurora, where the company produces hydraulic excavators and wheel loaders. Caterpillar notified the employees Tuesday of the layoffs which are expected to last at least six months starting in June.

Wonder if these jobs are some of the ones that the stimulus plan was supposed to save.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:57 PM in Politics

Silencing the silencer c. 1909

The March 18, 1909 NYT reports on the development of Maxim's silencer for firearms:

Who shall be authorized to carry and use firearms equipped with Mr. Hudson Maxim's "silencer"? No private person, surely. A true sportsman would not use it, and the "pot hunter" must be forbidden to hunt silently. The burglar, the highway robber, and the Black Hand assassin are the only other persons to whom it could be of advantage...

We therefore see a reason for the passage of Assemblyman Joseph's bill making it a felony, punishable by imprisonment for not more than five years, to make or sell the instrument for duly authorized military or civic organizations, or to have or to carry it concealed upon the person.

When the silencer is outlawed, only outlaws will have silencers?

A pot hunter is defined as "one who kills anything and everything that will help to fill has bag; also, a hunter who shoots game for the table or for the market."

I wonder if the editorial suggests that the pot hunter should forbidden to hunt silently because to do so would pose a negative externality on others. When a gun is fired by the pot hunter did the report serve as a warning to others in the area that someone was blasting away? The only other reason I can see is to provide a warning to the other (non human) animals in the area.

More seriously, I always find it interesting that our problems are not new - gun control issues have evidently been with us for quite some time.

Posted by Craig Depken at 04:18 PM in Politics

March 13, 2009
Deficit Hawk Blues

After my recent post showing North Dakota's "deficit hawk" Sen. Kent Conrad holding up a copy of the Obama budget with a big grin on his face, I was pleased to see Kim Strassel's column in today's WSJ. It's good to see a big media platform like the WSJ digging into Sen. Conrad's fiscal conservative phoney baloney; there's even a picture of the senator grinning holding up the Obama budget.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:19 PM in Politics

March 06, 2009
Non sequitur on democracy

From CQ Global Researcher (Feb. 2009):

In a recent Gallup Poll [conducted in certain countries outside the US] ... more than 85 percent of [adherents to a certain religion] surveyed said they believe democracy is the best form of government. Thus, they are not interested in imposing their views on others but wish to live according to the teachings of their religion while respecting people of other religions or opinions.

How does belief in democratic selecting the government imply disinterest in imposing one's views on others? If members of a single religious group are in the majority, can't they use majority rule to elect legislators who will impose their views and their restrictions on others?

They can. This been famously emphasized by Fareed Zakaria in his warnings about the dangers of illiberal democracy.

Posted by Lawrence H. White at 11:51 PM in Politics

On the interregnum c. 1909

The 1909 inauguration of William Howard Taft was not a pleasant experience, either for Democrats or for the bystanders. As reported in the March 6, 1909 NYT, "[t]he results of the exposure are to be found in the crowded conditions of the hospitals to-day, scores having been taken ill because of the weather." The story goes on to report:

Speaker Cannon agreed to-day to assist in the movement for change [of the inauguration date]. Two bills have passed the Senate in times gone, the date in each being fixed for the last Thursday in April. The speaker believes, however, that this date is not late enough, and favors the substitution of May 1.

"That would give more assurance of fair weather," he said to-day, "for April showers are proverbially uncertain. As a Representative in Congress i will lend my efforts to having the change put into effect."

If this had been accomplished, we might have had three more months of Bushco, to the dismay of Obamaco, but then we might have actually heard rather than just watched Yo Yo Ma play his cello.

Posted by Craig Depken at 04:23 PM in Politics

Mike Lester on the Mortgage Bailout

Today's offering from Mike Lester of the Rome News-Tribune:

LesterMortgage.jpg

See also this bumper sticker from the Tennessee Republican Party. Wonder if they'll make one that says "Honk if I'm paying your mortgage"?

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:12 AM in Politics

February 27, 2009
Just Another Partisan Hack

Last summer, ND Sen. Kent Conrad said, "President Bush will be remembered as the most fiscally irresponsible president in our nation's history."

Well, here's Sen. Conrad yesterday holding a copy of the Obama budget calling for huge spending increases and large budget deficits. Compared to this budget, President Bush's spending looks downright miserly. So, Sen. Conrad, why the big grin?

ConradPhoto.jpg

ADDENDUM: Below is a statement from Sen. Conrad's website; it's rather hard to square this statement with his grin about the Obama budget.

Senator Conrad is particularly concerned about the soaring federal debt that is forecast for the nation's long-term budget outlook. He believes that reducing this debt burden is essential to the future strength of the nation's economy. Over time, large deficits and debt will raise interest rates, crowd out private sector investment, and slow long-term economic growth.

ADDENDUM2: A better title for this post would have been "A Deficit Chicken Hawk."

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:45 PM in Politics

Bring back corncobs

Don Boudreaux comments on one aspect of this NYTimes story. Here's another:

The New York Times reported yesterday that the softness sought in toilet paper by Americans is wiping out forests. After all, paper doesn't grow on trees. Oh wait, it does. and that's the problem. [...] Swooping in to save the day are Wallypop toilet wipes, a reusable cloth product. The sales pitch: They're comfy and environmentally friendly. You can use them wet, and they won't fall apart.
The column concludes:
The company admits there's "a certain ick factor involved." Indeed. If you try this at home, let us know how everything comes out.
Maybe we should bring back corncobs. The increased demand for corn might provide political cover for a reduction in the ethanol subsidy.

Oops. I should have seen Frank's entry before posting this.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 05:27 PM in Politics

February 25, 2009
The RAAT Board?

Is there any sense of irony in the Federal Government?

Programs, agencies, OMB, and the new, $84 million Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency Board (see p. 175 of the bill) are all required to report on the progress of spending, often on different timetables. In fact, according to new OMB guidance, there are eight levels of reporting that are now required, with the first report from agencies due March 3.
For real? The RAAT Board? Of course, it would have to be pronounced "the rat board"?

More here

Posted by Craig Depken at 01:48 PM in Politics

February 23, 2009
Rent Seeking: Check's in the Mail Version

An AP story on how Washington State provides 250,000 food stamp recipients improved access to the federal pipeline.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 04:40 PM in Politics

February 19, 2009
Pork Watch Resource

If you're up to looking at the sausage's ingredients, this site might be useful.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 05:25 PM in Politics

February 10, 2009
Stop Digging
The strength stocks have shown lately vanished on Tuesday as the government unveiled a new bank-rescue plan and congressional action neared on a fresh round of fiscal stimulus for the wheezing U.S. economy.

Investors bid up stocks last week in anticipation of the plan's unveiling and were quick to unload them after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner revealed details of the package in a late-morning speech and the Senate passed the stimulus measure.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was recently off about 345 points, or 4.2%, at 7927. Bank of America was its weakest stock, dropping 18%, and Citigroup was off more than 12%. But all 30 of the blue-chip average's components were in the red. The S&P 500 tumbled 4.4% to trade near 832. All its sectors fell, led by an 8.4% slide in financials. The Nasdaq Composite Index slid 3.5% to 1535.

Source. Can we get a hippocratic oath for politicians?

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 01:47 PM in Politics

February 06, 2009
... and throw away the key

Doug Bandow's take on the Phelps incident:

Michael Phelps ... has violated the law. ... [H]e admitted the crime. The same crime for which the better part of a million people were arrested last year.

Shouldn’t Phelps be charged? Along with President Obama and his two predecessors, all of whom, it seems, used illegal drugs? If not, perhaps it is time to have a serious debate about the drug laws.

[...]

[H]undreds of thousands of Americans ended up in jail for doing precisely what Michael Phelps did: lighting up. Roughly three-quarters of those arrested for marijuana offenses were, like Phelps, under 30. With most of their lives ahead of them, they face the greatest harm from prosecution under the drug laws.

So why shouldn’t Phelps go to jail?

To ask the question is to answer it. While smoking pot may be a stupid thing to do for many reasons—risking adverse health effects, endangering endorsements, undermining Phelps’s status as a celebrity role model—he hurt no one but himself. He could have been photographed while drunk and stumbling out of a party, and it would have been no different. Bad press and angry sponsors would have forced an abject apology, and everyone would have moved on. Just like with his marijuana hit.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 03:01 PM in Politics

February 05, 2009
"Because I Want It So" c. 1909

The Feb. 5, 1909 NYT provides a draw from the "Because I want it so" drawer:

A reduction of 2 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity in Brooklyn is provided for in a bill introduced to-day by Senator Cullen. The bill reduces the price from 12 to 10 cents, making it uniform in the Boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. The measure was referred to the Cities Committee, notwithstanding the protest of the introducer, who desired that it be referred to the Committee on Miscellaneous Corporations.
The "Committee of Miscellaneous Corporations"? Such a committee actually existed and was given that name?!? I understand that mandating lower prices for Brooklyn might have been seen as a "populist" stance, but how could Mr. Cullen have known what the optimal price for electricity was at the time? What would Mr. Cullen have done if such a law killed the infant electricity industry in its crib? I am sure he would have been outraged that the good "hard working" citizens of Brooklyn were being unfairly denied access to the life-improving, indeed in cases life-saving, service of electricity.

Today's s national average cost per kilowatt hour? 11.96 cents (not adjusted for inflation).

Posted by Craig Depken at 11:29 AM in Politics

On trade unions c. 1909

There was a time when K Street was just another street in Washington, DC. There was a time when it was less need to send "representatives" to Washington to lobby for and against legislation, there was less need to have "a man in Washington" to watch your six. There was a time when the Legislature wasn't used to tell others what to do with their private property.

Then along came "Populism" and the perception those with "too much" private property would use this property to harm others, to steal from others, to deny others their basic necessities. The cure was to use the Legislature to tell others what to do with their private property. This, in turn, created an incentive for those being attacked to "defend themselves" from the Legislature. It is reasonable for private property owners to respond in this manner, although I might be confusing cause and effect in certain instances.

Unfortunately, once the fixed costs of protecting property rights from the Legislature were borne, the marginal cost of shifting form the "defensive" to the "offensive" in Washintong. That is, using lobbyists, political contributions, graft, and other (perhaps even more objectionable) means to use the Legislature to protect or create profit potential, to erect entry barriers and increase the costs of potential and actual competitors, to finalize the creation of the "mixed economy."

The Feb. 5, 1909 NYT reports on the birth of such an "organization" in the wall paper industry:

Thirty manufacturers of wall paper, representing the largest wall paper mills in the country, met yesterday in the Hotel Victoria and organized the Wall Paper Manufacturers' Association of the United States. A call for the meeting had been sent to practically all the heads of wall paper manufacturing companies in the country, and nearly all responded...

A chief object of the association, outside of its social features, will be to keep the manufacturers posted on legislation and other matters likely to affect the trade. Committees are to be appointed to investigate conditions and, if possible, to prevent injurious or unwise legislation.

When the Congressional Committee was hearing arguments on the tariff, for instance, the wall paper manufacturers were deeply concerned, but, owing to the lack of organization, only a few individual manufacturers went to Washington to present their cases before the committee. Had the association of wall paper manufacturers been in existence then, its organizers say, a committee of much authority would have been sent to argue on behalf of a membership representing practically all of the wall paper plants in the country.

And so it began in the wall paper industry and a similar story was told in any number of other industries. One hundred years later not much seems to have changed.

Posted by Craig Depken at 11:19 AM in Politics

February 04, 2009
I'm sure this has some significance

The Democrats always rail against tax cheats, and complain that the rich don't pay their share of taxes, etc. etc. Now it appears from the President's cabinet nominees that every third Democrat doesn't pay his or her taxes. And why is it that they all seem to have nannies, drivers, and seven figure family incomes?

Meanwhile, Republicans are the party of public morals and opposition to free love and gay sex. Just ask Senator Craig and Representative Foley. Yet they get all the juicy sex scandals.

I'm sure there is some hidden message here. Your homework is to write a 500 word essay on the topic.

Posted by Brad Smith at 08:57 AM in Politics

February 03, 2009
Tax Cheats Withdraw

Not 1 but 2--Daschle and Nancy Killefer who apparently is yet Obama appointee with tax problems. It seems that Mark Perry's cartoon of the day is spot on.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 01:03 PM in Politics

February 02, 2009
Stimulus Watch

Sorry, Bob. It's not a Cinemax title. Launched officially today, it's the cool new wiki that lets you search, evaluate, and "vote" for individual line items proposed for the the stimulus package. Brought to you by our friends Jerry Brito and Eileen Norcross. With details here.

Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 01:11 PM in Politics

What it feels like to be libertarian

By John Hasnas, posted on his website. What does it feel like to be a libertarian these days?

I’ll tell you. It feels bad. Being a libertarian means living with a level of frustration that is nearly beyond human endurance. It means being subject to unending scorn and derision despite being inevitably proven correct by events.

[...]

I remember attending a lecture at Georgetown in the mid-1990s given by a member of the libertarian Cato Institute in which he predicted that, unless changed, government policy would trigger an economic crisis by 2006. That prediction was obviously ideologically-motivated alarmism. After all, the crisis did not occur until 2008.

Libertarians spend their lives accurately predicting the future effects of government policy. Their predictions are accurate because they are derived from Hayek’s insights into the limitations of human knowledge, from the recognition that the people who comprise the government respond to incentives just like anyone else and are not magically transformed to selfless agents of the good merely by accepting government employment, from the awareness that for government to provide a benefit to some, it must first take it from others, and from the knowledge that politicians cannot repeal the laws of economics. For the same reason, their predictions are usually negative and utterly inconsistent with the utopian wishful-thinking that lies at the heart of virtually all contemporary political advocacy. And because no one likes to hear that he cannot have his cake and eat it too or be told that his good intentions cannot be translated into reality either by waving a magic wand or by passing legislation, these predictions are greeted not merely with disbelief, but with derision.

ATSRTWT. Don't be fooled by John's brevity. There is much packed into few words here. Well worth the read. And well worth saving these ideas!

Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 11:41 AM in Politics

January 30, 2009
When Having One Tax Cheat in Your Cabinet Isn't Enough ...
Tom Daschle, President Barack Obama's choice for secretary of Health and Human Services, paid about $140,000 in back taxes and interest after questions surfaced during the vetting of his nomination, according to documents being prepared by the Senate Finance Committee.

Mr. Daschle made the payments to cover a luxury car and driver provided to him by an investment firm where he was an adviser after leaving the U.S. Senate in 2005, but which he didn't report as income, people familiar with the report said. The payments also covered unreported consulting income and unwarranted charitable deductions. The tax period covered 2005 through 2007.

Source.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:16 PM in Politics

Mises Quotes of the Day

Here are two great quotes from Ludwig von Mises's Bureaucracy, originally written in 1944:

"The outstanding fact of intellectual history of the last hundred years is the struggle against economics." p. 89

"He who is unfit to serve his fellow citizens wants to rule them." p. 100

Posted by Art Carden at 02:32 PM in Politics

January 25, 2009
My turn ...

to be shocked, that is. Lobbyists won't be marginalized after all, according to this AP release.

President Barack Obama's ban on earmarks in the $825 billion economic stimulus bill doesn't mean interest groups, lobbyists and lawmakers won't be able to funnel money to pet projects.

They're just working around it — and perhaps inadvertently making the process more secretive.

[...]

"'No earmarks' isn't a game-ender," said Peter Buffa, former mayor of Costa Mesa, Calif. "It just means there's a different way of going about making sure the funding is there."

It won't be in legislative language that overtly sets aside money for them. That's the infamous practice known as earmarking, which Obama and Democratic congressional leaders have agreed to nix for the massive stimulus package, expected to come up for a House vote this week.

Instead, the money will be doled out according to arcane formulas spelled out in the bill and in some cases based on the decisions of Obama administration officials, governors and state and local agencies that will choose the projects.


Posted by Wilson Mixon at 11:07 AM in Politics

January 20, 2009
How Can He Say This @#$! With a Straight Face?

I felt left out when I didn't make the list of ethics free Republican hacks like Ed and some other folks I know. So try, try again.

In his inauguaral address, President Obama called for a "new era of responsibility." This from the president who wants an $800B "stimulus package" (The Real Voodoo Economics) and plans for deficit spending in excess of $1 trillion.

There was also some blather about ""our collective failure to make hard choices." This is offensive. For example, my wife and I have bought two houses, making a large downpayment on both. We've been aggressively saving for retirement (only to see our savings nearly halved by the Fed and the pols). The fact that many other citizens and our spendthrift pols have not similarly lived within their means does not make me complicit in their failure. Alas, genuinely responsible chumps people are likely the ones who will bear the cost of Obama's grandiose schemes.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 01:22 PM in Politics

January 16, 2009
Hot Air

This, on the inauguration of The One who will, inter alia, reverse the trend toward global warming:

The carbon footprint of Barack Obama's inauguration could exceed 575 million pounds of CO2. According to the Institute for Liberty, it would take the average U.S. household nearly 60,000 years of naughty ecological behavior to produce a carbon footprint equal to the largest self-congratulatory event in the history of humankind.
Posted by Wilson Mixon at 04:52 PM in Politics

January 09, 2009
On president-elect propriety c. 1909

The Jan 9, 1909 NYT reports on a very different approach to announcing the incoming cabinet than the current "Office of the President-elect":

The Taft-Knox Cabinet conference is over and the Pennsylvania Senator is to-night on his way back to Washington. Neither the President-elect nor his adviser will discuss the result, and it is strongly hinted by Mr. Taft to-night that his Cabinet will be made known for the first time when he sends the names of the men who are to compose it to the Senate for confirmation after March 4.

There is more to the story, primarily discussing the Taft will attend a barbecue in South Carolina and that Governor-elect Joe Brown of Georgia had visited with Taft.

Perhaps it is better to release the names of the proposed cabinet members earlier than later so that the public and those with axes to grind in Congress can have time to amass their arguments against any proposed cabinet member. Moreover, there might be Richardson-like outcomes of a nomination that any president-elect would rather have occur before the actual nomination hearings or votes occur.

Nevertheless, given the extended announcements and bromide-filled press conferences held by the new species "Office of the President-elect" over the past two months, Taft's approach might have been preferred.

Posted by Craig Depken at 12:11 PM in Politics

On Congressional license c. 1909

The January 9, 1909 NYT reports:

The Post Office Department is now engaged in an effort to collect $16 from Senator Tillman in postage on a typewriter, which he franked from his home in South Carolina to Washington recently.

Yesterday the department had a letter from him refusing to pay, and saying that the department could burn up the machine or do what it liked with it, as it was Government property and he would not pay postage on it.

Posted by Craig Depken at 11:56 AM in Politics

January 05, 2009
On Bashing the Rich c. 1909

From the Jan 5, 1909 NYT:

ASHEVILLE, N.C. - County school teachers here have not received their pay because the Biltmore estate failed to pay its $24,000 county taxes as expected. The county authorities have cabled Mr. Vanderbilt direct at Paris.

In the past Mr. Vanderbilt has paid half his taxes in December and half in January, and the estate office promised to make such payment this year. The taxes on an assessment of two and a half millions on Biltmore village and the estate proper were due in October.

I do not know what the operating budget of Buncombe County was in 1909, but I would wager it was considerably more than $24,000 per year. To blame the failure to pay teachers on a single tax payer is pathetic but, I suppose, rather Progressive.

Posted by Craig Depken at 12:55 PM in Politics

December 19, 2008
Party Pooping the Proposed Stimulus

Google search of blogs shows Greg Mankiw has picked this up, but I didn't find it elsewhere, so here goes. By email forward from Veronique de Rugy:

Subject: WANTED: STIMULUS SPENDING SKEPTICS

OBAMA AIDES SAY “ONLY ONE OUTSIDE ECONOMIST” HAS EXPRESSED SKEPTICISM ABOUT MASSIVE STIMULUS SPENDING PLAN

An AP story this morning (Kuhnhenn, Jim; “Obama Considers $1 Trillion Plan to Jolt Economy,” Associated Press, 18 Dec 08) indicates President-elect Obama and his advisors are contemplating an economic “stimulus” spending bill with a price tag as large as $1 trillion, with the vast majority of that number going to new spending on government programs and projects. The article quotes Obama transition officials as saying “[o]nly one outside economist contacted by Obama aides. . .voiced skepticism” about the President-elect’s emerging spending plans.

House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) is compiling a list of credentialed American economists who would like to add their voices to the list of stimulus spending skeptics. If you know of an economist who would like to be added to this list, please visit http://gopleader.gov/jobs. The page includes a contact form that allows readers to sign up and submit comments. Please be aware that information submitted through the webpage can, and most likely will, be shared publicly.

Bill Greene
Republican Leader’s Office
202-225-4000

Here is Tyler Cowen "driving home the point" that there is no evidence to support the putative economic benefits of stimulus spending.

Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 02:08 PM in Politics

December 18, 2008
Farm Subsidy Database

A valuable database

You might want see how your neighbors are making out. In my home county, four members of one family accounted for about one-third of the USDA subsidies.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 04:53 PM in Politics

Just Wondering (Part Deux) ...

... if the media will stop drooling over Caroline Kennedy long enough to point out that she has less experience than the (somewhat deservedly) maligned Sarah Palin. I'm not sure experience is a good thing, but if it's a fair charge to raise against Palin then it should be a fair charge to raise against Kennedy.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 04:14 PM in Politics

Just Wondering ...

... if we'll hear anything about Bernie Madoff (and other Madoffs who I assume are related to him) making political contributions to Democrats (including Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer) in the same way we heard about George Bush's ties to "Kenny Boy" Lay in the wake of Enron's collapse.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:02 AM in Politics

December 16, 2008
Buried but not hidden

This from page D08 of the WaPo:

Most Americans continue to oppose a government-backed rescue plan for Detroit's Big Three automakers as majorities blame the industry for its own problems and are unconvinced failure would hurt the economy, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Maybe they think G. W. Bailout will not read that deeply into the paper. Maybe they're right.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 07:35 PM in Politics

November 21, 2008
Voting Essay Contest Winner

Congratulations to Jeff Daiell, who won the Essay Contest I sponsored earlier this month. Jeff won a copy of Buchanan and Tullock's The Calculus of Consent, and I learned a lot. Thanks for all the entries (a few dozen or so). And for people who are interested, I did vote (and then chose a winner after the fact). Jeff's winning essay is below the fold.

Read More »

Posted by Art Carden at 10:56 AM in Politics

November 17, 2008
A Puzzle: Posed and Solved

I had just read this in a thoughtful column by Kevin Hassett:

The U.S. has always distinguished itself relative to its major trading partners by having a higher faith in free markets and a greater respect for the limits of big government. Sure, the U.S. passed a stimulus package now and then, but it also let failure run its course and refused to resort to excessive big- government intrusions into the private sector.

The risk is that we will forget this lesson. First we bailed out the financial companies; now President-elect Barack Obama is asking for $50 billion to bail out the auto companies, an effort backed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Next we will see a tax credit for people who buy General Motors Corp. cars at stores of bankrupt retailer Circuit City, provided they use the car to go to a Detroit Lions game.

A look at economic history suggests that the crazy policy intrusions have to stop.

Failure can be a good thing, and recessions force economic stragglers to make tough decisions. Those tough decisions set the stage for the recovery.

Then I read this in a puzzling column by Bill Kristol: "I don’t pretend to know just what has to be done. But I suspect that free-marketers need to be less doctrinaire and less simple-mindedly utility-maximizing, and that they should depend less on abstract econometric models."

Finally, a note posted below Kristol's article cleared it up: "Paul Krugman is off today." Nice of Kristol to fill in for him.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 11:15 AM in Politics

Trillion Dollar Lockup

Not that it's likely to matter any time soon, but here's an excellent summary of at least one part of the ANWR debate.

The proponents of ANWR development have also distorted the picture by themselves making false arguments. First, it should be acknowledged that ANWR oil production will not in itself come close to achieving energy independence for the United States. Second, ANWR production alone will not affect oil prices significantly. Even the large reserves that ANWR possesses are not large enough, relative to the total world oil market, to have much effect on future world prices.

The real issue in ANWR is the proper use of the fiscal assets of the U.S. government. The oil there is worth, minimally, $500 billion in gross value and, potentially, $1 trillion dollars or more - depending obviously on the future world price of oil.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 10:37 AM in Politics

November 09, 2008
The more things change...

Steve Chapman is insightful, as usual:

Obama, as it happens, won by offering voters the same thing Reagan promised: tax cuts. Most of those who supported him did so on the assumption that they would not fall in the class of people who will have to cough up more to the IRS.

Not only that, but many voted against McCain partly because Obama successfully branded his health-care program as a tax increase. Americans are willing to embrace a bigger and more expensive federal government on one condition: that it doesn't cost them anything.

In this respect, the president-elect promises a continuation of the last eight years. With the exception of the recession brought on by the financial crisis, the biggest challenge is a vast array of commitments that have outgrown our willingness to pay for them. Living within our means is not a change Americans can quite believe in. Like Bush, Obama may hope to escape two terms without taking action on that front.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 07:46 PM in Politics

November 05, 2008
Bob Barr was a "spoiler" in maybe two states

With all the precincts in Missouri reporting, unofficial totals as of this morning have McCain carrying the state by only 5,868 votes over Obama. In percentage terms, the outcome was 49.4% to 49.2%. You could say that Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr, with 11,355 votes (0.4%) , held the “balance of power” or was a “spoiler”. But then you’d have to say the same about Ralph Nader, who drew 17,769 votes (0.6%).

Meanwhile, Barr is reportedly calling himself a spoiler in North Carolina, which is still too close to call at last report, where

Democrat Barack Oama has a 12,000-vote lead over Republican John McCain, and Barr, a former Republican congressman from Georgia, has 25,181 votes, or 1 percent.
Posted by Lawrence H. White at 10:21 PM in Politics

Congrats to Mike Munger

Mike made a pretty decent showing in the NC governor's race: 120,000 votes, 2.9% of the total.

Posted by Lawrence H. White at 03:48 PM in Politics

November 04, 2008
Live Blogging the Election

I'm going to post a few thoughts as the evening progresses. Comments are open.

First up--CNN has "The Diff" in its election results.

Looks like Obama has it won; Fox has called PA and OH for him. FL, IN, NC, and VA are not yet called so Obama might take several moderate to large states from McCain.

Decent news on the gridlock front--GOP senators in GA and KY have held on and it looks like Trent Lott's seat in MS will stay GOP and there's some chance of taking a Dem seat from LA. Maybe the filibuster will still be an option.

UPDATE (9:30)--Bryan Caplan raises an issue I've been wondering about--would McCain have fared better if he had voted against the bailout? I think so.

UPDATE (9:40)--The Raleigh NC News and Observer reports co-blogger Mike Munger has 3% of the vote with 24 NC counties reporting complete results and 49 others reporting partial results.

UPDATE (10:00)--Much has been made of Starbucks giving out free coffee today (to the benefit of two of my favorite students), but Instapundit points to a shop giving out sex toys to folks who vote.

UPDATE (10:45)--Obama repeatedly charged that McCain supported tax breaks for companies shipping jobs overseas. What specifically was he refering to? Surely there is no tax credit or other break specifically for transferring a job from the US to overseas.

Last update of the night--Obama's large margin (13) in PA leaves me wondering why McCain spent so much time there over the past 10 days. Not that it mattered since Obama is rolling to about 375 electoral votes. Senate is Dems plus 5 with OR, MN, and AK to go.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:22 PM in Politics  ·  Comments (0)

The Law

On this election day, we do well to consider the opening of Frederic Bastiat's "The Law:"

The law perverted! And the police powers of the state perveted along with it! The law, I say, not only turned from its proper purpose but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The law become the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime, the law itself is guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish!

If this is true, it is a serious fact, and moral duty requires me to call the attention of my fellow-citizens to it.

He does so here.

Posted by Art Carden at 01:50 PM in Politics

Mas sobre "No mas!"

I received quite a few emails about my decision to not vote. One issue was the question of whether I thought my vote matters. On this point it is important to note that my switch to non-voting status has nothing to do with whether I think my vote matters. I've always understood that my vote doesn't matter and yet I still voted previously.

The "logic" of my decision has to do with a change in my premise about the nature of voting. If your premise is that democracy is how we make decisions collectively, then there's nothing per se wrong with voting. I see nothing wrong, for example, with a group of people taking a vote to determine which restaurant to go to so long as individuals are then free to go with the group or not.

But my evolving premise is that democracy is closer to rape--that is, it is about some people forcing other people to go along with their will. Given that premise, which I consider immoral, I choose not to participate.

To be sure (1) I think someone who votes because he thinks his vote will matter is wrong as a matter of fact, but the main issue is that (2) I think someone who votes because she thinks voting is some sort of uplifting civic good needs to "check her premises" as Ayn Rand used to say.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:26 AM in Politics

November 03, 2008
On election day c. 1908

From the Nov. 3, 1908 NYT (election day 1908):

NATIONAL ELECTION DAY

Oh, say,
To-day
The great Bald-Headed Eagle
Roosts on the peaks remote
And screemless folds his wings and tail
To watch the People vote.
The Bird
Hasn't a word
To say
Either way.
The Declaration's thunder tones,
Which erstwhile sent a thrill
Through tyrants' hearts
And other parts,
To-day is hushed and still.
The Glorious Fourth, our natal day,
This day, has been deposed;
Its fierce uproar
Is heard no more
Until the polls are closed.
The Starry Banner of the Free
Floats silent in the sky;
And that is all -
It has no call
Except to wave on high.
The Constitution holds its breath
And dodges out of sight
Until WE say,
By vote to-day,
What is or is not right.
The Ship of State is shaking now
From mizzenmast to keel,
And all her crew are wond'ring who
Will take her by the wheel.
The Nation's glories and her gods
To-day are merely dross,
And common stuff
To make a bluff -
VOX POPULI is BOSS.

W.J. Lampton

Posted by Craig Depken at 10:46 AM in Politics

No mas!

After voting in every presidential election since 1988 and almost every other election and special election since, I have decided to cut my losses. I have not registered to vote in my new state of Alabama and will not vote tomorrow or perhaps ever again.

My working metaphor for politics is gang rape. If 9 rapists and a woman are in a room and hold a vote, it's 9-1 in favor of raping the woman. If the woman doesn't vote, it's 9-0. Same result. But at least the victim doesn't have to sanctify the process that violates her rights. I am no longer going to go to the polls to give legitimacy to these criminal politicians.

Though I appreciate and agree with Brad's point that Obama is a serious threat to liberty--far more than McCain in fact. This is a case where I simply can not vote for the lesser of two evils.

I read a saying somewhere recently (where? anyone know?) that says "when faced with a choice between two evils, it is important to pick neither." Words to live by. [UPDATE: possible source: Charles Spurgeon. HT: Craig]

Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:55 AM in Politics

October 29, 2008
In the spirit of Don Boudreaux...

I sent this email replying to an email I received earlier today.

Dear X:

I care a lot more about losing our liberties than I do about our bulging waistlines. Americans should be free to eat 8000 calorie burgers and ogle all the naughty nurses they wish, and busybodies like you have no right to tell them otherwise.

Please do not solicit me again with such nonsense.

Bob Lawson

>>>
Date: 10/29/2008 4:01 PM
Subject: Controversial Restaurant Opening Near Campus

I've just been told that a restaurant called the Heart Attack Grill is going to be opening near campus. Their slogan is "Taste Worth Dying For!"
Anyone who finishes the Triple Bypass Burger gets pushed out to their car in a wheelchair by the Naughty Nurse waitresses.
I read an article saying that the Quadruple Bypass Burger has 8,000 calories. Isn't America fat enough already?? Hopefully someone on the faculty can help keep this idiocy away from our campus.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 06:12 PM in Politics

On age in politics c. 1908

Much has been made of the respective ages of the two candidates for U.S. President in 2008. One is thought by many to be too young and one is thought by many to be too old. Is it possible to be a vigorous President at 72? Is it possible to be a wise leader at 47? We will find out the answer to one of these questions next week, but the Oct. 29, 1908 NYT reports on the ages of the prevailing "world leaders" at the time:

  • Theodore Roosevelt, President, United States, 50 years old.
  • Francis Joseph, Emperor, Austria-Hungary, 79 years old.
  • Porfirio Diaz, President, Mexico, 79 years old.
  • Leopold II, King, Belgium, 74 years old.
  • Armand Fallieres, President, French Republic, 67 years old.
  • Edward VII, King, England, 67 years old.
  • Frederick VIII, King, Denmark, 65 years old.
  • Abdul Hamid II, Sultan, Ottoman Empire, 57 years old.
  • Mutsuhito, Mikado, Japan, 56 years old.
  • Gustavus V., King, Sweden, 51 years old.
  • William II, Emperor, Germany, 49 years old.
  • Nicholas II, Czar, Russia, 40 years old.
  • Victor Emmanueal, King, Italy, 39 years old.
  • Alfonso XIII, King, Spain, 22 years old.
  • Manuel II, King, Portugal, 19 years old.
  • Posted by Craig Depken at 11:46 AM in Politics

    Prediction markets c. 1908

    The Oct. 29, 1908 NYT reports more wagering on the upcoming 1908 elections:

    A number of small wagers were made in the financial district yesterday at even money on Hughes and Chanler. Bets on Taft were few and far between, but a few were placed with odds on Taft, ranging from 4 1/2 to 3 to 1.

    The largest bet heard of was one made early in the day by a Hughes man, who placed $5,000 on Hughes against $4,500 on Chanler. Later several bets of $1,000 were made on the State contest.

    The largest bet on the Presidential outcome was reported from the Cotton Exchange, where it was said that $3,000 Taft money had been placed against $1,000 on Bryan. One Broadway Stock Exchange house placed $1,000 on Taft against $300 of Bryan money.

    Those who have followed betting in Wall Street are agreed that there has never been a Presidential contest for a generation in which the wagering has been so light. Taft money seems to be plentiful, but the odds demanded by those with cash to bet on Bryan are considered prohibitive.

    Taft wins (52% to 43%), as does Hughes (49% to 45%).

    Posted by Craig Depken at 11:24 AM in Politics

    Division of Labour Contest: Rock the Vote or Mock the Vote?

    Several months ago, Russell Roberts asked his readers whether he should vote or not. I can't find Russ's original post, but I would like to try something similar because I'll be thinking about this a lot over the next couple of days at a Liberty Fund conference on Bryan Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter and Guido Pincione and Fernando R. Teson's Rational Choice and Democratic Deliberation: A Theory of Discourse Failure.

    Thus, I'm announcing The First Semi-Annual Division of Labour Purple Mountains Majesty Amber Waves of Grain Essay Contest, with the winner receiving a copy of James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock's The Calculus of Consent. Here's the prompt:

    A common argument in favor of voting is that it allows the voter to let his or her voice be heard in the political process, but others have argued that silence can be deafening. Take a position: should I vote or not? In 500 words or less, persuade me to do one or the other.

    Entries are limited to 500 words and must be submitted by email to cardena@rhodes.edu by 6:00 AM Central Time on Tuesday, November 4. Depending on the number of entries, I reserve the right to read only the entries I have time to read. Happy writing.

    Update, 3:18 PM: the entries are rolling in, and they're pretty good so far. Keep 'em coming!

    Posted by Art Carden at 10:05 AM in Politics

    October 28, 2008
    A good bet? c. 1908

    The October 28, 1908 NYT reports on an interesting investment opportunity:

    Speyer & Co. and the National City Bank, having charge in this country of the subscription lists for the new thirty-five year 4 1/2 per cent. sinking fund gold bonds of the Institution for Encouragement of Irrigation Works and Development of Agriculture in Mexico, announced yesterday that these lists would be closed to-day. They report a large number of subscriptions having been received from all parts of the country.
    I wonder how the Institute "encouraged" irrigation in Mexico and whether the Institute actually paid off on their bonds - after all, a lot is going to happen in the next 35 years.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 01:54 PM in Politics

    On presidential favor c. 1908

    The October 28, 1908 NYT reports a surprising fact concerning President Roosevelt's eldest son:

    The announcement from Hartford, Conn. that Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., has been promoted to the worsted room of the Hartford Carpet Company, but that his promotion carries no increase of wages, is supplemented by the statement of a close personal friend here that the weekly pay envelope of the President's eldest son contains exactly $4.50 [$104.60 in CPI adjusted 2007 dollars].

    From the same source it is learned that Theodore, Jr., is likely to be advanced to $5 per week during the coming month.

    The story is based on an unnamed source, which today would be (somewhat) frowned upon. However, if the story is true, the President's eldest son earned approximately $235 per year? EH.net suggests that nominal per-capita income in 1908 was about $340, which would mean that the President's namesake was paid less than the average citizen?

    I am not sure I am buying this unless a) Theo, Jr. was simply a terrible worker, b) Theo, Jr. was intentionally taking a lower salary in order to "learn how the other half lives," or c) Both (a) and (b). On the other hand, perhaps Theo, Jr., was being paid considerably more than the average worker and this story is simply a viral means of deflecting from the state of privilege enjoyed by the children of politicos - especially "populist Republican" politicos as opposed to "populist Democrats" of today - about a week away from a Presidential election.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 01:48 PM in Politics

    Who knew Ron Paul had a blimp?

    xkcd.jpg

    Go here for Secretary: Part 1.

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 11:24 AM in Politics

    October 24, 2008
    A Second Helping

    Andrew Biggs in today's WSJ:

    Imagine this: Barack Obama proposes a Social Security payroll tax cut for low earners. Workers earning up to $8,000 per year would receive back the full 6.2% employee share of the 12.4% total payroll tax, up to $500 per year. Workers earning over $8,000 would receive $500 each, with this credit phasing out for individuals earning between $75,000 and $85,000.

    Hold on a minute--I thought the 1993 Clinton EITC expansion already offset the payroll taxes for low income workers. Indeed, this snip from The American Prospect (a lefty mag) confirms my memory:

    The EITC dates to 1975. The original idea was to offset the bite of payroll taxes on low-wage workers in low-income families. Since then, the credit has been expanded considerably. There are now three different schedules: a small credit for single-person households and childless couples, a much larger credit for families with one child, and a still larger credit for families with two or more kids. And since eligibility is keyed to family income, the subsidy is quite finely targeted (rich kids with after-school jobs need not apply). As family income rises, EITC benefits initially grow, then level off, and then begin to phase out. A working parent with two children gets 40 cents in tax credit for each dollar earned up to an income level of $9,720. (These figures are for the year 2000.) The maximum annual benefit is thus $3,888. Then, starting at $12,690 in annual income for this type of family, the tax credit declines by 21 cents for each dollar earned, phasing out altogether at an annual income of $31,152. For a family with one child, the peak benefit is $2,353, and for a single person, it's $353.

    Drop the payroll tax pretense--the EITC is already more than double the payroll tax (including the employer part) that low income workers pay--and call Obama's scheme the confiscation that it is.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:51 PM in Politics

    October 22, 2008
    On bold predictions c. 1908

    The Oct. 22, 1908 NYT reports on a firebrand speech given by Eugene W. Chafin, who was the Prohibition candidate for president in 1908. He was giving his first speech at the Cooper Union. Some choice nuggets were reported:

    "The Democratic platform is so long that it takes two newspapers to print it. It is like an old fashioned Mother Hubbard - is (sic) covers everything and touches nothing. The only difference between that and the Republican platform is that the latter looks like it was made for a child of four."

    And he had this bold prediction:

    This is a peculiar campaign. The people haven't yet made up their minds. Such a thing hasn't happened in forty years...Why haven't they made up their minds? they are thinking. They are not satisfied. This is the last battle of the Republican and Democratic Parties, anyway. In fact, there is no Democratic or Republican Party. It is either a Bryan or a Roosevelt party, each doing the master's bidding.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 02:56 PM in Politics

    A billion here, a billion there...

    ...and pretty soon we're talking about real money.

    Turns out, the famous Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL) may never have coined the phrase that is so widely attributed to him. At least that's what the Dirksen Congressional Center concludes. However, the late Senator, for whom this building is named, had a penchant for pithy tales. Here is a good one:

    "One time in the House of Representatives [a colleague] told me a story about a proposition that a teacher put to a boy. He said, ‘Johnny, a cat fell in a well 100 feet deep. Suppose that cat climbed up 1 foot and then fell back 2 feet. How long would it take the cat to get out of the well?'

    "Johnny worked assiduously with his slate and slate pencil for quite a while, and then when the teacher came down and said, ‘How are you getting along?' Johnny said, ‘Teacher, if you give me another slate and a couple of slate pencils, I am pretty sure that in the next 30 minutes I can land that cat in hell.'

    "If some people get any cheer out of a $328 billion debt ceiling, I do not find much to cheer about concerning it." [Congressional Record, June 16, 1965, p. 13884].

    $328 billion. Quaint, no?


    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 11:03 AM in Politics

    October 17, 2008
    The essence of Obama and McCain

    As distilled by Will Wilkinson, live-blogging from the 2nd debate.

    The financial crisis

    Obama:

    We’ve got an antique regulatory structure. Need to put back early 20th Century laws!

    McCain:

    Got to do something about home values. We have to make sure that markets prices don’t adjust. Government should buy tons of houses …

    [Will the economy get worse before it gets better?] Not if we give people free houses!

    Healthcare

    Obama:

    I’m gonna reform health care, which won’t cost anything.

    When we’re this wealthy, the idea that sick people should have to not spend other people’s money is an outrage. Mandate won’t hurt that much. It’s for your own good. McCain doesn’t give a crap for kids because giving a crap for anything means voting to give them things.

    McCain:

    Online records, improve efficiencies. Obama is all like “government this government that.” Obama will fine you if you don’t get insurance. I’ll give you tax credit you can take anywhere.

    Energy and the environment

    Obama:

    People other than us benefit from higher oil prices, which is outrageous. … Let’s think harder about how we use energy. Holy god there is nothing more important than not trading with foreigners for energy.

    We can centrally plan green economy into prosperity.

    McCain:

    If only we had nuclear power Indians would not weep. The French do it! America’s the best! We can do anything!

    Fiscal policy

    Obama:

    If people make more than you, its not fair for you to have to tighten your belt.

    I will cut taxes for everyone other than the despicable wealthy.

    McCain:

    Freeze spending, except defense, VA, entitlements, and buying every house in America.

    Foreign policy

    Obama:

    Basically, I have no principle. I leave it at the discretion of my evolved moral intuition.

    Iran can’t get nukes. But let’s talk about it.

    McCain:

    America is greatest force for good in history of universe forever. We shed our blood everywhere. The question of when to kill people needs to be left [to] soldiers like me. Our wars are awesome because we’re a nation of good.

    We should do whatever we can to help whenever we can. I have no principle for intervention either.

    Posted by Lawrence H. White at 04:58 PM in Politics

    Political Quickies

    An update on my RICO & ACORN post--apparently the FBI is investigating ACORN.

    I'm guessing Joe the Plumber will be getting an IRS audit next year if we have an Obama victory. On a related note, Joe the Plumber is featured in Mike Lester's cartoon in today's RNT.

    Folks who doubt gridlock is good might want to check out this article (scroll down to the box) in today's WSJ. The Repubs ability to filibuster the Senate has stopped much mischief. Here's hoping the GOP, for all its flaws, can keep at least 43 Senate seats.

    As most DOL readers are likely aware, tonight brings a new John Stossel special, the "Politically Incorrect Guide to Politics." That's must see tv at my house. 10:00 Eastern.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 03:17 PM in Politics

    October 15, 2008
    No Wonder Protectionism is on the Rise

    I'm not normally one to whine about how Americans take so little interest in the affairs of other nations. But I couldn't help noticing this morning that my daily paper, the Columbus Dispatch, did not include any mention of yesterday's parliamentary elections in Canada.

    This is one of the 30 or so largest daily papers in the U.S., in the capital city of a state which shares an extensive (albeit lake) border with Canada, the United States' largest trading partner. Trade between Ohio and Canada amounts to about $30 billion annually, about six times the trade between Ohio and any other foreign nation. It has been estimated that over 200,000 Ohio jobs are dependent on trade with Canada.

    I found not a word about the Canadian elections in either the print or on-line editions of the Dispatch.

    By the way, for those interested, the ruling party, the free-trading Conservatives, returned an increased plurality, but still fell short of a majority. They are expected to form another minority government. At the same time, the anti-NAFTA, anti-trade New Democratic Party and Green Party both gained seats in parliament.

    Posted by Brad Smith at 11:12 AM in Politics

    Oh to Have a "None of the Above" Choice

    Here's Mike Lester's offering from today's RNT:

    LesterSpreadWealth.jpg

    Here's a video that summarizes McCain's new economic plan and his campaign in general:


    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:51 AM in Politics

    October 13, 2008
    New world order c. 1908

    The October 13, 1908 NYT reports on the pending new world order (I suppose we are still waiting):

    The Rev. Wilbur F. Crafts, D.D. of the International Reform Bureau, who spoke at the Warren Avenue Baptist Church last night, declared in his address that within a few years Theodore Roosevelet would be "President of the World."

    Dr. Crafts said that his bureau's work would result in an international government at The Hague with legislative and executive departments. At the head would be Mr. Roosevelt bearing the title above mentioned.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 12:12 PM in Politics

    October 09, 2008
    The guns of October? c. 1908

    The Oct. 9, 1908 NYT reports on the response in Serbia of the Austrian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina:

    Belgrade, Servia: Great crowds surrounded the palace to-night shouting for war and calling for the King to appear. Finally King Peter, accompanied by the Crown Prince, came to the balcony, and implored the people not to cause disturbances. He said:

    "Trust me and my government: both will do their duty."

    The crowd cheered the King but continued to shout "war with Austria."


    In about six years, the cheering crowd would have their way - and 9-10 million men under arms and 9-10 million civilians would die.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 03:45 PM in Politics

    October 08, 2008
    Li'l Help?

    Please go here, and vote for Mike Munger.

    He needs you.

    (Second debate is tonight, on WUNC-TV, at 8 PM. On *T* *V*, so it must be important...)

    Posted by Michael Munger at 12:08 PM in Politics

    October 07, 2008
    Tony Romo, Las Vegas Voter

    This is why it's important to understand ACORN:

    Nevada authorities have raided the Las Vegas office of the community-organizing group ACORN seeking evidence of voter fraud.

    Investigators seized records and computers from ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. The office was unstaffed at the time.

    Secretary of State Ross Miller said fraudulent registrations included forms for the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys.

    "Tony Romo is not registered to vote in the state of Nevada, and anybody trying to pose as Terrell Owens won't be able to cast a ballot on Nov. 4," Miller said, according to the Associated Press. He said others used false names or information, or had duplicated information on multiple forms.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 07:32 PM in Politics

    October 06, 2008
    Battleground states c. 1908

    Think the "battleground state" is a new development? The October 6, 1908 NYT reports:

    New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana - these are the determining States. In both National committees this is fully recognized. From now until election day these are the States in which both the Republican and Democratic managers will centre their efforts. Into these states will go both Mr. Taft and Mr. Bryan. Bryan will reserve New York for the last.

    The story goes on to show that candidates have ceded states to their opponents for quite some time:

    Norman E. Mack, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, came here to-day and told the newspaper men that he left for the Republican in the East only Pennsylvania and two or three of the New England States, but some of his colleagues at the headquarters, when they learned that he had not put Pennsylvania into the debatable column, protested that he was altogether conservative.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 12:19 PM in Politics

    October 05, 2008
    Don't Know Much About History

    Contrary to Joe Biden's claim that FDR took to the tele in 1929 to calm the nation after the stock market crash, the first televised White House address by a president was Harry Truman's address 61 years ago today.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:16 PM in Politics

    October 01, 2008
    Nothing New Under the Sun

    I've told people before that my Plan for World Domination is to someday hire a group of fourth graders to follow me around singing "I Believe the Children Are Our Future," in which case I would be able to get whatever I want. If this video is legit, it looks like some of Barack Obama's supporters have beaten me to the punch:

    Posted by Art Carden at 09:24 PM in Politics

    Re:The Arsonists are Running the Fire Station...

    Apparently John--I don't do earmarks--McCain intends to vote for the bill. To be fair, the wooden arrow provision isn't technically an earmark; it's a narrowly defined tax exemption not a specifically targeted federal expenditure. But that baby sure walks like a duck and quacks like a duck.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:04 PM in Politics

    How Washington Works

    ... is to take a dubious proposition--the $700B bailout package--and make it worse:

    Senate leaders scheduled a Wednesday vote on a $700 billion financial bailout package after accepting tax breaks and a higher limit for insured bank deposits in a bid to win House approval and send legislation to President Bush by the end of the week.

    Top lawmakers said the Senate proposal, worked out after a day of behind the scenes maneuvering, would include tax breaks for businesses and alternative energy and higher government insurance for bank deposits.

    In related news, George W. Bailout is up to his old tricks:

    President George W. Bush on Tuesday signed into law a mammoth spending bill to keep the government running until early March 2009 that includes a $25 billion loan package for troubled automakers.

    The $25 billion loan package, the biggest federal subsidy for the auto industry since the 1980 bailout of Chrysler, cleared Congress last weekend when the focus was on the debate over the $700 billion financial rescue package.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:27 AM in Politics

    September 26, 2008
    Debate Chat Transcript

    Below the fold: the transcript of the live chat that occurred at www.commercialappeal.com earlier this evening (posted for my econ 101 students, who have a homework assignment based on the debate due on Tuesday). UPDATE: Apparently, I was only able to copy and paste the first 40 minutes of the chat. The rest is available here: http://www.commercialappeal.com/debatechat/.

    Read More »

    Posted by Art Carden at 11:19 PM in Politics

    You've Got to Love Bureaucracy

    You've got to love bureaucracy, if only for the laughs. Libertarians like to mock government bureaucracy, but private bureaucracy can be just as intransigent and mind-numbing. The key thing about bureaucracy is that it always rolls on, a big, inpersonal machine that grinds all before it. And bureaucrats do what they are tasked to do, regardless of the circumstances.

    Here, for example, is the last press release from Washington Mutual, issued September 24, as the company teetered on bankruptcy, one day before the buy-out by JP Morgan - Chase:

    WaMu Recognized as Top Diverse Employer—Again
    Company ranks in top ten of Hispanic Business’ Diversity Elite and earns perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index
    SEATTLE, WA (September 24, 2008) – Washington Mutual, Inc. (NYSE:WM), one of the nation’s leading banks for consumers and small businesses, has once again been recognized as a top employer by Hispanic Business magazine and the Human Rights Campaign.

    Hispanic Business magazine recently ranked WaMu sixth in its annual Diversity Elite list, which names the top 60 companies for Hispanics. The company was honored specifically for its efforts to recruit Hispanic employees, reach out to Hispanic consumers and support Hispanic communities and organizations.

    The Human Rights Campaign, the largest national gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) civil rights organization, also awarded WaMu its second consecutive 100 percent score in the organization’s 2009 Corporate Equality Index (CEI), which measures progress in attaining equal rights for GLBT employees and consumers. WaMu joins the ranks of 259 other major U.S. businesses that also received top marks in the annual survey. The CEI rated a total of 583 businesses on GLBT-related policies and practices, including non-discrimination policies and domestic partner benefits.

    In both surveys, WaMu earned points for competitive diversity policies and programs, including the recently established Latino, African American and GLBT employee network groups, all of which have a corporate executive sponsor and champion.

    “Diversity is an integral part of cultivating a welcoming, innovative and dynamic workplace here at WaMu. We are proud to be recognized for the opportunities and benefits we offer to all of our employees, including the specific efforts we have made to engage Hispanics and the GLBT community,” said Steve Rotella, WaMu president and COO. “We are committed to diversity at WaMu and pledge to listen to our customers and work closely with our employees to continue to make progress.”

    You can't make this stuff up.

    The full release is here. Hat tip to Mark Krikorian at The Corner .


    Posted by Brad Smith at 09:20 AM in Funny Stuff ~ in Politics

    September 25, 2008
    Petty tyrants c. 1908

    From the Sept. 25, 1908 NYT:

    A rich New Yorker may have a swimming pool in his yacht, as one of them has planned; he may have a marble bathtub, though porcelain-laid tubs do very well for ninety-nine out of every hundred; he may bathe in cow's milk, goat's milk, or white asses' milk, as the books say some Romans did, but he may not have two doors to his bath room if it is in an apartment house in New York City...

    The Tenement House Department has adopted a rule that no bath room shall have more than one door. And so the plans of the west side man for his bathrooms had to be changed.

    "Two doors in a bath room," explained Commissioner Butler yesterday, "makes for the accidental collision of persons in the bathroom. It is so easy to forget about locking the door through which you did not come. There doesn't seem to be any good reason why the rule shouldn't be general. I don't know why anybody should want two doors in a bathroom."

    Indeed, I am sure Mr. Butler didn't have a clue as to why someone would want two doors to a bathroom. Thus, as is too often the case with the "benevolent social planner," Commissioner Butler's preferences ruled supreme. Yet, did Mr. Butler's lack of knowledge and/or understanding of other people's preferences improve efficiency and social welfare? Hmmm.....

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:35 AM in Politics

    September 23, 2008
    Bail harder, it's raining....

    A little squib of an op ed in the Charlotte Observer this a.m., for your reading pleasure.

    The text:

    From Mike Munger, a Duke University professor of economics and political science, and the Libertarian candidate for governor.

    “The state is the great fiction by which each of us seeks to live at the expense of all of us.” The 19th French economist Frederic Bastiat recognized something that seems to be eluding our wise men in Washington, and Wall Street.

    If Bastiat were alive, I can guess his reaction to the bailout: First, we don't know what we are doing, and we are as likely to do harm as help. The desperate hurry comes from electoral politics, and not from any real economic necessity.

    Second, we aren't creating value. Government can't create value in financial markets. All we are doing is shifting costs from one group (Wall Street bankers, and mortgage sellers who took enormous and unsupportable risks) and transferring them to another group (taxpayers, who don't know any better).

    When you hear someone say “The government bailout of Wall Street,” make a mental substitution: “The taxpayer-funded bailout of Wall Street.” And then remember that we have a federal debt bigger than Jupiter.

    Deficits are future taxes. The bailout is simply a way of allowing irresponsible lenders to escape unharmed. If you have a mortgage, and can't pay, then you are responsible. If AIG has debts and can't pay, our leaders want to soak taxpayers for the bill.

    The point is that you can't take money away from taxpayers who earned it, give it to the financiers who squandered it, and call that a good policy. There is no danger of another Depression, which was caused by a deflationary monetary policy. We are facing a temporary credit crunch, and it will sort itself out if we leave it alone. Things aren't so bad that a panicked bunch of politicians can't make it much, much worse.

    Each can't live at the expense of all. Not even if you are a rich banker.

    And....it made "THE CORNER"

    Posted by Michael Munger at 02:17 PM in Politics

    September 20, 2008
    Why Vote McCain

    The Armchair Economist, Steven Landsburg, makes the best case I've seen for lovers of liberty to support Senator McCain for President.

    I love this little discussion of free trade:

    "[P]rotectionism, like creationism, requires an extraordinary level of willful ignorance. The consensus for free trade among economists is approximately as solid as the consensus for evolution among biologists, and it is a consensus supported by a solid body of both theory and observation. To ignore that consensus betrays a degree of anti-intellectualism that frightens me.

    "McCain is quite good on this issue, not just in terms of rhetoric (which I've known for a while) but in terms of voting record (which I've just recently researched). Obama, by contrast, promises to be our first explicitly protectionist president since Herbert Hoover."

    Landsburg's bottom line: he, "support[s] John McCain. With trepidation."

    Posted by Brad Smith at 12:11 AM in Politics

    September 18, 2008
    Reason #74 why libertarians don't gain much ground

    From the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism (hey, sounds good so far) comes a blog post by one Nicholas Provenzo (9-16-08 entry). The first paragraph reads:

    Like many, I am troubled by the implications of Alaska governor and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's decision to knowingly give birth to a child disabled with Down syndrome. Given that Palin's decision is being celebrated in some quarters, it is crucial to reaffirm the morality of aborting a fetus diagnosed with Down syndrome (or by extension, any unborn fetus)—a freedom that anti-abortion advocates seek to deny.

    Now, I am anti-abortion and, to the horrors of many libertarians, Catholic to boot. But I also consider myself libertarian. What has bugged the crud out of me for many years is the strident belief by many libertarians (Reason magazine seems to tilt strongly in this direction, or at least it did when I subscribed to it a year ago) that anyone religious is a backwards boob secretly or overtly determined to submit everyone who isn't hip to theocracy to an Inquisition.

    My own thought, and I have read counter-arguments to my opinion, is that in normal situations a new human being begins when the full genetic blueprint for a new person is created, at conception. I don't see how, after the two haploids become a diploid, this being is anything but human, and thus deserving of the rights any other human has. So, in that sense, abortion violates the nonaggression axiom that virtually all libertarians profess. Sure, some humans are born with genetic defects just as some are born with attached earlobes, but to me that makes them no less human. But Provenzo would kill 'em all, even those with no genetic problems, and call it moral. I feel like I have to take a shower just typing that sentence.

    Regardless, I don't see how a blog post such as Provenzo's would make an ideological fence-sitter say "well, heck yeah, gimme some more o' that capitalism then! I now think price controls and universal health care are wrong!" I get the same queasy feeling when obvious potheads call themselves libertarians just so they can get their drugs cheaper.

    I realize this strain of thought is due to Rand's anti-religious bigotry, but I don't understand why these folks can't realize that a love of liberty and religion are not mutually exclusive. Heck, even higher-ups at the Vatican acknowledge that belief in God and in evolution can be compatible. Until this sect of libertarianism stops acting so fundamentalist, I'll continue to be slightly embarrased to admit my libertarian leanings.

    Posted by Tim Shaughnessy at 12:46 AM in Politics

    September 12, 2008
    Re: Election Prediction

    Picking Palin certainly made things more interesting. She will likely help shore up pro-life votes for her side, since McCain can be faulted for wanting embryonic stem-cell research (which hasn't demonstrated any medical benefits, while adult stem cells have). Add that to the dual gaffes that both Pelosi and Biden have made on when life begins, which brought a united front of US bishops objections, and I think the McC-P side picks up most cultural conservatives, Dem or Rep.

    Of course, the beauty pageant that is the US Presidential election will probably show the Obamessiah ascending, with the help of the press. They don't really need to worry about anything until two weeks before November anyway, since our attention spans won't remember or care about anything that happens now. And who cares about the prospect of nationalizing the US health care industry when you look so good on the beach?

    Bottom line: Bush fatigue + McCain being an old fart + Obama rockstardom = Obama victory + Tim looking at the EFW index to find a country more free than where we will regress to.

    Posted by Tim Shaughnessy at 04:04 PM in Politics

    Re: Election Prediction

    Don't care enough to have one. Sorry.

    Posted by Joshua Hall at 02:57 PM in Politics

    My Prediction

    I think Bob's prediction is close, but I still give the edge to Obama. Here's why--OH is almost certainly going to shift to Obama (though I'm not sure it'll yield as big a margin for Obama as Bob predicts--it probably depends on the def of big margin). A poll at RCP does have McCain up 2.2% in Ohio, but I think it's unlikely to be correct and/or sustained. The flipping of OH holding all else constant would give Obama a 272-266 Electoral College Victory.

    As for other states, I think they are, on net, more likely to shift to Obama than away from Obama. While McCain may pick up NH, his next best hopes are probably places like MI, PA, and MN all of which are pretty Democrat states. By contrast, Obama is currently ahead in polls in CO and NM and also has a chance at VA.

    As for events, momentum, etc--I'm guessing this might be something of a high water mark for McCain. I expect some of the Palinmania to subside (too bad--anyone who supported Steve Forbes in 1996 is off to a good start in my book); we may also get more gloomy (or at portrayed by the media as more gloomy) economic news. Or Cindy McCain may buy another house.

    I realize I'm going against the current Intrade odds (53-46 in favor of McCain). I'm also going against my ever so slight preference (because gridlock is good!) for McCain.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 01:27 PM in Politics

    Prediction Time

    It's time all DoL bloggers to put up or shut up. Who's gonna win the big race for Dictator President?

    I'll start, and I'll be specific:

    Read More »

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 12:55 PM in Politics

    Headlines that probably should have been revised

    The headline from today's local fishwrapper:

    "ACT scores up, black enrollment down in freshman class"

    I might comment more but I don't want to get fired because of a blog post.

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:38 AM in Politics

    September 09, 2008
    Apologists of the world unite!

    Mary Theroux has a blog post about the various Depression-era Western apologists for communism. Heck I remember such apologists in my college days in the 1980s among fellow students as well as professors.

    Her post reminded me of a recent conversation with a small group of people including a somewhat prominent mainstream economist.

    We were talking about the Georgia-Russia war, and someone compared Russia's actions with the Nazis. I kinda chuckled and told a story about a poster I had in college. It had a swastika, a hammer & sickle, and picture of Stalin and Hitler. The caption read "Two Faces. One Ideology." I just loved that poster! It used to infuriate my commie-pinko leftist friends in college, which is precisely why I liked it so much.

    Anyway, after a momentary pause, this prominent economist says, "Gee, I don't know if that's fair. I think they [i.e., the communists] meant well."

    WTF? They meant well?!? They meant well?!?

    For the record:
    (1) No they didn't!
    (2) Even if they did, that's no excuse!


    Posted by Robert Lawson at 04:47 PM in Politics

    September 08, 2008
    Munger Interview

    A nifty interview with co-blogger and NC gubernatorial candidate Mike Munger is here.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:27 AM in Politics

    September 06, 2008
    What Was Missing In Senator McCain's Speech?

    At last week's GOP Convention, much attention was focused on John McCain's heroic life and the personal sacrifices he has made in defense of his country. It is easy to forget just all that Senator McCain has been through - this is a man who can no longer lift his arms over his head, as a result of the tortures he suffered in Vietnam - as Fred Thompson said, in a moving speech, Senator McCain, "can no longer salute the flag of the country he loves."

    I am moved by Senator McCain's story as much as anyone - I have always said that he is a true American hero.

    In his acceptance speech, Senator McCain explained that he "fell in love" with the United States during that time as a prisoner in Vietnam. Why did he finally fall in love with America? "[F]or it's decency, for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for."

    What's missing there? The decency of America, and the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people are all things I believe in, and reasons why I love this country. But I cannot imagine that if I were asked "what do you love about the United States," my answer would not begin with, "freedom." "Freedom" didn't make Senator McCain's list.

    By this I don't suggest that Senator McCain doesn't value freedom. Clearly he does. Senator McCain closed his speech by saying that he "fight for the ideals and character of a free people" (good, although I didn't ask John McCain to fight for my "character," and I'm not quite sure what that means. If he meant he was going to stand up for my own character, well, that's one he forfeited long ago). Perhaps "freedom" is what he meant by the "idea" of America that he vaguely referenced. He did warn us of the "threats to peace and liberty." But there were no other uses of "free," "freedom," or "liberty" in his speech.

    It is, perhaps, a telling omission that "freedom" did not make this list of core values, in a speech that must have been reviewed umpteen times to get every word just right.

    Posted by Brad Smith at 11:04 AM in Politics

    September 02, 2008
    Third-Party Politics

    The Onion covers the emerging Joad Cressbeckler campaign. One supporter says she is "voting for a man [she] can imagine drowning a bag of cats," but I have to take issue with his trade policy.


    Old, Grizzled Third-Party Candidate May Steal Support From McCain

    Posted by Art Carden at 04:48 PM in Politics

    Next up: Putin sets world record in pole vault!

    Ah Putin!

    Be still my heart! The man is amazing!

    Just as Putin was arriving with a group of wildlife specialists to see a trapped Amur tiger, it escaped and ran toward a nearby camera crew, the country's main television station said. Putin quickly shot the beast and sedated it with a tranquilizer gun.
    Posted by Robert Lawson at 11:03 AM in Politics

    August 28, 2008
    Georgia comic

    Russia Georgia Comics.jpg

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 11:24 AM in Politics

    August 24, 2008
    Political Action

    A few thoughts on campaign dynamics. I just saw that an organization is offering free campaign schwag supporting a candidate for whom I do not plan to vote. I see a couple of possibilities:

    1. I take the schwag, stick it in a drawer, and thereby impose costs on an organization that supports policies with which I disagree.

    2. I take the schwag and wear it ironically, thereby using this organization's political ammunition against them.

    3. I take the schwag and try 1) or 2), but the organization is able to get political mileage out of the fact that people want their stuff. My attempted subterfuge backfires.

    4. There is an implicit agreement whereby I agree not to take someone else's campaign schwag unless either I collect it or I use it to support the organization. Incentives in the system imply that the agreement always breaks down, which could be one of the reasons why clean campaign rhetoric doesn't match dirty campaign reality. That could be an interesting political history paper, though I'd be surprised if someone hasn't written it already.

    5. I blog about it, ignore it because accepting the offer will get me on every political mailing list in the solar system, and go on with my life.

    Comments are open if anyone has thoughts.

    Posted by Art Carden at 03:20 PM in Politics  ·  Comments (2)

    Presidential Campaign Miscellania

    OK, OK, presidential campaigns are no place to try to find economic wisdom, but this year's campaign seems more devoid of economic knowledge, and full of economic idiocy, than any I can remember in my lifetime -- a lifetime that remembers campaigns by Richard (wage & price controls) Nixon and Gerald ("Whip Inflation Now" buttons) Ford, not to mention a campaign by Walter Mondale.

    Here we have Barack Obama, whose proposed solution to rising energy prices is to take steps to a) decrease supply (with new taxes and regulation of "big oil") and b) increase demand (by using the tax revenue so raised from suppliers to fund cash payments to consumers), up against John McCain, to whom "economics" is sort of like "the vision thing" was to the senior George Bush - it's something he knows is important, but he just can't quite get a handle on it, and often it appears that he's not even quite sure why it's important.

    Now Senator Obama has decided to supplement his economic illiteracy by selecting Senator Joe Biden as a running mate. Biden is known for many things, but economic policy is not one of them.

    Meanwhile, if Senator McCain picks a Senator as a vice presidential candidate, he'll complete an unprecedented sweep - all four members of the major party tickets will be sitting U.S. Senators. I'm pretty sure this is a sign of the apocalypse, but hold on while I check my references.

    ...

    Yes, it is.

    Meanwhile, poor old Bob Barr continues to make his pitch for voters to vote capital "L" Libertarian. Is he having success? John Zogby's latest interactive polls continue to include Barr, who makes some surprisingly strong showings. To wit:

    Colorado: 8%
    Florida: 5%
    Michigan: 5%
    Nevada 10%
    New Hampshire: 11%
    New Mexico: 5%
    Ohio: 8%
    Pennsylvania: 5%
    Virginia: 5%

    This is remarkable, really. Note that in none of these polls does Ralph Nader (also included by Zogby) top 3%. Of course, "interactive" polling remains highly controversial among pollsters. Even assuming these numbers are accurate, the norm is for third party support to fall off sharply close to election day, especially if the race between major party candidates is close. Nevertheless, these are surprisingly strong showings, especially given that Barr's fund-raising has been so-so and, like any third party candidate, he struggles to find any media oxygen (though he certainly is outdoing any previous Libertarian candidate). Could Barr really poll double digits, even in relatively libertarian Nevada or New Hampshire? And remember that Zogby's polling in early July showed Barr at 8% in Georgia (which he represented in Congress for four terms), six and seven percent in neighboring South Carolina and Tennessee, respectively, six percent in giant Texas, seven percent in McCain's home state of Arizona, and 5% in Obama's home state of Illinois, among other showings.

    Common wisdom is that Barr's support comes primarily from Republicans, but it may be wrong to assume that Barr's candidacy helps Obama. It strikes me that at least as likely is that Barr gives libertarian leaning Republicans upset by the GOP's spending binge, corruption, and conservative positions on "social issues" a place to park their support short of pulling the Obama lever (or, for you conspiracy theorists, pushing the Obama button on their Diebold-rigged machine that will record their votes for McCain anyway). If that's the case, then Barr's candidacy helps McCain.

    If I can find a bit of time, I hope to look at the Barr campaign's pronouncements on the economy to see if they actually do make more sense than the nonsense coming from the Obama camp and the bewilderment released by Senator McCain. I'll share the results here.


    Posted by Brad Smith at 01:06 AM in Politics

    August 22, 2008
    But What About the Blogging Economists Who Like College Football And Barbecue Demographic?


    Latest Poll Reveals 430 New Demographics That Will Decide Election

    Of course, all this should be capitalized into prediction market prices.

    Posted by Art Carden at 06:05 PM in Politics

    August 20, 2008
    Don't get sick!

    Just got back from a doctor's office visit (darned high cholesterol!), and we had an interesting chat about the upcoming election. He told me that if the vote results in a particular candidate being elected, leading to a single-payer system, then the practice (of which he is part owner along with a few of the other docs) will end up laying off a huge number of staff. He bases this conclusion on the comparison with Medicare patients, who are a financial loss for the business.

    If his thinking is correct, this could really harm our area, since there is a large presence of health care businesses here. Of course, would the voting public draw the connection between unemployed medical staff and universal health care? Would they recognize that the large wait times due to both less staff and increased quantity demand from patients is the inevitable result of their wishes for medical care at a zero price? Would they understand that the substandard medical care they are receiving is due to the neglect of prices and incentives? Do I really want the remaining overworked and underpaid staff to be sticking me with needles?

    The only bright spot in our discussion was my doc's thought that, should this all happen, he would open a new practice with a visibly posted fee schedule, so patients knew what they were paying. Reminded me of John Stossel's Sick in America.

    Posted by Tim Shaughnessy at 11:26 AM in Politics

    August 13, 2008
    With peacekeepers like these...

    ...who needs invaders?

    Hundreds of South Ossetian rebels with some Russian army personnel went house-to-house in villages near Gori. They set houses ablaze and looted buildings, witnesses said.

    The body of a man, his mouth caked with blood, lay in a street in the village of Dzardzanis and nearby the body of a bearded man could be seen crushed under an overturned mini-van, an AFP journalist reported.

    The Human Rights Watch group said its researchers in South Ossetia had on Tuesday "witnessed terrifying scenes of destruction in four villages that used to be populated exclusively by ethnic Georgians."

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 11:44 AM in Politics

    August 11, 2008
    Dear John (Edwards)

    Thank you for your heartfelt admission of guilt of cheating on your marriage vows and lying about it for the last two years. As these sorts of celebrity/politician apologies go, yours was as genuine as I can remember.

    I was particularly struck by this part of your statement, "I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic." Who can blame you? You spent the last several years being wined and dined by the most powerful people in the world. You had scores of people telling you how great you and your ideas were. You could have become president! Heck I bet haven't driven yourself to work or gone to a grocery store in years!

    Who wouldn't let this go to his head?

    I fear this typically happens even to good people when they are elevated to political office. And this is precisely why it is so dangerous to give you politicians the kind of unlimited power over our lives that we have given you. Your political career is over perhaps, but we citizens still have to live under the rule of your "egocentric and narcissistic" colleagues who remain in office.

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 04:38 PM in Politics

    July 30, 2008
    Why the airlines don't really mean it against oil speculators

    J. D. Foster at Heritage writes:

    Speculators accept risk that somebody else doesn't want. And speculators are rewarded for accepting risk if they prove right, and they lose money if they get it wrong.

    Consider an important example today. Airlines have enormous demand for fuel. Those that can do so often hedge against a rise in the price of oil. The price of oil may or may not rise. The risk exists in any event. The question is: Who is going to bear the risk?

    The airline doesn't want to bear the risk of higher oil prices. That's not their business. But at the right price, the speculator will take that risk. So the speculator contracts with the airline to deliver an amount of oil (or jet fuel) at a certain place and time and for a fixed price. The speculator, of course, does not have the oil. Rather, at the appointed time, the speculator buys the oil on the spot market for delivery. If the spot price is then below the price contracted with the airline, the speculator makes money. If not, the speculator loses. Either way, the airline's price is locked in.

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 02:17 PM in Politics

    July 29, 2008
    On border control c. 1908

    A July 29, 1908 NYT article concerns the militarization of the southern border of the U.S.:

    Tired of being made the recruiting ground for filibusters the United States is taking steps to put an end to the hatching of conspiracies against the peace and welfare of its neighbors. The State Department is using every resource of the Government to prevent such violations and to punish the infringement of the neutrality laws. A stop is to be put in this country to such plotting as preceded the uprising in Northern Mexico...
    Ambassador Creel's Government [of Mexico] is anxious to have the cooperation of this Government in establishing a chain of forts or army posts along the border between the United States and Mexico. The plan is for both countries to divide the expense of maintaining this chain of forts.

    Oh, the irony.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 02:07 PM in Politics

    July 25, 2008
    The Man from ACORN

    Sobering piece by Steven Malanga:

    Meeting last November with the leaders of the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (Acorn)—the nationwide network of left-wing community groups that taps government money for a host of causes—Obama declared: “I’ve been fighting alongside Acorn on issues you care about my entire career,” including representing Acorn in a court case in Illinois. Acorn members apparently reciprocated by working hard to turn out voters for Obama’s Illinois campaigns, according to a 2003 piece in the magazine Social Policy by a Chicago-area Acorn organizer. After the candidate’s November appearance, Acorn’s affiliated political action committee endorsed Obama for president.

    Obama’s nomination will be celebrated as a first for African-Americans. But the racial symbolism may obscure the importance of his presidential run to the tens of thousands of government-funded community groups that stand to benefit from an Obama agenda that’s right out of the 1960s. His presidential platform touts programs that would refuel the nonprofit sector, ranging from a commitment to boost money for federal relics like the ineffective and wasteful Community Development Block Grant program . . . to a plan for providing “a full network of services, including early childhood education, youth violence prevention efforts and after-school activities . . . from birth to college” to a series of “Promise Neighborhoods.”

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 11:32 AM in Politics

    Masses vs. Classes c. 1908

    An interesting quip from the July 25, 1908 NYT:

    The "masses" and the "classes" in England differ in this - the former are to be bought with a drink, the latter with a dinner.
    The same could be said of the masses and the classes of the United States today.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 11:10 AM in Politics

    Rent Extraction on K Street

    It’s tough to be a lobbyist these days, baby. It’s not all capture and vote-buying as the populists would have you believe. As Kimberly Strassel writes in today's Opinion Journal, politicians have no reason not to use what leverage they do have back against you.

    As most of Washington met last week to fret over the economy, Harry Reid was attending a less-noticed summit. The Senate majority leader had summoned the titans of more than a dozen industry trade groups to a Capitol Hill meeting, where he delivered a crisp message: Get with our program, or get demolished.

    [...]

    In private, and public, Democrats are telling companies they're frustrated with what they view as too slow a shift in the political makeup of lobby shops. New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez recently quipped that if companies didn't start sending friendlier faces, they might find it "a little difficult at the end of the day for them to achieve the success they want." North Dakota's Byron Dorgan (who apparently has read the ethics law) clarified: "It's not about how many Democrats are hired. It's about how they weigh in on issues."

    Mr. Reid stepped up the pressure with last week's pow-wow. Democrats invited only presidents and CEOs of the most powerful trade groups, hoping to circumvent GOP lobbyists and take their message straight to the top. That message? According to one participant, the meeting was cordial, but the theme clear: "We have a narrow margin right now, and it is tough for us to get anything done. But there will be more of us next year, you'd better get used to it, and you better find a way to work with us."

    It’s called “rent extraction” in the public choice literature. Fred McChesney did most of the work on it, culminating in his 1997 book, Money for Nothing. A variant of rent extraction is so-called “milker bills,” where legislators “float” a regulatory proposal that would harm industry or firm X, who is supposed to get the hint that a few extra campaign dollars could help get the proposed bill onto the back burner. Another variant is so-called tax farming, where the politicians play nice with tax base X while finding indirect ways to tax them. One indirect mechanism that’s become increasingly popular in recent decades is tort law. Take big tobacco, for example. Most of the monies that states have collected under the $246 billion master settlement have simply substituted for general tax dollars. A New York Times study did some of the bean counting, and found that 95 percent has gone to fund public works projects or property and sales tax relief. On this point, Jeffrey Haymond has a chapter in my forthcoming book, Law without Romance, titled "Class Action Rent Extraction." Torts, of course, are a kind of hidden broad-based tax. The Council of Economic Advisors in 2002 estimated the annual “tort tax” (higher prices imposed by business sector to cover costs of litigation) at nearly $200 billion. These lobbyist shenanigans—the K Street Project—aren’t much different.

    So from a public choice perspective, the so-called "K Street Project Part Blue" isn't much of a shock at all. Sure, it is vaguely sordid to see pols strong-arm the hiring decisions of Big Lobby. But the article misses the larger point that rent seeking is socially costly in the first place, and rent extraction only furthers and compounds those losses.

    Thanks to Richard Reinsch for the pointer.

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 10:08 AM in Politics

    July 21, 2008
    Best Sentence I've Read Today*

    Bryan Caplan on voting, relevant to my post from earlier today on whether or not one should rock the vote:

    Apathy may not be a virtue, but it's a lot better than the activism of the irrational.

    Thoughts? Comments are open.

    *Meme: Marginal Revolution.

    Posted by Art Carden at 08:51 PM in Politics  ·  Comments (95)

    Lindsay Campbell: Mock the Vote

    Lindsay Campbell at www.moblogic.tv makes the case for non-voting:

    I'll elaborate on an important point that she makes. If you stand in line at the store for a couple of hours on the day after Thanksgiving, if you line up to get the new iPhone, or if you line up at midnight to see The Dark Knight (we didn't, but if there's a midnight showing of The Clone Wars in a few weeks, I'm there), you at least have something to show for it. If you stand in line for a few hours to vote, you exert exactly zero influence on the outcome and maybe you come away with an "I voted today" sticker. I still do it, though. My thoughts on voting in Presidential elections are here. Here's South Park's very intelligent but very less-than-wholesome take on voting. They use obscenity and vulgarity in the service of satire, but you've been warned.

    Posted by Art Carden at 12:09 PM in Politics

    July 18, 2008
    Letter to the Editor: Mike Munger in the NC Debates

    I just sent the following to the Raleigh News & Observer. The letter's marginal contribution to the probability that Mike is included in the debates is probably small, but every little bit helps and the idea is now on record.

    While I am not a North Carolinian, I have been watching the discussion over whether Libertarian candidate and Duke University political scientist Michael Munger should be invited to the gubernatorial debate with some interest. I only first met Dr. Munger at a professional meeting in March, but I have admired his scholarship and contributions to the public understanding of economics and political science for years. Dr. Munger and the Libertarians did all that was required of them to appear on the ballot, and they did it all in very timely fashion. For this reason alone, Dr. Munger should be invited to the gubernatorial debates. Beyond this, however, Dr. Munger holds a PhD in economics and chairs the political science department at one of the world's elite universities. Including him would elevate the level of the debate considerably. Excluding him from the debates would be unfair to Dr. Munger, but the real injustice is done to the voters of North Carolina. If Dr. Munger is excluded, the voters are denied the opportunity to have a debate featuring all the legitimate candidates.

    Posted by Art Carden at 12:44 AM in Politics

    July 17, 2008
    How Should One Decide Who to Support?

    Not by "voting against" the candidate you don't like or by picking "the lesser of two evils." My thoughts are here.

    Posted by Art Carden at 12:56 PM in Politics

    July 16, 2008
    Congratulations!!

    You're the Terrorist Watch List's 1,000,000th customer!

    I wonder what you win for that sort of thing?

    HT: Anthony Gregory.

    Posted by Art Carden at 08:50 PM in Politics

    July 15, 2008
    Point to ponder c. 1908

    A letter to the editor of the NYT on July 15, 1908:

    If the Democratic Party will run all of its States down hill, what will it do with the Nation if it gets it?

    TAFT MAN

    Posted by Craig Depken at 12:50 PM in Politics

    July 10, 2008
    YouTube Ad

    The first YouTube ad of the campaign.

    Major, major props to Rusty Sheridan. His company.

    Posted by Michael Munger at 01:25 PM in Politics

    July 09, 2008
    Compulsory Volunteering

    Via Cafe Hayek, here's an interesting dissection of proposals to mandate volunteering. I particularly like the discussion of intractable measurement problems: what is "service," what isn't, and who decides?

    This exposes a glaring inconsistency in US labor policy. Working voluntarily for a wage of $5.00 per hour is unacceptable exploitation and is therefore illegal. Working involuntarily for a wage of $0.00 per hour, on the other hand, is ennobling service and may soon be required.

    Posted by Art Carden at 04:16 PM in Politics

    July 07, 2008
    Podcast on Transantiago

    Hey, you podcastrians!

    It's a new installment of the Russ and Mike show.

    For which, I should add, I was paid my full market wage.

    We talked about the Transantiago cluster fig. And talking to Russ is always fun.

    Posted by Michael Munger at 03:19 PM in Politics

    Grenade: Thanks!

    Lots of folks helped with the Money Grenade, and with getting word out about the difficulties I have been having even getting access to the normal assets of campaigning.

    Read More »

    Posted by Michael Munger at 08:11 AM in Politics

    July 02, 2008
    Limiting Access to the Political Order in North Carolina

    My short piece on Mike's adventures in North Carolina politics (see below) was published on the Independent Institute's blog here.

    Posted by Art Carden at 08:26 PM in Politics

    June 30, 2008
    Internment Camps and You: Partners in Freedom

    I've heard David Beito shows this video in some of his IHS history lectures:

    Posted by Art Carden at 08:36 PM in Politics

    June 28, 2008
    Crimes Against ... Whatever

    So who's the criminal? According to James Hansen, it's greedy CEOs:

    CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.

    According to an unnamed UN adviser, it's those pushing ethanol:

    But several aid agencies and analysts have warned of the possible downside of biofuel crop cultivation.

    One UN adviser went as far as describing biofuels as a "crime against humanity".

    In both cases, it's pretty loose talk.

    HT: CEI's "Cooler Heads Digest" 6/27/08

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 02:37 PM in Politics

    June 27, 2008
    Party platforms c. 1908

    The June 27, 1908 NYT reports on what is expected to be in the Democratic Party's platform, to be introduced by William Jennings Bryan, the party's nominee that year.

    It is fascinating that the next 100 years, during much of which the Democrats were in control of Congress (and occasionally the White House), the party platform has changed very little, suggesting that they haven't been very successful in implementing their goals. Whether this is an indictment of Democratic leadership or of their opposition, I am not sure.

    Here is a paraphrased list of what the paper suggests will be in the Democratic party's agenda:

  • "A few general declarations in which the Republican Party is arraigned for having subordinated the Government to the favor-seeking corporations."
  • Insisting on a "government of the people, by the people, and for the people."
  • The establishment of equal rights, and the abolition of special privileges.
  • Laws prohibiting the pass and rebate [in railroads]
  • Making it unlawful for corporations to contribute to campaign funds
  • Requiring publicity of contributions before election, "of all individual contributions above a reasonable minimum."
  • Centralization of power through judicial concentration is opposed.
  • Constitutional authority of the General Government to prevent monopoly must be exercised via the Interstate commerce clause.
  • Laws to compel foreign corporations to submit their legal disputes to the courts of the States in which they do business.
  • The election of U.S. Senators by direct vote of the people.
  • Private monopoly must be made impossible.
  • Enforce the laws against trusts and trust magnates.
  • Immediate reduction of trade duties
  • Articles competing with trust-made articles should be duty free.
  • Constitutional amendment authorizing a tax upon individual and corporate incomes.
  • A national inheritance tax to reach the "swollen fortunes."
  • Immediate declaration of intent to recognize the independence of Philippine Islands "as soon as a stable Government can be established."
  • Powers of the National and State Railway Commissions should be expanded to protect people against discrimination and extortion.
  • Railroads should be forbidden to engage in any business that will compete with their shippers.
  • Railroad rates should be reduced until they reach a point that will leave only a "reasonable return on the present value of the roads."
  • Postal savings banks are favored as are rules protecting bank deposits.
  • An employer's liability law and an eight-hour day.
  • "The admission of Asiatic immigrants who cannot be amalgamated with our population is opposed."
  • A stricter enforcement is demanded of immigration laws.
  • Certain planks have moved from one part to the other, but as far as populist agenda items go the current Democratic party might have be very similar.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 02:35 PM in Politics

    June 22, 2008
    The Barr Factor

    Will Libertarian Party presidential nominee Bob Barr be a factor in '08? Probably not, but don't discount the idea completely: at least some polls show Barr polling in the six percent range nationally. Third party support typically falls off close to election day, but in some crucial states. notably Georgia, which Barr represented for most of a decade in Congress, there is reason to believe he can hold most of his support, which has neared the 10 percent level in some polls.

    Barr's fundraising has been so-so: he's raised about $50,000 a week, on average, since gaining the Libertarian nomination four weeks ago. But his media coverage has been impressive. He's done, among others, Fox News (at least twice) and CNN, the hip Colbert Report on Comedy Central, a full hour on Glen Beck's TV show on CNN, and Geraldo. This week he'll be doing some major talk radio, including Dennis Miller on Monday and Bob Grant later in the week.

    If this is not quite Cadillac coverage, it's better than any Libertarian candidate has ever gotten before. A Lexis/Nexis search finds 427 stories referencing "Bob Barr" in the four weeks since his nomination on May 25 - by comparison, a Lexis search finds just 49 stories mentioning 2004 LP nominee Michael Badnarik in the four weeks after his nomination on May 27, 2004.

    He's also got the requisite meet up groups going at Meetup, Facebook, and MySpace, and other web sites.

    The obstacles to Barr's success - or that of any third party or independent candidate - are enormous. Ballot access laws force minor parties to spend large sums just getting on the ballot, whereas the Republican and Democratic Parties typically get automatic access in all 50 states. Campaign finance laws work against third parties, by limiting the amounts that can be contributed (historically, new parties, because of their smaller base of support, are more reliant on large donors) and by scaring away donors (I know of at least three people who have intentionally donated less than $200 to Barr's campaign in order to avoid having the names disclosed, as required by law for donors of $200 or more. Surely there are many more who limit their support or don't donate at all. For business and political reasons, many supporters, especially those active in politics or with business before the government, are afraid to make their support public). As Michael Munger has learned in his run for North Carolina Governor, it is almost impossible for even the most credible third party candidates to get into public debates. Most of all, the winner take all system of voting used in the U.S. (which I support) will always make it very difficult for a new party to break the two-party monopoly.

    Still, Barr may be the is the strongest Libertarian nominee ever, and almost certainly since the articulate Ed Clark, funded by his wealthy running mate David Koch, picked up a bit over one percent of the vote in 1980. With many small government Republicans dismayed over the nomination of John McCain, there is an opening for Barr to gain meaningful numbers of votes and to draw attention to the need for and benefits of limited government.

    Posted by Brad Smith at 10:40 PM in Politics

    June 20, 2008
    Obama Moves to the Middle

    I'm in Toronto for the ISNIE meetings, and I caught this story in today's Toronto Star. Apparently, Obama's sound and fury about NAFTA a few months ago was exactly what everyone thought it was.

    Posted by Art Carden at 11:24 PM in Politics

    June 17, 2008
    Yard signs revisited

    A few years ago I commented on my city's ban on political yard signs until 30 days before an election. I got the city attorney to admit that the law was unconstitutional.

    Harrison, Ohio is being sued over their law.

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 02:31 PM in Politics

    June 15, 2008
    Munger Excluded From Debates in NC

    Some background, on the decision of five different organizations "independently" to exclude me from the gubernatorial debates. What are the odds of THAT happening, do you think?

    An interesting exchange, worth reading in its entirety, on Steve Newton's blog.

    Some thoughts:

    1. I announced my candidacy in May 2006. I have been included in MANY forums and debates, and have appeared three times on the same stage as Bev Perdue and Pat McCrory at forums. Admittedly, these were serial, rather than simultaneous, appearances, but it was within minutes.

    2. The success of the Libertarians in getting on the ballot was known in March, and was official in May. Furthermore, this is the 8th time the Libertarian candidate for Governor will be on the ballot, officially. This is not new, either in terms of history over 30 years, or formal process this election cycle.

    3. The NC Bar Association is a private organization, and as far as I can tell the event will not be televised externally. That means that this is NOT an in-kind contribution to the candidates. So, as a matter of principle I would defend the right of that organization to choose the folks who will appear at their convention. But, to paraphrase Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction," I'd have more respect for the NCBA if they'd just tell me to frig off. "We didn't know", if true, means that these people are way too dumb to be trying cases in state court. Fortunately, it's just not true. I think you would rather have a lawyer who is a good liar, compared to an idiot, right?

    Posted by Michael Munger at 10:07 AM in Politics

    June 13, 2008
    WHO's kidding whom?

    A summary of some of the sources of bias in WHO's health care quality index:

    Michael Moore made great sport in his film "Sicko" of pointing out that the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked US health care a lowly 37th in the world, considerably below France and Canada. But, much like Mr. Moore himself, the rankings are far from impartial or empirically sound. [. . .] But an examination of the index tells us more about the ideology of the authors than it does about the quality of American healthcare. [. . .] The most obvious bias is that 62.5% of their weighting concerns not quality of service but equality. In other words, the rankings are less concerned with the ability of a health system to make sick people better than they are with the political consideration of achieving equal access and implementing state-controlled funding systems.

    One of the five factors in the calculations is called "Financial Fairness". This favours systems that charge richer people more health tax, irrespective of how much, or little, health service they use. Colombia comes top. This measure has nothing to do with the quality of healthcare, yet it counts for a quarter of the weighting.
    [. . .]
    The rankings include measures for "health level" and "responsiveness." "Health Level" is their way of saying life expectancy, while "responsiveness" refers to a survey based on "respect for persons" and elements such as speed of service, convenience and choice—yet even in these cases half the weighting is determined by considerations of equality. Thus a country with a poor level of "responsiveness" throughout the population will score higher than a country with a good level in some parts and an excellent level in others.
    [. . .]
    Americans generally believe that whatever the other problems with the US healthcare system, its standards of care are high. In the details of the rankings there is evidence to support this belief. It shows the USA as having the most responsive health system in the world but this measure makes up only a small part of the overall rankings.


    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 06:45 PM in Politics

    June 12, 2008
    The Paternalist State

    The Grey Lady wants you to be taken care of. Today's editorial on tomatoes ends:

    "Industry, as well as consumers, need much better protection. They should not have to wait until the next food scare before Washington comes to the rescue."

    Meanwhile, the FCC held hearings today on whether to prohibit early termination fees charged by mobile phone carriers. Public choice founder, James Buchanan, has argued that the State has supplanted God as the bearer of ultimate responsibility. Stand by for new sex legislation that people may only shout “Oh state, oh state, oh state!!!”

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 05:14 PM in Politics

    June 11, 2008
    Chilipunk'd!

    The candidates from the "major" parties have organized their own private election, with just two people invited: Bev Purdue and Pat McCrory. Five debates, only two candidates will be allowed.

    Here's the strange thing: It's really hard to get on the ballot in North Carolina. The Libertarians did what the state required. It wasn't easy, but we did it.

    Why doesn't that translate into being included in the debate? Why do the state-sponsored parties get away with this? It's because you, the voters, are indifferent.

    It's not the media; you can't blame them. Having me in the debate is MUCH more interesting, and would improve ratings. You can count on the media actually preferring that I be included.

    But I'm not. Because the Dems and Repubs don't want even a whiff of competition to affect their cozy cartel.

    Where's the outrage?

    UPDATE: A snippet from the press release that will go out soon....

    North Carolina has very restrictive ballot access laws. Simple fairness requires that every party crossing that very high threshold must be admitted to the debates. Let's be very clear: the General Assembly established a criterion for inclusion, and the Libertarians passed that test.

    Yet the Libertarians have been excluded from participation, without explanation. The political elite of our state has made a decision to put its own convenience over the obvious will of the citizens.

    As H.L. Mencken said, "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." When you watch a debate where one legally qualified party is excluded, you are watching North Carolina "democracy" in action. Is this the kind of democracy that you want to live in?

    Posted by Michael Munger at 02:54 PM in Politics

    June 06, 2008
    Will Wilkinson on Production and Distribution

    Will Wilkinson has a great post on European regulatory and redistributive institutions. Politically, people support redistribution through the regulatory system because it doesn't feel like redistribution. A choice passage:

    The structure and regulation of an economy is conceptually separable from tax and transfer policy. Of course, it is really all one system, and taxes and transfers affect economic performance by affecting labor supply, etc., but this is relatively distinct from the body of law that defines the parameters and rules of the economic game. You could in principle have buck-wild laissez faire together with fairly high taxes and lavish social insurance. Nobody does do this, exactly, but it’s possible. Optimize the basic economic structure for maximizing wealth creation, not for creating a pattern of distribution, and then use the political institutions to take care of redistribution after the wealth is created. Because then there will be more wealth.

    ASTRTWT.

    Posted by Art Carden at 09:02 AM in Politics

    May 30, 2008
    On party pride c. 1908

    Something to think about in the current election cycle comes from the May 30, 1908 NYT:

    Col. Watterson knows perfectly well that the Republican Party organs regard Mr. Bryan's possible nomination cheerfully. They would like to feel sure of having no stronger man to beat, and have been hopefully predicting his nomination.

    The opposition to Bryan's nomination comes from men who have the welfare of the whole Nation at heart, rather than party triumph. They want a strong, sane opposition to the Republican Party. They want the Democratic Party to cleanse itself, hold up its head, and do its duty bravely. They know perfectly well there is no danger of Bryan's election, and so does Col. Watterson.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 11:02 AM in Politics

    May 29, 2008
    On Congressional spending c. 1908

    The May 29, 1908 NYT reports that Congress, for only the second time in the country's history, has appropriated more than $1 billion (the first time was in 1865).

    The first paragraph says a lot:

    When Congress packs its carpet bag this week and goes home, it will have established a record for expenditures never reached before in the United States in times of peace.

    The same can be said of our current congress.

    The article suggests that $1,007,086,569 will have been appropriated by the Congress (plus a little more perhaps). EH.net indicates that total GDP in 1908 was about $30.1 billion (in current dollars). Hence, Congress appropriated about 3% of total GDP. Today, it is closer to 20%.

    In 1908, the U.S. Congress appropriated about $11.27 per capita, whereas today it is approximately $6,000 per capita.

    In 1908, the U.S. Congress appropriated $391,474,342 for the U.S. Army and Navy (about 40% of the budget and about 1.3% of GDP) whereas today the U.S. government spends less than 5% of GDP and 20-25% of federal spending on the military (five branches rather than two).

    The article does provide the totals by appropriation bill (where is such information today?):

  • Urgent deficiency $24,11,805
  • Indian 8,748,687
  • Legislative 32,833,821
  • Army 95,382,247
  • Post Office 224,065,142
  • Pensions 163,053,000
  • Fortifications 9,570,745
  • Agriculture 11,672,106
  • District of Columbia 10,117,669
  • Diplomatic 3,947,539
  • Naval 122,662,716
  • Sundry Civil 112,937,314
  • Military Academy 845,634
  • General deficiency 30,782,848
  • Permanent annual 154,194,296
  • Additional urgent 2,163,500
  • Posted by Craig Depken at 03:10 PM in Politics

    May 28, 2008
    Politics as usual?

    The blatant selling-out of politicians never ceases to amaze me. What is even more amazing is that the electorate seems fairly comfortable with the entire process. The ideal of one-man-one-vote and that average schleps like me might be able to gain access to members of Congress or the executive branch seem far away from today's political antics (perhaps there never was a golden era).

    Today's New York Times reports that the Democratic party is having a hard time "raising" the money for its convention in Denver this August. The term "raising" is a bit of a stretch because it doesn't seem like the party is reaching out to the individual party members but to the corporate bigwigs without even attepting to veil their selling-out:

    Denver’s mayor, John W. Hickenlooper, has suggested that the Democrats’ long nominating battle has distracted potential donors. But, no matter the obstacles, the Denver host committee is aggressively packaging corporate sponsorships that promise corporate executives access to key politicians in return for writing a check to the host committee.

    In addition, the Denver committee is appealing to civic pride.


    Hosting a political convention isn't worth much to the local economy in terms of net new spending. As shown in this paper by Dennis Coates and myself, Houston lost approximately $19 million in taxable activity when it hosted the Republican convention in 1992. This negative net result is not refuted by this study by Baade, Baumann, and Matheson [note: incorrect abstract] which shows that hosting a political convention does nothing for employment, per-capita income, or income growth.

    Thus the appeal to civic pride, the last bastion of the politician who wants to spend other peoples' money to enlarge their own reputation and stature.

    Not to be outdone by the mis-remembering and mis-speaking that the two party candidates seem to engage in on a daily basis, the next paragraph contains a juicy statement by the spokesman for the Denver host committee:

    "This is a historic event for Denver," Mr. Lopez said. "It's the first national convention in the interior West. It gives Denver a chance to demonstrate that it can host a national convention and show that Denver has the wherewithal to raise money and be the place where you want to be."
    Perhaps Mr. Lopez (no relation, I hope to our co-blogger Ed) doesn't consider the 1908 Democrat national convention in Denver to have been a national convention? Perhaps the convention took place so long ago that no-one remembers or should remember?

    My guess is that CNN or Fox or some news network will hearken back to the Denver (19)08 convention to bring up WJB, the platform of the day, and how it relates to contemporary issues. At that point, will anyone remember (or better yet even care) that the spokesman for the Denver hosting committee was so incorrect?

    Posted by Craig Depken at 06:00 PM in Politics

    Government is a Force That Gives us Meaning

    David Boaz's article in today's Wall Street Journal on the Presidential Candidates' exhortations to "collective service" (?!) has already made the rounds on the blogosphere. Arnold Kling weighs in here. Here's Will Wilkinson on the insufficiency of "meaning" as a criterion for indulgence.

    I want to add a couple of points. First, it's ironic that mutli-millionaire politicians like Obama and McCain are tut-tutting us for our alleged devotion to unrighteous mammon. Second, I borrow here a meme from co-blogger Wilson Mixon and ask whether it is better to feel good than to do good. Are the candidates interested in outcomes, or is it the sacrifice per se that is important? Comments are open until I get spammed with the first offer for porn, mortgage refinancing, or no-limit Texas Hold 'em.

    Posted by Art Carden at 04:03 PM in Politics  ·  Comments (2)

    Baptists, Bootleggers & Horrid History

    From The Economist's review of "Fatal Misconception" by Michael Connelly (Harvard University Press):

    All too easily arrogance slides into inhumanity. Much of the evil done in the name of slowing population growth had its roots in an uneasy coalition between feminists, humanitarians and environmentalists, who wished to help the unwillingly fecund, and the racists, eugenicists and militarists who wished to see particular patterns of reproduction, regardless of the desires of those involved. The first group knew perfectly well that economic development, education and rights for women were very effective in reducing birth rates. But the second regarded promoting these ends as too slow and expensive. And even suggesting them risked shattering the coalition: among the hardliners were many who found the tendency of educated women to have fewer children almost as problematic as that of uneducated ones to breed prolifically.

    As the world population soared, the population controllers came to believe they were fighting a war, and there would be collateral damage. Millions of intra-uterine contraceptive devices were exported to poor countries although they were known to cause infections and sterility. “Perhaps the individual patient is expendable in the general scheme of things,” said a participant at a conference on the devices organised in 1962 by the Population Council, a research institute founded by John D. Rockefeller, “particularly if the infection she acquires is sterilising but not lethal.” In 1969 Robert McNamara, then president of the World Bank, said he was reluctant to finance health care “unless it was very strictly related to population control, because usually health facilities contributed to the decline of the death rate, and thereby to the population explosion.”

    [...]

    Mr Connelly's most devastating critique of population control is not that it destroyed lives, or was based on imperialist or eugenic ideas, but that it did not work. In country after country—even in China—birth rates were already falling when the government began implementing more coercive policies. Furthermore, statistical estimates suggest that as much as 90% of the reason that women have families of a particular size is simply because that is the number of children they want.

    I disagree with the view that the most devastating critique is that population control policies didn't work, but the review is most compelling and quite well done.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 10:56 AM in Politics

    May 21, 2008
    On party politics c. 1908

    On May 20, 1908, a number of state Democratic conventions were held. The majority of delegates instructed on that day were for Bryan. However, the May 21, 1908 NYT has an amazing piece of writing that is as relevant today as it was yesterday (and that is unfortunate):

    Intimating that the system of party government in this country is threatened with disintegration by the progress of intelligence and free thought in themselves, and declaring that already there are signs of its demoralization by the gathering independent forces outside of the party organization, Goldwin Smith, the English scholar, has written from his home in Toronto to students at Cornell bidding them to take a careful study of present conditions, with a view of determining for themselves that party government and parties are not the best means for the welfare of the state.
    The first paragraph already asks a lot of the reader. How many college students today have been asked or, better yet, thought to ask themselves if party politics is the best way? My guess is very few. As for why the parties still exist 100 years later with barely any viable competition? Perhaps one way to continue party dominance is to retard the progress of intelligence and free thought? It worked (for a while) in Soviet Russia and elsewhere.

    Smith goes on to describe the forthcoming presidential campaign:

    "But in a few weeks Democrats and Republicans will be organizing a political war against each other in a spirit hardly less bellicose than that of actual warfare, with arsenals full of political projectiles on both sides; while the community will be inflamed; intrigue, and perhaps not a little corruption of different kinds, will be at work, and the press on both sides will be blowing the trumpets with more regard to effect than truth.
    The only difference today is that there is an Orwellian feel of "ongoing war" in today's politics, although there was a similar if less ubiquitous banter in the early 1900s.

    Smith then asks the important question that many "independents" may have already answered:

    Is this an institution in which a Nation can forever acquiesce? Are there not symptoms or signs of a change already in the shape of independent forces gathering outside the regular organizations and threatening to disorganize them in time? will not the progress of intelligence and free thought of themselves bring disintegrations?"
    While the parties might have faced competition, Teddy Roosevelt will run a third-party campaign in the next election (1912), economic theory would predict that they would use the power of the government to protect their duopoly (joint monopoly) status, which indeed it seems they have. The parties have raised the costs of potential rivals, directly and indirectly, that the possibility of a legitimate third party competitor is unlikely.

    Smith finishes by providing a bit of U.S. history concerning parties:

    "It is needless to say that nothing like this was contemplated by the framers of your [U.S.] Constitution. Washington sought, by putting Hamilton and Jefferson together in his Administration, to stifle partyism in its birth. The present intensity of party perhaps hardly antedates the Jacksonian era.

    "You see to what party has come in England. What is called the Liberal Party is made up of motley and discordant elements - Liberals, Radicals, Laborites, Socialists, and Irish Home Rulers - combined to hold possession of the Government and tampering with vital interests for that purpose."


    Indeed, how many "motley and discordant elements" comprise every party today? However, the interesting point Smith offers is that parties necessarily cobble together a coalition but each member has to sacrifice "vital interests" to do so. In cartel theory, economists propose that a cartel member might voluntarily sacrifice some sovereignty for a chance at higher profits. Without sufficient monitoring of behavior and enforcement against cheating against the cartel, solidarity is hard to maintain.

    Political parties would seem to have a similar problem. It is difficult to monitor certain behaviors, such as voting in secret ballots. However, one thing the party has over the private cartel is the ability to tax and bribe those "discordant elements" to maintain solidarity.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:45 AM in Politics

    May 20, 2008
    Delegate dilemma c. 1908

    Just so that we know that delegate allocation has been a problem in the past, the May 20, 1908 NYT reports on possible shenanigans in Pennsylvania:

    The Democratic State Convention, which meets here to-morrow, promises to be one of the warmest in the recent history of that party. The fight, which has divided the Democracy of the State, is on the question of whether the convention shall send the four delegates at large to the National Convention under binding instructions to vote for William J. Bryan or whether they shall go to Denver unfettered.

    Col. James M. Guffey of Pittsburg, State leader and the National committeeman, to-night was positive that the convention will not instruct the delegates. He said that he and his followers would control the convention two to one. The Bryanites assert that they will have a safe majority and that the delegates will go to Denver under instructions. The Executive Committee to-day formally ratified Col. Guffey's choice for temporary chairman. The fight will be precipitated over the selection of the permanent Chairman.

    This is amazing.

    Democrats go to Denver in 1908 and 2008. Delegate dilemmas abound in 1908 and 2008. However, if these dilemmas were truly problematic in picking a candidate, the party would have revamped the way it chooses delegates. However, because the same dilemmas persist 100 years later, it must be that someone benefits from the confusion and wiggle-room. I'd presume it's the party insiders.

    The headline of the 1908 NYT story reads:

    "Both Bryanites and Their Foes Claim Victory in To-day's Convention."

    "Headlines" from the May 20, 2008 Drudge Report:

    DECLARE, IF YOU DARE... [Hillary referring to Obama]

    Obama seeks delegate majority in Ore., Ky. primaries...

    HILLARY CLAIMS POPULAR VOTE LEAD...

    Count...


    At least they could try to be original in their disputes, but alas...

    Posted by Craig Depken at 05:16 PM in Politics

    Kentucky endorsement c. 1908

    Interesting enough, May 19, 1908, was the day the Kentucky state Democratic "decided" to go for William Jennings Bryan for the 1908 Presidential election. From the May 20, 1908 NYT:

    Kentucky's Democratic Central Committee met here [Frankfort, KY] today and decided to hold the state convention at Lexington on June 11. A resolution indorsing [sic] William Jennings Bryan for the Presidential nomination was adopted.
    One hundred years later, which of the contending Democratic candidates is most like WJB? Comments open for a day or two.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 05:05 PM in Politics  ·  Comments (3)

    May 13, 2008
    Subsidies for Millionaires; Tax Hikes if You Make $100k

    1. President Bush wants to limit farm subsidies to farmers earning $200k or less; Democrats want millionaire farmers to continue to be eligible for subsidies. (Source here; scroll down to #1.)

    2. While wanting to continue to subsidize millionaire farmers, Democrats want to increase taxes on people earning as little as $102k (e.g., Obama thinks the taxable earnings cap on the payroll tax should be eliminated; Obama also favors eliminating the Bush tax cuts).

    Huh?

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:31 PM in Politics

    May 12, 2008
    Collars for Dollars

    In a new editorial, Jacob Sullum at Reason writes of New York City's little-noticed marijuana crackdown.

    While marijuana arrests have risen between two- and three-fold nationwide since 1990, the increase in New York has been much more dramatic. "From 1997 to 2006," sociologist Harry Levine and drug policy activist Deborah Small note in the NYCLU report, "the New York City Police Department arrested and jailed more than 353,000 people simply for possessing small amounts of marijuana. This was eleven times more marijuana arrests than in the previous decade."

    Based on their analysis of arrest data and their interviews with police, arrestees, and public defenders, Levine and Small conclude that the pot busts are largely a byproduct of the NYPD's aggressive "stop and frisk" tactics. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police may briefly detain people they suspect of involvement in criminal activity and, as a precautionary measure, pat them down for weapons. Taking advantage of this Fourth Amendment loophole, New York City police stopped and frisked people more than half a million times in 2006.

    ...

    Levine and Small note that busting pot smokers is a relatively safe and easy way to pad arrest figures, which creates the illusion of productivity, and generate overtime pay, a practice known as "collars for dollars."

    From the collars' perspective, getting arrested for a trivial, victimless offense, which saddles them with criminal records that can impair their ability to obtain an education and make a living, is humiliating and embittering. It is especially rankling because police seem to be targeting poor black and Hispanic men for treatment that would not be tolerated if it were aimed at affluent white New Yorkers.

    Survey data indicate that among 18-to-25-year-olds, the age group where the pot busts are concentrated, whites are more likely than blacks or Hispanics to smoke marijuana. Yet Levine and Small found that in New York blacks and Hispanics are, respectively, five and three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 01:27 PM in Politics

    May 07, 2008
    Not Too Chaotic

    Calling his effort "Operation Chaos," Rush Limbaugh has been urging Republicans to cross over and vote for Hillary. There are competing claims about how successful his effort has been (here and here), so I decided to exploit variation in the Indiana and NC primary rules to see how much influence Limbaugh had on yesterday's results.

    Here's the key idea--Indiana has an open primary but NC does not permit Republicans to vote in the Democrat primary (unaffiliated voters can). Moreover, NC had a contested primary for the GOP nomination for governor that would serve to keep NC Republicans in their own election.

    So I estimated a regression model for the percent of the vote received by Hillary in NC and IN counties. RHS variables include the black percent of the population, the percent of the population between ages 16 & 24, the percent of the population over 65, the percent of the population that is male, and per capita income. The model also includes a dummy variable taking a value of 1 for IN counties--this variable should pick up any support for Hillary that is not explained by the other variables thereby making it a crude measure of the Rush effect.

    So what do the results find? The Indiana dummy has a coefficient of 0.53 meaning that on average Hillary got a about one-half percentage point larger share in Indiana than would be explained by the control variables. The point estimate is not statistically significant (t = 0.43). The regressors perform as one would expect, except the percent male has no effect (either in magnitude or significance).

    My student worker Katie compiled data for me and is compiling more as I type. Look for updates later.

    BTW, Limbaugh has just come on. He is claiming credit for tilting IN to Hillary and playing audio to that effect from John Kerry. My results suggest otherwise.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:09 PM in Politics

    May 06, 2008
    Food crises c. 1908

    As there are bad policies today concerning food, there were bad policies yesterday. From the May 6, 1908 NYT:

    ST. PETERSBURG [Russia] - The Russian sugar industry centering at Kiev is passing through a serious crisis. it already has resulted in the suspension of payments by two of the great manufacturing and refining firms...The trouble in the sugar industry is due in large measure to restriction of exports; the production is far in excess of the Russian market.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 03:38 PM in Politics

    In-kind Taxation c. 1908

    Taxation can take a number of forms, but the most insidious are those that are non-monetary in nature. A good example comes from the May 6, 1908 NYT:

    George H. Fearons, General Attorney for the Western Union Telegraph Company, addressed the House Committee on Inter-State and Foreign Commerce to-day in opposition to the bill introduced by Mr. Carey of Wisconsin to require telegraph companies to transmit with telegrams the time of filing messages and the time of putting them on the wire.

    Mr. Fearons said that 60 per cent. of the telegraph business of the country was the transmission of information for Exchanges, Boards of Trade, and similar commercial bodies, 20 per cent. was newspaper matter, 15 per cent. railroad intelligence, and less than 3 per cent. "private and social telegrams."

    He said that on the basis of 74,805,000 telegrams transmitted annually, the additional number of words imposed by the bill upon the Western union Company for transmission would be equal to 17,454,000 ten word-messages.

    The extra messages would represent an in-kind tax because the marginal cost of an additional message was not zero - there were congestion problems, no doubt. Assuming the attorney was telling the truth, the 17+ million requred additional messages would represet a 23% increase in the number of messages sent. Western Union would likely have respond by sending fewer non-required messages.

    I wonder what political interest group Rep. Carey was trying to appease: were there claims that Western Union sat on certain messages and gave preference to other messages, sort of a 1908-version of net neutrality? My hunch is that Rep. Carey was responding to a complaint from one or more "private and social" consumers.

    If the Boards and Exchanges were anxious about timely delivery of information, given their market share of telegrams sent they would have been able to exert some pressure on Western Union to improve service. The same woudl have gone for the newspapers and the railroads.

    I wonder if this bill, like many bills, was submitted to "protect the rights" of small-time consumers and in the process tax the heck out of the firm that provided a valuable service. This sounds a lot like many of the bad policies proffered today.

    However, history shows that Western Union already faced competition: the postal service, the telephone, the wireless, and eventually the fax, and the Internet. It took a while but roughly 100 years later Western Union sent its last telegram.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 03:36 PM in Politics

    May 02, 2008
    Funniest sentence I read today.

    From a Canadian colleague about an upcoming conference he's attending in the middle east that Al Jazeera is covering:

    This is good from a Canadian point of view. Al Jazeera is far to the right of the CBC and much less sympathetic to terrorists.
    Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:55 AM in Politics

    April 28, 2008
    America the Prisoner

    From Lew Rockwell's Prisoner Nation:

    There are 2.3 million people behind bars. China, with four times as many people, has 1.6 million in prison.

    In terms of population, the United States has 751 people in prison for every 100,000, while the closest competitor in this regard is Russia with 627. I'm struck by this figure: 531 in Cuba. The median global rate is 125.

    What's amazing is that most of this imprisoning trend is recent, dating really from the 1980s, and most of the change is due to drug laws. From 1925 to 1975, the rate of imprisonment was stable at 110, lower than the international average, which is what you might expect in a country that purports to value freedom. But then it suddenly shot up in the 1980s. There were 30,000 people in jail for drugs in 1980, while today there are half a million.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 01:00 PM in Politics

    April 22, 2008
    McCain on Clinton-Obama

    Have you seen ANY challenge to the notion that McCain is benefitting from the protracted Clinton-Obama primary? Some things to consider.

    1. As a general rule, doesn't head-to-head competition make for better competitors? Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire a decade ago. Or even hopped-up Ben Johnson made Carl Lewis a better sprinter two decades ago. Athletes are one thing. Would the same hold for politicians?

    2. The standard story for why the primary benefits McCain is somethign like this. The two Ds have to go hard left in the primary, and the harder left Obama and Clinton have to go to beat each other, the harder it'll be for them to come back to center in the general. A counter argument is that the primary and general election dimensions are sufficiently different (there are D issues and then there are R issues) that it doesn't much matter. An additional counter argument is that by beating each other up, Clinton and Obama work out all the kinks and hone their messages and leave very little for McCain to go negative with.

    3. Generic ballot tests. When pollsters pit a generic Democrat with an unnamed Republica, the Democrat easily wins. Does the attention and exposure of the Democratic primary strengthen or weaken that?

    4. The lack of a known opponent has to be hurting McCain's campaign finance. According to the FEC, he's raised just over $80 million so far this election cycle. He'll need to raise another $300 million in the next 9 months to match W's total for the 2004 cycle. So far Obama's raised $240 mil.

    It just seems to me that to say this benefits McCain is to say that political competition is ruinous. Maybe so. But maybe not, too.

    Any thoughts?

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 04:03 PM in Politics  ·  Comments (4)

    Wise Words ...

    ... from co-blogger Mike Munger:

    "If John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were on a bridge and it collapsed, America would be saved."

    Mike may be a bit optimistic here--he'd also need Edwards, Huckabee, and large chunk of Congress to be on the bridge.

    ADDENDUM: Save the emails, it's only a methaphorical bridge. I don't advocate harming these folks and I'm sure Mike doesn't either.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:59 AM in Politics

    April 16, 2008
    Biofuels, food, and the environment

    Does this Guardian article offer a portent of things to come for the US?

    Farewell the age of reason, welcome the idiocracy. Only George Orwell could have invented - and named - the [UK] government's Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) that came into operation yesterday. It is the latest in a long line of measures intended to ease the conscience of the rich while keeping the poor miserable, in this case spectacularly so.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 09:56 AM in Politics

    April 09, 2008
    Internet and Freedom

    I’m on the way back from the APEE meetings, where a lot of DOLers have been for the past few days. There were a ton of really good papers on the program, and the plenary talks were outstanding. My favorite was yesterday when David Henderson gave a talk, “Is the ‘Net, on net, good for freedom?” In short, David’s answer is ‘yes,’ although he acknowledges that governments use advanced technologies to track individuals and censors uses of these same technologies. I think it's very difficult to say whether the Internet itself is good for freedom, because it depends on how limited government is in the first place, and that varies across societies. Clearly in closed societies, socialist governments have a strong interest in limiting communication of any sort. Alvaro Vargas Llosa writes about the dramatic story of the failed attempt by Raul Castro's government to censor the Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, who writes about daily life in under the degenerate regime. The film, Lives of Others, highlights various forms of information being banned under East Germany, from books and newspapers to even government statistics on suicide rates. Before Vietnam's doi moi reforms in the late 1980's people there had virtually no contact with the outside world but now there are something like 15 million Internet users. As societies become more open in general, their peoples become less tolerant of government controlling anything, including the Internet. Even private organizations, such as Google, are scrutinized for storing data on individuals [story on EU here]. I am largely ignorant of the details of this debate but I do think David is right. Still, I think it's important to say that the Internet's benefit to freedom isn't certain; it depends on people's vigilance against censorship and privacy invasion in general.

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 12:05 PM in Politics

    April 03, 2008
    PETA moment c. 1908

    The April 3, 1908 NYT has a report that you would NEVER see today:

    President Roosevelt has been the recipient of gifts of almost every conceivable description...Yesterday a monster sea turtle weighing 350 pounds, a product of Nicaraguan waters, was presented to the President...

    The President spent nearly an hour contemplating his new pet and debating as to what disposition to make of it. Finally the splendid specimen of sea food was turned over to the White House chef. Mr. Roosevelt has asked several luncheon guests for the next several days.

    Nice.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 11:25 AM in Politics

    April 02, 2008
    It's good to be the king c. 1908

    From the April 2, 1908 NYT:

    BERLIN - An authentic report is in circulation here that a bill will soon be introduced in the Prussian Diet raising the civil list of the Emperor. This list now amounts to $3,900,000 a year, which is paid the Emperor as King of Prussia and not as German Emperor; the latter position carries no salary.

    The explanation offered for raising the list is the increased cost of living, which bears particularly heavy on the royal house because of the large number of children and other persons dependent upon the purse of the monarch.

    So many kids!! Good grief.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 11:30 AM in Politics

    Elections matter c. 1908

    From the April 2, 1908 NYT:

    MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- Fear of a Social Democrat victory at the election next Tuesday is said to be the reason that there was not a single bid received from any banking house for the $325,000 bond issue, which was to have been allotted today. The Social Democrats have been gaining in strength here for several years past, and polled 12,000 votes out of a total of about 60,000.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 11:27 AM in Politics

    March 26, 2008
    A New TR?

    Matt Welch on McCain and individualism:

    Like many country-first, party-second military officers who began second careers in Washington, Mr. McCain is often mischaracterized as a politician without any identifiable ideology. But all of his actions can be seen as an attempt to use the federal government to restore your faith in ... the federal government. Once we all put our shoulder on the same wheel, there’s nothing this country can’t do.

    [...] I, for one, would welcome President McCain’s unilateral wars on pork-barrel spending and waterboarding — but it’s treacherous territory for those of us who consider “the pursuit of happiness” as something best defined by individuals, not crusading presidents-to-be.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 01:47 PM in Politics

    Gravel 2008: All over the map

    Former senator (D-Alaska) a gadfly Democratic presidential candidate Mike Gravel announced yesterday that he is joining the Libertarian Party and will be seeking its 2008 nomination for president. Fox News reports:

    In an e-mail to supporters, Gravel, 77, wrote, “I look forward to advancing my presidential candidacy within the Libertarian Party, which is considerably closer to my values, my foreign policy views and my domestic views.”

    The same report also notes, however:

    Last month, Gravel endorsed Green Party presidential nominee Jesse Johnson. [According to a spokesman,] Gravel didn’t see any reason “why not” to offer his backing since “voting party line is not smart” and he agrees with Johnson’s message as well as the Green Party’s approach of “direct democracy, mobilizing at a grassroots level, working with people one-on-one and enabling citizen democracy.”

    The LP national convention will be held in May. 14 announced candidates are already in contention for the nomination. Apart from Gravel, the only candidate I've heard of is ... wait, I haven't heard of any of them.

    Posted by Lawrence H. White at 11:51 AM in Politics

    March 14, 2008
    Anthony Downs was on to something

    In the U.S., third parties and anti-establishment folks groan about the two-party dominance that is American politics. Today's Iranian elections provide a little perspective. Reuters has the full story here. A few key excerpts.

    By Zahra Hosseinian and Parisa Hafezi

    TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranians voted on Friday in a low-key election likely to keep parliament in the grip of conservatives after unelected state bodies barred many reformist foes of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from the race.

    [...]

    Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has effectively endorsed Ahmadinejad and his government, cast his ballot early and urged others to do the same.

    Khamenei usually stays above the political fray, but he was quoted as saying in newspapers on Thursday that Iranians should consider "voting for those who can pave the way for the current government which is active and willing to serve".

    His support for Ahmadinejad was relayed by anonymous text messages to mobile phone users on Friday.

    Shrugging off reformists' complaints that the system was stacked against them, Ahmadinejad said after voting: "Our revolution means the presence of people ... Parliament belongs to people and it should be a reflection of what they want."

    [...]

    The president can rely on loyalists like Hassan Siavashi, 45. "It is my religious duty to vote. I pray God will help Ahmadinejad's group to win," he said before voting in Tehran.

    Bibi Zahra, an elderly woman in a black chador, said she had put her trust in her son's choice. "I don't know who I was voting for, he filled in the form for me," she added.

    .

    When this much makes it into the press, you know it's only the tip of the iceberg. Without meaningful political competition, democracy collapses toward autocracy.

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 11:57 AM in Politics

    Kudos to Mike Munger ...

    ... for getting to participate in the North Carolina gubernatorial debate in October (he's the Libertarian candidate). The debate will be held in Charlotte--maybe Craig can live blog it for us.

    Looking for some supreme swag--then donate to Mike's campaign. Logo t-shirts, collector's quality coffee mugs, and more--all for a modest donation. It's the best $50 I've spent today ...

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:45 AM in Politics

    March 13, 2008
    Home schooling news

    My trolling of Catholic blogs brought up two stories I'm guessing are of interest to DoL readers (who are probably Friedman fans, himself a staunch supporter of more choices in education). First, Jimmy Akin directs to this story about a California state appelate court case on the credentials of home-schooling parents:

    "Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children," wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey in a Feb. 28 opinion signed by the two other members of the district court.

    A second post by Carl Olson points to an opinion piece in the Manila Standard Today:

    The inevitable question is whether it is in the best interest of the child to be insulated from beliefs, ideas and values outside of what his parents allow. To say it more accurately, should the state stand by and allow children to be raised in accordance with their parents‘ biases and prejudices? Or does the state, in accordance with its own right to preserve itself, have the right to intervene, even to the point of infringing on parental authority, in order to provide the child with a more holistic view of the world and humanity?

    Call me a conspiracy nut, but is it that hard to believe that, perhaps, parents who hold dissenting views on human-caused global warming, the benefits of redistribution programs, political correctness, or heck, even the logic of Social Security, might be deemed unfit to teach their children outside of state supervision? I take a medium-size tinfoil hat, please.

    Posted by Tim Shaughnessy at 12:11 AM in Politics

    March 12, 2008
    Brain-dead Statist

    Interesting article, especially given the author's identity. Its title is "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal,'" but Gary Roseman says I must use the word Statist.

    I wrote a play about politics, ... [a]nd as part of the "writing process," as I believe it's called, I started thinking about politics, ... which is to say, about the polemic between persons of two opposing views. The argument in my play is between a president who is self-interested, corrupt, suborned, and realistic, and his leftish, lesbian, utopian-socialist speechwriter.

    The play, ... a disputation between reason and faith, or perhaps between the conservative (or tragic) view and the liberal (or perfectionist) view. The conservative president in the piece holds that people are each out to make a living, and the best way for government to facilitate that is to stay out of the way, as the inevitable abuses and failures of this system (free-market economics) are less than those of government intervention.

    I took the liberal view for many decades, but I believe I have changed my mind. ...

    As a child of the '60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart. This is, to me, the synthesis of this worldview with which I now found myself disenchanted: that everything is always wrong.

    But in my life, a brief review revealed, everything was not always wrong, and neither was nor is always wrong in the community in which I live, or in my country. Further, it was not always wrong in previous communities in which I lived, and among the various and mobile classes of which I was at various times a part. ...

    I'd observed that lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals are giving the world a good run for its money, but that nonetheless, people in general seem to get from day to day; and that we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances—that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it.

    So, taking the tragic view, the question was not "Is everything perfect?" but "How could it be better, at what cost, and according to whose definition?" Put into which form, things appeared to me to be unfolding pretty well.

    What about the role of government? Well, in the abstract, coming from my time and background, I thought it was a rather good thing, but tallying up the ledger in those things which affect me and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow.

    But if the government is not to intervene, how will we, mere human beings, work it all out? I wondered and read, and it occurred to me that I knew the answer, and here it is: We just seem to.

    Do I speak as a member of the "privileged class"? If you will—but classes in the United States are mobile, not static, which is the Marxist view. That is: Immigrants came and continue to come here penniless and can (and do) become rich; the nerd makes a trillion dollars; the single mother, penniless and ignorant of English, sends her two sons to college (my grandmother). ...

    And I realized that the time had come for me to avow my participation in that America in which I chose to live, and that that country was not a schoolroom teaching values, but a marketplace.

    "Aha," you will say, and you are right. I began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, and Shelby Steele, and a host of conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 03:14 PM in Politics

    March 11, 2008
    Rich, beautiful, shameless

    Malcolm Forbes is supposed to have said, "Nepotism's OK as long as it's kept in the family." In that vein, NPR's "Steve Inskeep talks to [Scott] Simon, host of [NPR's] Weekend Edition Saturday, about his book, about growing up in Chicago and about the simultaneously selfless — and self-absorbed — enterprise of politics."

    On the last point, Simon approvingly quotes his principal character: "Of course, the system isn't fair. It favors the rich, and the beautiful, and the shameless. But everyone gets a chance in the end."

    That bit of praise sounds like a succinct statement the condemnation that statists use when calling for "regulation" of markets. Doesn't it occur to them that, given the levers available in both the market and the political system, the rich, the beautiful, and shameless are even more likely to prosper than if "regulation" were absent?

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 01:27 PM in Politics

    February 27, 2008
    Buckley, RIP

    William F. Buckley died today. This is a sad day for me. He was my first introduction to conservative/libertarian thought thanks to a friend's willingness to let me read his National Review magazine back in high school.* Already a budding anti-communist, Buckley opened my eyes to the importance of economic liberalism as part of the the American tradition. Buckley was a great uniter among libertarians and conservatives in the 1970s and 80s.

    Yes, I know Buckley was no Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist, and my own views have traveled far from those high school days. I didn't always agree with him then and found my views moving farther away from Buckley's over time. Still I will allow myself a moment to honor the man who helped me get where I am today.

    Sadly, Buckley's passing is symbolic also of the death of the libertarianism in the American conservative movement. I'm afraid there aren't too many conservatives left who would sail out to international waters to try some pot (or rather few who'd admit to it).

    *Reading The Freeman, at the instigation of a high school teacher, was my first intro to real libertarian thought.

    Addendum: I also read and enjoyed most of his spy novels. Not high literature by any standard, but good for the genre.

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 02:10 PM in Politics

    Socializing risk, ex post

    Holman Jenkins in today's Opinion Journal [link here, thanks to Richard Reinsch for the pointer]:

    Any debate about a housing bailout can be put aside -- the bailout is underway... No, the perverse effect won't be a replay of the '30s, or even Japan's decade of stagnation in the '90s, but the latter is your model, with a little inflation thrown in. The goal: avoid foreclosures and slow the fall of home prices to market-clearing levels.

    As for the "little inflation thrown in," SJSU's Barstool Economists have this:

    Warren Gibson queries:

    According to the BLS wizards at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cpi.nr0.htm the housing component has been rising at a annual rate of about 3%, though not quite that fast in the last couple months. Can anyone tell me why, with house prices declining, the housing component of CPI continues to rise? What am I missing here? I know they assume homeowners are renting to themselves, and maybe BLS isn't "marking to market" existing houses.

    Jeff Hummell replies:

    Not since 1982 has the CPI included house prices, nor is there any logical reason that it should. It is after all, a "consumer" price index, and the purchase of a house is primarily an investment. About 40 percent of the CPI comes from housing costs, which includes actual and imputed rents (30 percent), fuel and other utilities (5 percent), and household furnishings and operations (5 percent). Do you know any tenant who has seen a decrease in rents over the last year? I certainly don't. Rents are imputed for owner-occupied housing from the actual market rents of similar propertis, so you are right, they are not marked to the market value of the house, in either the CPI or the National Income and Product Accounts. Imputed rents should only noticeably fall with a decline in house prices if they noticeably rose (faster than other goods and services) with an increase in house prices.

    Back to Jenkins and the policy question:

    Making the hole even harder to climb out of in tough-love fashion, government policy itself played a big role in creating the bubble, on the bipartisan theory that homeownership begets "social stability."

    [...]

    So much for subsidizing our way to greater "social stability" by luring marginal borrowers into debt to own a home. The truth today is that politicians are rushing to prop up house prices not to rescue the poor from the ignominy of renting, but to get past the next election without affluent voters having to confront a realistic decline in the market value of their main assets.

    So that clears things up, huh?

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 09:42 AM in Politics

    February 25, 2008
    Patience c. 1908

    It is interesting to read about the prohibition movement and its success in the South during the mid nineteen-aughts. Of course, within a decade the rest of the country will jump on the prohibition wagon (as it were). An important lesson from that episode is the amazing amount of patience and persistence the prohibitionists displayed. Today, there are similar groups with patience and persistence and the empirical question is whether their policies would be any better than those of the past.

    The Feb. 25, 1908 NYT has the following information:

    Representative E. F. Acheson now proposes to give Congress an opportunity to put itself on record on the question of National Prohibition. Many of the members of Congress, including several from Pennsylvania, have declared that they are in favor of National prohibition, but are opposed to State and local option, as it cannot be enforced.

    Mr. Acheson introduced a resolution to-day for an amendment to the Federal Constitution providing that the sale, importation, and manufacture of intoxicating liquors, including beer, ale, wine, and of opium, cocaine, or other narcotic drugs, except for medicinal and mechanical purposes shall be prohibited in the United States and all the Territories.

    Whether Acheson was the first or not, such suggestions ultimately led to this:

    Amendment XVIII

    Passed by Congress December 18, 1917. Ratified January 16, 1919. Repealed by amendment 21.

    Section 1.

    After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

    Section 2.

    The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

    Section 3.

    This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.


    Thanks.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 11:01 AM in Politics

    Haven't I Heard This Somewhere Before?

    Recently, the Mrs. and I caught a snippet of Barack Obama calling for "a leader who can end the division in Washington." One of us asked the other didn't Bush run to be a uniter not a divider or some such pablum? Indeed he did (maybe Hillary should try to sniff out some plagiarism). Actually, I'm with Kevin "Gridlock is Good" Grier--bipartisanship is vastly overrated (think stimulus package).

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:20 AM in Politics

    February 18, 2008
    On inside jobs c. 1908

    The "9/11 Truthers" contend that the attacks of that day were an "inside job" designed to "lead the U.S. to war." The Feb. 18, 1908 NYT reports on the "Maine Truthers" (from Spain):

    The Diario Espanol, the organof the ultra-Spanish element, in a leading article to-day referring to the special celebration by Americans of the tenth anniversary of the blowing up of the battleship maine, says:

    "This commemorates the blackest blot on American history, the world, including honest Americans, believing that the ship was blown up by direct orders from the War Department for the purpose of justification in the plan to despoil Spain of Cuba."

    The paper adduces as "convincing proof" that the officers of the Maine attended the funeral of the victims in full dress uniform, which showed that they must have sent their uniforms ashore "in anticipation of the explosion," and alleges that the reason the wreck has not been raised is that it would conclusively demonstrate that the explosion was in the magazine.

    More here

    Posted by Craig Depken at 11:11 AM in Politics

    February 11, 2008
    On rebuilding after disaster c. 1908

    From the Feb. 11, 1908 NYT concerning the rebuilding of Chinatown after the April 1906 San Francisco earthquake:

    The rebuilt Chinatown of San Francisco contains substantial new buildings as picturesque as those destroyed by the fire and earthquake, but more convenient and sanitary...

    The Oriental aspect of the Chinese quarter is carefully preserved for good business reasons...

    Fully 15,000 Chinese have returned to San Francisco from Oakland and other places of refuge. they have not yet reestablished their temples, as they feared the gods would not be contented at the scene of the great disaster. But this year the cornerstones of new temples are to be laid, and many more Chinese will return, taking their gods with them.

    I am admittedly not well versed in the history of Chinatown(s) - my suspicion is that they are/were a form of segregation. However, what is striking is the rebuilding is ostensibly completed in less than two years and without a hint of government assistance mentioned in the story.

    One wants to make comparisons with another disaster area in this country, even if to do so is not completely honest.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 04:14 PM in Politics

    February 09, 2008
    On bridge tolls c. 1908

    For our friends in the Northeast (and elsewhere) who face dramatic increases in road and bridge tolls in the near future, a letter to the editor from the Feb. 9, 1908 NYT:

    Now that the Thaw trial is over, please turn your attention to a free Brooklyn Bridge topic and let me know why I should pay 10 cents [$2.26 in 2006 dollars] to drive across the [Brooklyn] bridge, who gets the money, and such other information as will explain why, after I have crossed the bridge, I can drive free over several hundred miles of paved, cleaned, and lighted thoroughfares, that cost many millions of dollars to build and cost ten times as much to maintain as both bridges?

    Posted by Craig Depken at 11:20 AM in Politics

    February 07, 2008
    Pre-election antics c. 1908

    An article in the Feb. 7, 1908 NYT puts our current primary antics in some perspective:

    ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - The wildest scenes of disorder characterized the proceedings of the Republican Convention here to-day, which elected two complete delegations to the National Convention, one in favor of Taft and the other uninstructed.

    For several weeks there had been a threatened departure from the expressed wishes of the Administration forces, who had been laying plans for the indorsement of the Administration and the sending to the National Convention of a delegation favoring Taft.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 11:49 AM in Politics

    February 06, 2008
    Political hot air c. 1908

    From the Jan. 6, 1908 NYT:

    The eagle which has perched upon the top of the historic mace at the right hand of the Speaker of the House of Representatives these sixty-seven years, since John Tyler was President, is sick.

    For all these years the eagle has withstood the onslaughts of eloquence. It sat there calmly through the thunders of war statesmen. The slavery question was debated in its presence, and after the war it heard Conkling, Blaine, Lamar, Sunset Cox, and a long line of orators, even down to the present time of John Wesley Gaines, all without a quiver. But this week has been too much for it.

    The spread-eagle speeches which have shaken the rafters not only of the Capitol, but of the country, have at last aroused the emulation of the silver eagle, and it decided to stretch its mighty pinions for a flight. But, alas! like so many other flights of the week, it fell flat.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:46 AM in Politics

    February 04, 2008
    "The poor souls"

    I received this note from an economist friend in Nairobi, Kenya whose home is close to one of the areas of the unrest:

    I am unable to sleep, I have called all the police numbers, called intelligence agents, newsrooms-nobody is rescuing the poor souls. I am watching from my window, impotent and enraged.

    For his safety, I will not reveal his name. He is now trying to move his family and staff to safer digs. Donations (501c3 deductible thanks to his American friends) are being accepted. Contact me directly for details if you're interested/able to help.

    [No, this is not a scam. I know the guy and this is real.]

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 06:42 PM in Politics

    Biofuels for fun and profits

    George Will on biofuels. The Riady story needs to be repeated as often as possible.

    The political importance of corn-growing, ethanol-making Iowa is one reason that biofuel mandates flow from Washington the way oil would flow from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if it had nominating caucuses.

    ANWR's 10.4 billion barrels of oil have become hostage to the planet's saviors (e.g., John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama), who block drilling in even a tiny patch of ANWR. You could fit Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Delaware into ANWR's frozen desolation; the "footprint" of the drilling operation would be one sixth the size of Washington's Dulles airport.

    Americans can still drill for … water. Water rights (T. Boone Pickens has bought 400,000 acres of them in the Texas Panhandle) are becoming more valuable as ethanol production, which is extremely water-intensive, puts pressure on supplies.

    To avoid drilling for oil in ANWR's moonscape, the planet savers evidently prefer destroying forests, even though they absorb greenhouse gases. ... The destruction of forests is one reason European governments are rethinking their biofuel enthusiasm. The European Union has awakened to the fact that growing crops (which requires diesel fuel for tractors, and nitrogen fertilizer made with natural gas) and turning them into biofuel (transporting them to energy-devouring manufacturing plants) takes a toll on the environment

    If the argument for ethanol is that domestically produced energy should be increased, there are better ways of doing that. On the outer continental shelf there is a 50-year supply of clean-burning natural gas . . . that the government . . . will not allow to be extracted. But, then, consider what was done in 1996 by the dominant half of today's Clinton tandem presidential candidacy.

    Bill Clinton, by executive edict, declared 1.7 million acres of Utah to be a national monument. Under those acres are the largest known deposit—more than 60 billion tons—of low-sulfur, clean-burning coal. The second largest deposit, the value of which rose because of Clinton's action locking up an alternative supply, is in Indonesia and is owned by a member of the Indonesian Riady family, of fragrant memory, which was generous to Clinton's 1992 campaign.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 10:42 AM in Politics

    Some pot in every chicken?

    Steve Chapman on Obama's stance(s) regarding marijuana:

    Recently, he had told a New Hampshire newspaper, "I'm not in favor of decriminalization."

    This episode reveals that as a candidate, Obama is more fond of bold rhetoric than bold policies. But it also proves the impossibility of talking sense on the subject of illicit drugs during a political campaign. That course of action would mean admitting the inadmissible: that the prohibition of cannabis has been cruel, wasteful and fraudulent.

    Cruel because it leads to the arrest of nearly 700,000 people a year for mere possession of a substance that is comparatively benign. Wasteful because it expends billions of dollars in police, court and correctional resources that could be deployed against dangerous predators. Fraudulent because it hasn't solved anything: According to the federal government, nearly 100 million Americans have tried the stuff.
    . . .
    Had we enforced our statutes more vigorously, of course, Bush, Clinton and the others would never have been elected anything, because they would be ex-convicts. Yet Bush, Clinton and the others were happy to put people behind bars for crimes they themselves committed.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 10:28 AM in Politics

    CCC at the state level c. 1908

    From the Feb. 4, 1908 NYT:

    With the unanimous consent in the [New York] Senate to-night, Senator McCall of the Sixteenth District introduced a bill authorizing the Park Board of New York to spend an additional sum of $1,500,000 for the development of parks and driveways.

    "Fourteen years ago," he said, "a law was enacted permitting this expenditure for the benefit of the unemployed. The need for such relief is greater now than it was fourteen years ago. It is estimated that 130,000 skilled mechanics and 15,000 men without trades, are without employment in New York today."

    Unmentioned is that such an expenditure "for the benefit of the unemployed" came at the expense of the employed (at least to some degree).

    Posted by Craig Depken at 09:49 AM in Politics

    January 31, 2008
    John McCain? Say it ain't so!

    I just took this reasonably (but not perfectly) crafted quiz that selects the presidential candidate closest to your views. It spit out John McCain! Not Ron Paul?! Huh?!

    It could the be quiz itself I guess. It had no questions on campaign finance and I LOATHE John McCain's views there. Plus I have a deep fear that McCain is a hot head, but that character issue wasn't on the quiz. Plus Paul's views (e.g., abortion is a state issue) don't lend themselves to the quiz format very well.

    But I can't deny the fact that except for Iraq and Immigration. issues on which I disagree with all of the Republicans (except for Paul on Iraq), I seem close to McCain.

    Here were the results:

    Agree with McCain:
    Taxes
    Stem-Cell Research
    Health Care
    Abortion
    Social Security
    Line-Item Veto
    Energy
    Marriage
    Death Penalty
    Gun Control
    Environment
    Education

    Disagree with McCain:
    Iraq
    Immigration

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:48 AM in Politics

    January 30, 2008
    Clinton vs. Prosperity

    From Reuters.

    Prophetic?

    Posted by Craig Depken at 09:23 PM in Politics

    January 23, 2008
    Spot On!

    Another excellent offering from Mike Lester of the Rome News-Tribune:
    LesterCampaignPromises.gif

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:21 PM in Politics

    On political dynasties c. 1908

    A fascinating editorial in the Jan. 23, 1908 NYT discusses how the Democratic party might want to get rid of a candidate that has been hanging around for too long:

    Why should [William Jennings] Bryan get out unless he is forced out? From the point of view of the Democrat, the patriot, the wise party leader, innumerable reasons may be advanced why he should abandon his pretensions to the candidacy; from the personal point of view of Mr. Bryan, not one. Mr. Bryan is a very successful man. In seeking a third nomination he is pursuing the path of success that has led him to fame and fortune. He is a rich man. He has said that he has money enough to make him comfortable the rest of his life. He has made his fortune by being the candidate, by refusing to relinquish his grasp upon the leadership of the Democratic Party. Because of the position he holds men buy his Commoner, and lecture committees pay him large fees. Mr. Bryan, in the language of the street, has a "good thing." He would be a fool to let go of it.
    Might this apply to a certain "third term" seeker today?

    Posted by Craig Depken at 02:01 PM in Politics

    January 15, 2008
    Context

    From John J. DiIulio Jr.'s analysis ("The Wacko-Vet Myth: Now echoed by the New York Times") of the Times's drive-by shooting ("Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles"):

    The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and other veterans' advocacy groups are absolutely correct that not merely "many" but the vast majority of veterans not only remain completely law-abiding but go on to lead stable and productive personal, professional, and civic lives. Assuming 121 homicide cases in relation to 749,932 total discharges through 2007, 99.98 percent of all discharged Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have not committed or been charged with homicide.

    And assuming 121 cases and 749,932 total discharges, the homicide offending rate for the discharged veterans would be 16.1 per 100,000. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has demographic data aplenty on homicide offending rates. For instance, in 2005, for white males aged 18-24, the rate was about 20 per 100,000. The Times opined that 121 was the "minimum" number, even as it counted veterans charged but not convicted with veterans tried and found guilty. Doubling the number to 242 would double the rate to 32.2 per 100,000.

    Such crude but contextualizing calculations aside, the right question to ask is whether the veterans, other things being equal (controlling for age, race, gender, education, income, prior criminal history, and other variables), offend at rates that are significantly different from otherwise comparable groups (including groups that have an extreme PTSD incidence). Without doing the relevant statistical (multiple-regression) analyses with all the requisite empirical data, it is impossible to say.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 05:29 PM in Politics

    If It's So Rotten, Why Are You Running for It?

    Hillary Clinton likens White House to prison

    Perhaps it has something to do with her soaring narcissism and lust for power.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:16 AM in Politics

    January 13, 2008
    Papers please! Papiere bitte! Papeles, por favor!

    Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says,

    Only three categories of people need be "disappointed" by the forthcoming identification cards, the Homeland Security chief told attendees at a midday press conference here: terrorists, illegal immigrants, and con-men.

    I'm not a terrorist, illegal immigrant or con man, but I'm not happy about this. So make that four categories, you nazi wannabe.

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 06:37 PM in Politics

    January 08, 2008
    Bryan's cross c. 1908

    From the Jan. 8, 1908 NYT:

    "I know that some people are giving much thought to the money question, but that is not worrying me much. The people of this country have made it possible for me to acquire an independent income for all time to come, so I have no worry on that score."

    This remark was made by William Jennings Bryan toward the close of his address here [Omaha, Neb.] last night before the Jacksonian Club. This is Mr. Bryan's first statement as to the extent of his own finances.

    Here's WJB's famous "Cross of Gold" speech.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:36 AM in Politics

    January 01, 2008
    Stormy Weather

    Wherein John Tierney represents Al Gore as an "availability entrepreneur." Seems like a charitable term.

    [A]vailability entrepreneurs: the activists, journalists and publicity-savvy scientists who selectively monitor the globe looking for newsworthy evidence of a new form of sinfulness, burning fossil fuels.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 07:06 PM in Politics

    December 23, 2007
    Legislative restraint c. 1907

    The Dec. 23, 1907 NYT reports on legislative restraint on the part of Confederate veterans:

    BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - United Confederate Veterans, of this city, yesterday by unanimous vote went on record in opposition to the bill introduced by Congressman Hobson providing for pensioning Confederate veterans. The resolution concludes:

    "While we appreciate the good intentions of the distinguished gentleman, we feel assured no such bill could ever become a law. The offering of such a bill in Congress would result in the reopening of wounds long since healed, and engendering bitterness long since abandoned."

    It would be refreshing if some today would show similar restraint.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 04:11 PM in Politics

    December 22, 2007
    Emissions Comparison

    From a Competitive Enterprise Institute posting: "It seems the [Washington] Post believes that if an emission drops and no bureaucrat was around to mandate it, it didn't really drop. ... Under any relevant modern baseline, e.g., the year Europe made its Kyoto promise (1997) or thereafter, U.S. emissions have risen far more slowly than those of its noisiest antagonists. For example, International Energy Agency data show that over the past 7 years (2000-2006), the annual rate of increase for U.S. CO2 emissions is approximately one-third of the EU's rate of increase. Indeed, over the same period even the smaller EU-15 economy has increased its CO2 emissions in actual volume greater than the U.S. by more than 20%, even while the U.S. economy and population also grew more rapidly."

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 11:36 AM in Politics

    December 13, 2007
    On government corruption c. 1907

    From the December 13, 1907 NYT:

    CHICAGO - Far-reaching effects of the great snowstorm of January, 1905, were uncovered last night by the City Civil Service Commission. The phenomenon discovered was that 1,100 street laborers still are employed by the city for the removal of that remarkable snowfall. Notwithstanding the scientific interest developed, the commission unanimously decided that from reasons of economy, a new rule be enacting limiting to five days the period for which emergency street cleaning laborers may be employed in Chicago.

    According to the records, these 1,100 emergency laborers were kept pegging away at the removal of that snow all through the campaign for the election of Mayor Edward F. Dunne and all through his administration. Curiously enough, the number of men required for the removal of snow rose to 1,500 in July.

    Excellent.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 11:17 AM in Politics

    December 10, 2007
    Pearls of Wisdom ...

    ... from co-blogger Brad Smith:

    Next year, more candidates than ever will have the funds needed to get their messages to voters. That's because 2008 is shaping up to be the best-financed campaign in history.

    But some people aren't celebrating this diversity of messages. Supporters of campaign finance and speech regulation, in the name of "reform," want to expand government subsidized campaigns. Behind the rhetoric of "clean" elections is a system that suppresses political speech by ordinary citizens, decreases confidence in government and produces none of what it promises.

    The last major campaign finance law, known as McCain-Feingold, required the independent audit and investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office, to study government financing systems in Maine and Arizona, states that proponents cited as exemplary of the alleged benefits of government financing. ...

    Tax funding of campaigns is supposed to reduce special-interest influence. But since Maine's program began, the number of lobbyists in the state has increased dramatically. ...

    Tax financing of campaigns takes your money and gives it to someone else so that person can run against the things in which you believe. Such a welfare system for politicians will not cure our system. Real reform will occur only after citizens are freed of government restraints on their political speech. Call it "the First Amendment solution."

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 01:53 PM in Politics

    December 08, 2007
    From Today's Inbox: Academics for Paul
    Dear Professor,

    Dr. David Beito of the University of Alabama and I have been working on a project to collect endorsements for Ron Paul from those in academia. Our Web site is http://www.academicsforpaul.com/ . So far we have quite a few signatories, and I am wondering if you would be interested in signing on as well. To learn more about Congressman Paul, visit www.RonPaul2008.com. Also, a press release was sent out by the official campaign touting the endorsements of these Professors: http://www.ronpaul2008.com/press-releases/.

    Please let me know if you would like to endorse Ron Paul for President. Also, if you know of another Professor who may be interested, please forward this message to them. Thanks for your consideration.


    Sincerely,

    Aaron Biterman (AULibertarians@aol.com)


    Posted by Robert Lawson at 05:43 PM in Politics

    December 06, 2007
    Domestic use of the Army c. 1907

    From the Dec. 6, 1907 NYT:

    WASHINGTON - President Roosevelt to-night instructed Gen. Funston to dispatch a sufficient force of regulars to Goldfield, Nev., to control the situation there. This action was taken upon receipt of a telegraphic request from the Governor of Nevada. The troops will proceed from San Francisco and the strength of the expedition is left to the judgement of Gen. Funson.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:54 AM in Politics

    The Politics of Truth

    Why do politicians lie?

    The traditional public choice answer is "because they can." Once in office incumbents enjoy an electoral advantage because rational ignorance creates some slack between voter-principals and politician-agents. Politicians with enough reputational capital can afford to indulge in prevaricating rhetoric, wealth transfers to special interests, and perhaps even the occasional tryst, because democratic institutions are inefficient. Incentives matter, dammit!

    The new generation of public choice invokes systematic biases in the beliefs of voter-principals deviating from political truth, as revealed by scientific method. For all the much deserved attention to Bryan Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter, the lesser-known yet equally forceful book, Rational Choice and Democratic Deliberation, by political theorists Guido Pincione and Fernando Teson, is well-suited to explaining systematic lies in politics and the democratic failure that results. One voter bias, due to epistemic rational ignorance, is a preference for vivid information over opaque explanations. Vivid information is

    "a) emotionally interesting, b) concrete and imagery-provoking, and c) proximate in a sensory, temporal, or spatial way." For example, we will feel more indignant about a heinous crime if we watch the gory details on the evening news. If the newscaster also tells us that the suspect was out of prison on a "technicality," we will overstate the relevance of the crime as confirmatory evidence for the theory that heinous crimes are due to the leniency of the justice system. [Pincione and Teson, p.23, omitting footnotes]
    In contrast, we spurn opaque explanations like invisible hand, spontaneous order, comparative advantage, reputational self-regulation, and broken window fallacies. People adopt vivid beliefs by default and confirmatory biases put a premium on vivid information that reinforces the default. So false stories can become ingrained, and [p]oliticians have an incentive to spread vivid explanations, for the public will believe them given their default views" (p.35).

    Take Al Gore, who is flying to Stockholm (a shocking carbon waste!) to receive his piece of Nobel history on Monday. Yesterday's WSJ.com Opinion Journal has Holman Jenkins on "The Science of Gore's Nobel", which was "awarded for promoting belief in manmade global warming as a crisis." Jenkins invokes the same cognitive psychology that supports political failure arguments of Caplan, Pincione & Teson, and others like Tyler Cowen on voter self-deception. Voter bias finds root in anchoring effects like cognitive-cost-minimizing people choosing to adopt views that are the most available or accessible. Jenkins:

    [Kahneman and Tversky's] insight has been fruitful and multiplied: "Availability cascade" has been coined for the way a proposition can become irresistible simply by the media repeating it; "informational cascades" for the tendency to replace our beliefs with the crowd's beliefs; and "reputational cascade" for the rational incentive to do so.

    Mr. Gore clearly understands the game he's playing, judging by his resort to such nondispositive arguments as: "The people who dispute the international consensus on global warming are in the same category now with the people who think the moon landing was staged in a movie lot in Arizona."

    Here's exactly the problem that availability cascades pose: What if the heads being counted to certify an alleged "consensus" arrived at their positions by counting heads?

    Falsely claiming consensus behind one's views is a form of political deception, which as Pincione and Teson point out, commits the argumentum ad populum fallacy. Logic be damned. Rather, "citing agreement of others is, in short, a particularly vivid (and often fallacious) way to argue in politics." (p.43)

    What this all amounts to is a refinement of government failure theory. Throw cognitive biases together in large numbers and systemic failures pop out. Pincione and Teson:

    Discourse failure as a social phenomenon results...from the mutually reinforcing interaction of rational ignorance and posturing against the background of redistributive politics. Political actors who stand to gain from spreading certain kinds of information will be helped by citizens who are willing to do their share, as it were, in the acquisition of confirmatory evidence of the default vivid beliefs. In other words, the cost of supplying convenient information is reduced by ingrained cognitive errors, and correspondingly, those who want to change public opinion in the direction of opaque theories will face higher costs. Not only will they have to argue against vivid views that the public holds by default; they will also have to counter the psychological biases just discussed. (p.44)
    Politicians lie because they can, yes, but also "because they have to!" Incentives yada yada. Perceptions matter too, dammit!

    Hat tips to:
    Nico Maloberti for showing me the Pincione and Teson book;
    Richard Reinsch for pointer to the Jenkins WSJ.com article.

    Here is Jenkins on the science of global warming: "Let's be honets, all we have is a hypothesis."
    Here is my previous entry on the challenges of Liberal persuasion.

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 10:46 AM in Politics  ·  Comments (0)

    November 21, 2007
    Energy Independence

    Steve Chapman on the beguiling notion of energy independence:

    [A]lready I can guarantee two things. First, the next president will be elected on a promise to lead the nation to energy independence. Second, the promise won't be kept.

    It's enchanting to imagine swearing off foreign oil in favor of ethanol . . ., or fuels derived from . . . coal. But even if all the corn grown in this country went toward ethanol, it would cut our gasoline consumption by no more than 12 percent. So why does ethanol get treated like the prettiest girl at the prom? . . . I've got two words for you: Iowa caucuses.

    As for coal, schemes to turn it into liquid fuel for cars and planes have been around for half a century — including a dismal failure launched during Jimmy Carter's administration.

    It would be good to reduce our consumption of oil, if only because it would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. But replacing oil with alternatives that also pollute misses the point. And as ethanol demonstrates, a drive for energy independence is likely to veer off into wasteful handouts to powerful interests

    A better approach would be a carbon tax, which would simultaneously promote conservation, curb emissions and impartially boost environment-friendly alternatives. But a carbon tax would be a tough sell to the American public.

    And why bother? Energy independence is a mirage, but it sells itself..


    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 07:37 PM in Politics

    On Social Security: Krugman vs. Krugman

    Ruth Marcus takes on Paul Krugman:

    In liberal Democratic circles, the debate over Social Security has taken a dangerous "don't worry, be happy" turn.

    The argument has two equally dishonest components. The first is to deny that Social Security faces a daunting financing problem .... The second is to mischaracterize the arguments of those who advocate responsible action, accusing them of hyping the system's woes.

    One prominent practitioner of this misguided approach is New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. "Inside the Beltway, doomsaying about Social Security -- declaring that the program as we know it can't survive the onslaught of retiring baby boomers -- is regarded as a sort of badge of seriousness, a way of showing how statesmanlike and tough-minded you are," Krugman wrote last week. "In fact, the whole Beltway obsession with the fiscal burden of an aging population is misguided."

    Somebody should introduce Paul Krugman to . . . Paul Krugman.

    "[A] decade from now the population served by those programs [Social Security and Medicare] will explode. . . . Because of those facts, merely balancing the federal budget would be a deeply irresponsible policy -- because that would leave us unprepared for the demographic deluge, with no alternative once it arrives except to raise taxes and slash benefits." (July 11, 2001)

    And so forth.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 03:19 PM in Politics

    November 14, 2007
    "In God We Trust" and TR c. 1907

    Imagine something like this, from the Nov. 14, 1907 NYT, being written today:

    In answer to one of the numerous protests which have been received at the White House against the new gold coin which have been coined without the words "In God We Trust," President Roosevelt has written a letter:

    "When the question of the new coinage came up we looked into the law and found there was no warrant therein for putting "In God We Trust" on the coins. As the custom, although without legal warrant, had grown up, however, I might have felt at liberty to keep the inscription had I approved of its being on the coinage. But as I did not approve of it I did not direct that it should again be put on...

    My own feeling in the matter is due to my very firm conviction that to put such a motto on coins, or to use it in any kindred manner, not only does no good, but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege.


    Needless to say, TR's stance was not popular. For example, a "red-hot debate" took place in the Episcopal Diocesan Convention.:
    yesterday, by a vote of 131 to 81, passed resolutions protesting against the elimination of the motto "In God We Trust" from the new ten-dollar gold pieces. The debate on the question lasted an hour and a half, and for a part of that time the convention was in some disorder.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 12:16 PM in Politics

    November 13, 2007
    Taxing the rich

    Closing lines of an interesting column by Jonah Goldberg:

    I don't know what the best tax rates are, for rich or poor.

    But I'm pretty sure that it's unhealthy for a democracy when the majority of citizens don't see government as a service they're reluctantly paying for but as an extortionist that cuts them in for a share of the loot.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 05:22 PM in Politics

    November 07, 2007
    Happy Bolshevik Day!

    90 years ago today saw the Bolshevik Revolution, and NPR dedicated some on-air time this morning to the event. Surprisingly, the first paragraph admits that "The communist revolution ushered in a totalitarian dictatorship that killed and imprisoned tens of millions of people." Since capitalism's demise is supposedly inevitable but has yet to happen, the price tag for the socialist paradise must be in the hundreds of millions then.

    The story interviews a Russian born in 1917 who had both his parents killed by the workers' regime, fought for Russia in WWII, was captured and imprisoned by Nazis, and survived only to return home and be imprisoned 10 years by Russians who thought he was a German spy.

    So, though the 90 year old who lived through the era recognizes the horrors of Bolshevism, those who didn't live through it do not:

    Syleia Daripova, 34, says she believes Stalin was a great man.
    "Not every person can accumulate power in his hands like that," Daripova says. People say he murdered half of Russia … but, still, he was a unique personality. There are very few like him in history."

    Imagine how much more unique he would have been if he killed three-fourths!

    Posted by Tim Shaughnessy at 11:39 AM in Politics

    October 31, 2007
    Hillary Care

    Notes on socialized medicine:

    Michael Moore's SiCKO is opening in Britain this week, but the British are not amused. Anyone can extol the virtues of universal government-furnished health care, they say, when they have never had to use it.

    Peter Huber in "Cherry Garcia and the End of Socialized Medicine" in City Journal. The new age of "molecular medicine," of designer drugs for specific genetic defects, is going to break up the current system of government universal health care that Michael Moore so loves.

    But Michael Moore and his slacker-liberal army would fight to the last mockumentary to stop that. They have a right to free and unlimited health care and they know it.

    You might wonder why they make such a fuss. After all, Huber writes,"Three-dollar statins in New York in 1996 get 30-cent statins to London in 2006 and three-cent statins to Kuala Lumpur a few years later."

    But that's not good enough for our progressive friends. They want three-cent statins now. Anything less is a triumph of greed over human need.

    That's why it would be prudent not to place any bets on the end of socialized medicine any time soon.

    Instead, we should expect it to lurch from one disaster to the next.

    It's encouraging to think that Hillary Clinton is uniquely qualified, by education, temperament, experience, and plain dumb luck to be the US leader fated to test universal health insurance to destruction.

    After she and her wrecking crew have finished then we can start to build a health care system that really works.

    Meanwhile there is always medical tourism.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 02:53 PM in Politics

    October 24, 2007
    Worst Chart of the Day

    Bushies might claim that much of the spending growth is for military purposes, but take a look at Reagan who also spent much on strengthening the military. Source here.

    BushBigSpender.jpg

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:18 AM in Politics

    October 17, 2007
    Wisdom from George Will
    John Edwards, too, has puzzling ideas. For the entertainment of Iowans, he has reinvented himself as a 19th-century Kansan -- Mary Elizabeth Lease, the prairie populist who urged farmers to "raise less corn and more Hell." In August, Edwards urged an Iowa audience to throw off Washington's yoke: "We need to take the power out of the hands of these insiders that are rigging the system against you."

    To measure how much Iowans are suffering from the rigging, Stephen Slivinski of the libertarian Cato Institute was asked to mine the most recent Census Bureau data. He concluded that Iowans paid $15.6 billion in revenues to the federal government and got $19.4 billion back, a gain of $1,286.53 per Iowan.

    But that is not all. Washington has rigged the system to inundate corn-growing Iowa with subsidies for corn-based ethanol. Slivinski says it is difficult to pin down the Iowa corn farmers' harvest of dollars because the subsidies come from exemptions from excise taxes and tariffs (54 cents per imported gallon) that stifle competition from cheap ethanol imports. It is, however, reasonable to add $2 billion to Iowa's gain from Washington's rigging of the system, so the average Iowan's gain is at least $1,963.65.

    Suppose Iowa did not have crucial presidential nominating caucuses. Or suppose it had them but that its crucial crop were, say, broccoli rather than corn. Would the federal government still be, well, rigging the system to create a phony "market" to satisfy a specious "demand" for mandatory and subsidized ethanol? No, but it probably would be mandating broccoli at every meal.

    Many politicians pander, as Edwards does with gusto, to Americans' current penchant for self-pity. Hence the incessant talk about "the forgotten middle class." Because such talk is incessant, it of course refutes itself.

    Article here.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:16 PM in Politics

    October 12, 2007
    Public Schools and Others

    This report from Yahoo News by Nancy Zuckerbrod, AP Education Writer, is fairly typical:

    WASHINGTON - Low-income students who attend urban public high schools generally do just as well as private-school students with similar backgrounds, according to a study being released Wednesday.

    Students at independent private schools and most parochial schools scored the same on 12th-grade achievement tests in core academic subjects as those in traditional public high schools when income and other family characteristics were taken into account, according to the study by the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy.

    Of course, this is not what the report from the "nonpartisan" CEP says. The actual report is based on a set of regression equations in which 8th grade tests are the major predictors of 12th grade test results. Thus, at most the report tells something about how much the students gain between the 8th and 12th grades. Even this is problematic, as the body of the study concedes (p. 19): "Just as it is possible in the NAEP research that private schools attract higher achieving students to begin with, it is possible in this study that private schools promote greater
    parental involvement."

    No F scores are provided for non-comprehensive public schools as a group, and none are provided for parental characteristics as a group. For some of the school types, the number of observations appears to be quite small (Report, p. 26: "No type had fewer than 25 NELS survey participants for this analysis.")

    Back to the AP story:

    [T]he new study not only compared students by income levels but also looked at a range of other family characteristics, such as whether a parent participates in school life. "When these were taken into account, the private-school advantage went away," the report states. The study looked at 1,000 low-income students from cities who are part of a nationally representative sample of kids surveyed over a period of years, along with parents and teachers, as part of a federal research effort.

    In fact, the estimated impacts of these family characteristics as measured by beta coefficients is quite small and not always with the "right" sign. And the sample used in this study is anything but "nationally representative" as the report (p.26) says: "This subset amounted to 1,003 students. By focusing on this subset, the study limited private school comparisons to those affecting inner-city populations...."

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 09:52 AM in Politics

    October 11, 2007
    Do as we say

    From Cooler Heads Digest, 10/10/07:

    Hypocrite of the Week

    Connie Heidegaard, Denmark’s Environment Minister, last week claimed to be an increasingly impatient emissary on behalf of “the planet”, demanding that the U.S. make the same promise as Europe to reduce its greenhouse gas (principally CO2) emissions.

    That same week, Denmark released figures showing that it increased its 2006 CO2 emissions by 16.1% over 2005 levels, citing their growing economy (which relies on coal-fired power, it seems).

    U.S. emissions, however, dropped 1.3% over the same time, while the economy grew by 3.3%.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 01:50 PM in Politics

    October 10, 2007
    Fuzzy Math?

    From John Leo's column on the political leanings of professors:

    Although business school professors are believed to be predominantly conservative, professors of business voted 2-1 for Kerry. These professors were barely more conservative than liberal.

    I don't how one can describe a group that voted 2-1 for Kerry as being more conservative than liberal.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:14 PM in Politics

    October 05, 2007
    On centralization c. 1907

    From a letter to the editor of the October 5, 1907 NYT:

    While Mr. Roosevelt is interested in the later days of the Roman Empire, could you not call his attention to the fact that one chief reason of its disintegration and its easy final "fall" was the gradual weakening of local governments and the centralizing of these old local powers in the capital city? When the centre became weak there was no strength left elsewhere.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 12:48 PM in Politics

    On (not) stopping global warming

    Steven Milloy reports that the Low Carbon Economy Act of 2007 "would cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion in its first 10 years and untold trillions of dollars in subsequent decades." Further, "This week, the EPA sent its analysis of the bill’s impact on climate to Bingaman and Specter. Now we can see what we’d get for our money, and we may as well just build a giant bonfire with the cash and enjoy toasting marshmallows over it." [Milloy does not examine the global-warming implications of the bonfire.]

    Using IPCC formulas, Milloy estimates the implications of the EPA's estimates for the earth's temperature. (The EPA does't make these computations. Milloy suspects that's because the results would be embarrassing to the Act's authors.) Milloy's estimates:

    Under the no-action scenario (718-to-695 ppm), the IPCC formulas indicate that the multitrillion-dollar Bingaman-Specter bill might reduce average global temperature by 0.13 degrees Celsius. Under the maximum regulation scenario (514-to-491 ppm), Bingaman-Specter might reduce average global temperature by 0.18 degrees Celsius.

    Foreign Affairs carries the article, "Why Climate Change Can't Be Stopped," that suggests the approach with highest payoff: "Dollar for dollar, the most efficient way to cut global greenhouse gas emissions would be, in theory, to invest hundreds of billions of dollars to improve China’s energy efficiency. But Congress would never support such an approach." That last sentence might be the understatement of the century.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 11:37 AM in Politics

    October 03, 2007
    TR vs. GWB c. 1907

    This headline from the Oct. 3, 1907 NYT, describing a speech President Teddy Roosevelt gave in St. Louis, could easily describe the current political environment:

    USE VAST FEDERAL POWER - ROOSEVELT

    Constitution Must Be Interpreted to Fit the Modern Day Conditions

    BATTLESHIPS TO RETURN

    Tells St. Louisians Nation's Duty is to Restore the Mississippi River to Its Proper Place in Commerce

    The entirety of the speech is printed in the paper, with the following section headings:

  • "Great Lakes a Prime Example" - for a national waterway policy
  • "Nation's Share of Levee Building" - levees are the federal government's responsibility.
  • "Advantage of the Panama Canal" - indirectly connects the Great Lakes with the Pacific
  • "Urges Great Fighting Navy"
  • "Control of Corporations"
  • "Growth of National Powers" - a more populous nation requires more centralized government powers.
  • "Control our Inter-state commerce"

    Nice.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 11:57 AM in Politics

    September 30, 2007
    On Republicans c. 1907

    I have mentioned this in some earlier post, but the Democrat candidate for the 1908 election was chosen in 1906 - there were no primaries or anything like that. This is just to put the current marathon, multi-year Presidential race in some perspective.

    The Sept. 30, 1907 NYT has a letter to the editor concerning the 1908 election which ends with the following paragraph:

    The object for which the Republican Party was organized was accomplished forty-two years ago, and there is no further reason under the sun for its continued existence. In fact, the party has degenerated into a system of commercial despotism which acts through party legislation as if we were at commercial war with the world, and taxes the people on a war basis so increasingly oppressive that it is becoming a problem for the average citizen now live decently.

    PRO BONO PUBLICO

    I submit that the spirit of this paragraph pertains to both major parties in the U.S. today.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 07:55 PM in Politics

    September 27, 2007
    On fairness c. 1907

    From the September 27, 1907 NYT:

    North Dakota will be the name of Battleship No. 23, one of the new 20,000-ton vessels, contracts for which were recently awarded by the Navy Department. The other vessel will be called the Deleware.

    President Roosevelt has decided that as so many vessels bear the names of New York cities it would be unfair to carry out the original plan of naming No. 23 the New York and of changing the cruiser of that name to the Saratoga. Utah now is the only one of the States after which no war vessel has been named.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 11:17 AM in Politics

    September 24, 2007
    Taxation for thee but not for me c. 1907

    From the Sept. 24, 1907 NYT:

    It is known that the members of the French Chamber of Deputies last year voted themselves an additional salary of 6,000 francs. It is not so well known that this action was resented by the Socialists...By some means it came to be understood that a "divvy" was the duty of the Socialist Deputy. If he handed over half of the "unearned increment" to the Socialist Treasury he might keep the other half.
    So far, so good. However, it is interesting that the socialists didn't take all of the pay raise.

    But it gets better:

    Thirty-two Socialist Deputies have accordingly submitted to this Socialist tax. But ten have made only a partial surrender of the moiety, pleading, possibly the same "increase in the cost of living" which was pleaded in behalf of the increase of pay. Eight have omitted to divided with the party to any extent whatever, being apparently of the opinion that 3,000 francs would compensate them for any odium they might incur by keeping it for themselves...
    Such an excellent and subtle economic argument offered in a similar story today would be surprising.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 12:30 PM in Politics

    September 22, 2007
    HillaryCare Catch-22

    From the WSJ's "Best of the Web Today":

    The Associated Press reports on a Hillary Clinton health-care speech:

    "It is long past time that Americans and the richest of all countries realize that health care is a right and not a privilege," Clinton said at a labor forum in Chicago. "And that goes especially for people who work hard every single day."

    First she claims that "health care is a right and not a privilege," but then she qualifies this statement by saying "that goes especially for people who work hard every single day." The implication of the latter statement is that the right to health care is contingent on working hard "every single day."

    But just the other day, the New York Post quoted Mrs. Clinton as drawing a different link between work and medicine:

    The former first lady said she could envision a day when "you have to show proof to your employer that you're insured as a part of the job interview--like when your kid goes to school and has to show proof of vaccination.

    "At this point, we don't have anything punitive that we have proposed," she said.

    Well, that's reassuring. In Hillary Clinton's America, it seems, health insurance will be like experience: You can't get a job without it, and you can't get it without a job.


    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 03:33 PM in Politics

    Irony

    GA political columnist Bill Shipp writes in today's RNT (no link) that "Georgia's congressmen don't bring home bacon." Shipp writes that Rep. Jack Kingston (his district is southeastern GA along the coast) owes "Georgians a big fat apology" and calls the $83 million in federal funds that Kingston has obtained for local projects "peanuts." It's rather ironic then that Kingston is Georgia's most pork happy Republican congressman.

    Even more ironic--the page opposite of Shipp's column contains a photo of our congressman posing with the results of a local project for which he obtained federal funding.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 03:17 PM in Politics

    September 21, 2007
    Polar Opposites

    Best of the Web points to an NYT article, "Scientists Report Severe Retreat of Arctic Ice." The article runs 459 words. The first 441 words expand on the title. Here are the last 18 words: "Sea ice around Antarctica has seen unusual winter expansions recently, and this week is near a record high."

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 08:41 PM in Politics

    Capitalist anarchists? c. 1907

    From the Sept. 21, 1907 NYT:

    PITTSBURG - Intense excitement was caused here this afternoon when an Anarchistic notice was found posted on the high board fence which surrounds the old cathedral property, for which H. C. Frick paid $1,300,000...

    The notice was written on a typewritter, and was perfect as to spelling and punctuation. It was as follows:

    ANARCHIST'S NOTICE

    Murder the Rich and Burn their Homes.

    Too long have the working people of this city been trampled by the rich. How easy it is for them to enjoy themselves, when they grind out the lives of the poor to add to their riches! How easy it is for them to enjoy themselves by sacrificing men's lives! Join with us and redress your wrongs. We have suffered too long.

    We want agents to murder the rich and burn their homes. Wages, $10 a day. If you are the right kind of a man, go to the corner of Wood Street and Fifth Avenue, and a man will give you the proper sign.

    EH.net suggests that nominal GDP per capita was about $390 per year, or approximately $2 per day. Now, if the redressing of wrongs provides a "good," the "right man" should be willing to pay for the privelege. Having to pay five times the average day's wage (and 8 times what Rockefeller paid his summer help), suggests that the recruitment of anarchists, and especially those who would be willing to commit murder and arson, was not easy.

    The police at first think the posting is a joke but then:

    they noticed several suspicious persons at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Wood Street, [and] they arrested them.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 03:59 PM in Politics

    For the Children

    An interesting historical note from a reader at the Mises blog site:

    As early as 1871 the Liberals in my home town of Kettering, England, had (as Herbert Spencer in near by Darby would have been aware) already given up supporting liberty.

    They campaigned for a School Board (which they were able to do under the Act of Parliament passed by the Liberal party government the previous year) to force people to pay for schools they wished to build and control.

    The Liberals did this not because there were no schools in Kettering, but because most of them were Church of England "National" schools and they disliked the Anglican Church.

    There was nothing to stop the Liberals building more "Nonconformist" (i.e. hard line Protestant) "British" schools, and most of the rich manufacturers in the town were Liberal "nonconformists" (so they could have educated the children of the poor in schools that avoided the "wicked" teachings of the Church of England had they chosen to spend their own money) - but they choose to opt for force (i.e. to reject liberty).

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 01:26 PM in Politics

    September 19, 2007
    On campaign financing c. 1907

    From a Sept. 28, 1907 NYT editorial describing a speech by Judge Parker at Jamestown:

    In the struggle for mastery in both State and Nation money has been sought as well for illegitimate uses as legitimate uses. As the corruption of the electorate has widened and deepened the demand for money has increased, a demand which long ago outgrew any sum that could be raised by patriotic contributors. So corporations having favors to ask were invited to contribute, and they did so, knowing full well that when legislation was needed or undesirable legislation was threatened the head of the organization could be relied upon for assistance; that his statement that this corporation contributed ten or one hundred thousand dollars to the campaign fund would lock or unlock the door to legislative or administrative action.
    On the other hand, the "head of the organization" could simply claim that they did not know the individual or corporation who had contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars, could insist that they would not be swayed by contributions, and could "swear off" political action committee dollars.

    As I have mentioned before, our problems aren't necessarily new, they are just "ours."

    Posted by Craig Depken at 12:48 PM in Politics

    September 14, 2007
    " ... the strangest product launch since that of New Coke in 1985"

    So says George Will about the launch of Fred Thompson's campaign for president. Will is especially scathing about Thompson's role in McCain-Feingold; a snippet:

    In 1997, Thompson chaired a Senate committee investigating 1996 election spending. In its final report, issued in 1998, Thompson's committee recommended a statutory "restriction on issue advocacy" during "a set period prior to an election" when the speech includes "any use of a candidate's name or image." And in 1999, Thompson co-sponsored legislation containing what became, in 2002, the McCain-Feingold blackout periods imposed on any television or radio ad that "refers to" a candidate for federal office -- a portion of which the Supreme Court in June declared unconstitutional.

    Thompson, contrary to his current memories, was deeply involved in expanding government restrictions on political speech generally and the ban on issue ads specifically. Yet he told Ingraham "I voted for all of it," meaning McCain-Feingold, but said "I don't support that" provision of it.

    Oh? Why, then, did he file his own brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold McCain-Feingold, stressing Congress' especially "compelling interest" in squelching issue ads that "influence" elections?

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:45 PM in Politics

    September 10, 2007
    Higgs on 9/11

    On this sad anniversary, Bob Higgs pulls few punches reminding us of the many ways in which the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 have been used to feed Leviathan. Exerpt:

    In the United States, everything memorable becomes an article of commerce in some fashion, and 9/11 is no exception. Many of these commercial offerings are maudlin or otherwise in bad taste, to be sure, but in this country no one is shocked when sellers market tasteless products successfully, and anyone who does not fancy the goods may simply decline to consume them. Indeed, one suspects that by this time, the demand for 9/11 media extravaganzas may be wearing rather thin even among those of mawkish sensibilities.

    Far more troubling and much more dangerous, however, is the state’s exploitation of 9/11. During the past six years, 9/11 has often served as an all-purpose instrument in the state’s propaganda kit. For the Bush administration, it has provided the answer to every critical question about foreign and defense policies, among other things. If we challenge the wisdom, legality, or morality of the U.S. invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, the government’s spokesmen and supporters throw 9/11 in our face. If we criticize the enormous run-up in spending for military purposes and for “homeland security,” much of it obvious political pork that contributes nothing to the public’s safety, the response to our criticism is that the people dare not risk another 9/11. If we express doubts about the wildly ambitious and morally presumptuous U.S. foreign policy of global hegemony, which, in its present swollen form, followed closely on the heels of George W. Bush’s embrace of a humble foreign policy with no nation building during the 2000 presidential campaign (“I don’t want to be the world’s policeman”), we are told that 9/11 changed everything. If we object to the government’s multifaceted assault on our civil liberties, the president stridently declares that everything being done is necessary to prevent another 9/11. If we wave our copy of the Constitution and express doubts about the president’s claim of overriding power as a “unitary executive,” the government’s lawyers assert that since 9/11 the nation has been “at war,” and hence the president’s constitutional power as commander-in-chief trumps everything else.

    Comparisons between 9/11/2001 and 12/07/1941 follow. Full editorial here.

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 09:18 PM in Politics

    August 31, 2007
    Do as I Say, Not as I Do

    Jon Ham of The Locker Room points to this photo of John--people should sacrifice their SUVs--Edwards's house. There are lots of SUVs in the driveway. Maybe they all belong to guests ...

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 04:20 PM in Politics

    August 30, 2007
    Funding for Big Apples

    I'm back from getting married, a honeymoon, and starting a new semester, so I'll try to get to my usual blog rate of one post whenever I get an idea.

    National Review's blog links to a map of Manhattanites who receive, yes, agriculture subsidies. For some reason the map isn't visible anymore, but just the fact that a map exists that shows NYC dwellers who receive more than $250,000 in farm subsidies is troubling. Granted, I've only been to Gotham once about a decade ago for a FEE conference, and it seemed pretty built up then. Maybe there is more green space now. For a quarter million a pop, those guys better be growing some big apples.

    HT: Fark

    Posted by Tim Shaughnessy at 01:26 PM in Politics

    August 28, 2007
    Fat State, Red State; Thin State, Blue State

    The Trust for America's Health has released data on obesity rates by state. The fattest state, as measured by the percentage of obese residents, is Mississippi, at 30.6% (giving them the dubious distinction of being the first state ever to break the 30% rate in the survey). The thinnest? Colorado at 17.6%

    Let's look at the states by how they voted in the last presidential election, from fattest to thinest:
    1. Mississippi - Bush
    2. West Virginia - Bush
    3. Alabama - Bush
    4. Louisiana - Bush
    5. South Carolina - Bush
    5. Tennessee - Bush
    7. Kentucky - Bush
    8. Arkansas - Bush
    9. Indiana - Bush
    9. Oklahoma - Bush
    9. Michigan - Kerry
    12. Missouri - Bush
    12. Texas - Bush
    14. Georgia - Bush
    15. Ohio - Bush
    16. Alaska - Bush
    17. North Carolina - Bush
    18. Nebraska - Bush
    19. North Dakota - Bush
    20. Iowa - Bush
    20. South Dakota - Bush
    22. Wisconsin - Kerry
    23. Virginia - Bush

    These are the fattest 23 states. Twenty-one of them, totaling 209 electoral votes, went for Bush. Two, totaling 29 electoral votes, went for Kerry. But it's worth noting that in Wisconsin (#22 on the list) Kerry's margin was a razor thin 11,000 votes (50%-49%), while Michigan, the only non-Bush state in the top 10, was also competitive, falling to Kerry by just 51% to 48%.

    So what are we to make of this? Is Karl Rove manipulating the minds of obese people with subliminal messages in Bush commercials? Why would heavy people be more likely to vote Republican?

    Is this odd, given that data also shows - according to this guy - that Republicans tend to lead more active lives than Democrats. But maybe we can truly say that Republicans are "fat and happy."

    Below the fold is the rest of the data:

    Read More »

    Posted by Brad Smith at 03:29 PM in Politics

    August 19, 2007
    A shrinking story?

    Here's the headline for a recent AP story: "Arctic sea ice shrinks to record low"

    Here's the first paragraph: "There was less sea ice in the Arctic on Friday than ever before on record, and the melting is continuing, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported."

    The amount of ice has fallen about 1.5 percent in two years.

    Here's the 7th paragraph: "Scientists began monitoring the extent of Arctic sea ice in the 1970s when satellite images became available."

    So the headline could read: "Slight reduction in Arctic ice, to lowest level in 35 years."

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 08:40 PM in Politics

    August 13, 2007
    Katrina Aid Goes Toward Football Condos

    From the AJC:

    TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — With large swaths of the Gulf Coast still in ruins from Hurricane Katrina, rich federal tax breaks designed to spur rebuilding are flowing hundreds of miles inland to investors who are buying up luxury condos near the University of Alabama's football stadium.

    About 10 condominium projects are going up in and around Tuscaloosa, and builders are asking up to $1 million for units with granite countertops, king-size bathtubs and 'Bama decor, including crimson couches and Bear Bryant wall art.

    While many of the buyers are Crimson Tide alumni or ardent football fans not entitled to any special Katrina-related tax breaks, many others are real estate investors who are purchasing the condos with plans to rent them out.

    And they intend to take full advantage of the generous tax benefits available to investors under the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005, or GO Zone, according to Associated Press interviews with buyers and real estate officials.

    The GO Zone contains a variety of tax breaks designed to stimulate construction in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. It offers tax-free bonds to developers to finance big commercial projects like shopping centers or hotels. It also allows real estate investors who buy condos or other properties in the GO Zone to take accelerated depreciation on their purchases when they file their taxes.

    The GO Zone was drawn to include the Tuscaloosa area even though it is about 200 miles from the coast and got only heavy rain and scattered wind damage from Katrina.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 04:56 PM in Politics

    July 31, 2007
    Prohibition in Georgia c. 1907

    From the July 31, 1907 NYT:

    ATLANTA, July 30 - After ten hours of exciting debate the lower house of the Georgia General Assembly this evening, by a vote of 139 to 39, passed the Senate bill prohibiting the manufacture or sale of alcoholic beverages in the State after Jan. 1, 1908. Gov. Hoke Smith has announced that he will sign the measure, although prohibition mean the closing of the bar of the Piedmont Hotel, from which he receives a handsome income.

    All day long the Capitol grounds and corridors were thronged with Woman's Christian Temperance Union women and other white ribboners. As soon as the final vote was taken the great crowd burst into "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow." Enthusiastic men lifted to their shoulders Seaborn Wright, the Prohibition leader in the lower house, and marched through the Capitol singing "Gloria in Excelsis."

    The bill affects really only fifteen counties in the State, 135 already being dry under the local option law. Several large distilleries will be closed, and also breweries. It will cause a loss in revenue, State and municipal, of $1,000,000.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 03:06 PM in Politics

    July 30, 2007
    ACORN's Mischief

    John Fund addresses voter fraud in general and ACORN's contribution thereto in particular:

    [In] Seattle ... local prosecutors indicted seven workers for Acorn, a union-backed activist group that last year registered more than 540,000 low-income and minority voters nationwide and deployed more than 4,000 get-out-the-vote workers. The Acorn defendants stand accused of submitting phony forms in what Secretary of State Sam Reed says is the "worst case of voter-registration fraud in the history" of the state.

    Local officials refused to accept the registrations because they had been delivered after last year's Oct. 7 registration deadline. Initially, Acorn officials demanded the registrations be accepted and threatened to sue King County (Seattle) officials if they were tossed out. ... Of the 1,805 names submitted by Acorn, only nine have been confirmed as valid, and another 34 are still being investigated. The rest--over 97%--were fake.


    But ACORN gets off with a very light slap on the wrist:

    In Washington state, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said that in lieu of charging Acorn itself as part of the registration fraud case, he had worked out an agreement by which the group will pay $25,000 to reimburse the costs of the investigation and formally agree to tighten supervision of its activities....

    From disenchanted ACORN employees (recall ACORN's strongly pro-union stance on issues):

    Last year several Acorn employees told me that the Acorn scandals that have cropped up around the country are no accident. "There's no quality control on purpose, no checks and balances," says Nate Toler, who was head of an Acorn campaign against Wal-Mart in California until late last year, when Acorn fired him for speaking to me.

    Loretta Barton, another former community organizer for Acorn, told me that "all Acorn wanted from registration drives was results." Ironically, given Acorn's strong backing from unions, Ms. Barton alleges that when she and her co-workers asked about forming a union, they were slapped down: "We were told if you get a union, you won't have a job." There is some history here: In 2003, the National Labor Relations Board ordered Acorn to rehire and pay restitution to three employees it had illegally fired for trying to organize a union.


    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 01:55 PM in Politics

    July 26, 2007
    Stack the Court?

    This NY Times op-ed piece suggests that, assuming a Democrat wins the 2008 presidential election and the congress remains Democratic, a resizing of the Supreme Court might be in order.

    "Chief Justice John Roberts and his conservative colleagues might do well to bear in mind that the roll call of presidents who have used this option includes not just Roosevelt but also Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and Grant."

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 09:49 AM in Politics

    July 17, 2007
    Farewell, Antioch by George Will

    George Will provides an appropriate eulogy for Antioch College.

    During the campus convulsions of the late 1960s, when rebellion against any authority was considered obedience to every virtue, the film "To Die in Madrid," a documentary about the Spanish Civil War, was shown at a small liberal arts college famous for, and vain about, its dedication to all things progressive. When the film's narrator intoned, "The rebels advanced on Madrid," the students, who adored rebels and were innocent of information, cheered. Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, had been so busy turning undergraduates into vessels of liberalism and apostles of social improvement that it had not found time for the tiresome task of teaching them tedious facts, such as that the rebels in Spain were Franco's fascists.
    Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:47 AM in Politics

    July 10, 2007
    A preview of HillaryCare II

    Senator Obama visited Birmingham yesterday. The Birmingham News's story about his campaigning gives us just a hint of the rent-seeking/protection orgy we will see should the Democrats win both the Presidency and Congressional majorities in '08, and proceed to "reform" the American health care industry:

    At the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Birmingham, an energized Obama told a large, diverse and enthusiastic crowd that America under President Bush has seen a government that "can't do, won't do and won't even try."

    "Americans are hungry for change. They are desperate for something new," Obama told about 2,000 cheering fans, most of whom had paid $25 each to listen to him. "We have had so much dysfunction, so much nonsense ... in Washington D.C., that people have just said enough."

    The crowd, a mixture of white and black, young and old, affluent and not, repeatedly cheered as Obama criticized Bush.

    "We've got a health care system that is broken, that is bankrupting families all across America," Obama said.

    . . .

    After his downtown speech, Obama headed to another fundraiser, this one at the Mountain Brook home of HealthSouth President and CEO Jay Grinney. Those attending paid $1,000 to $2,300 a person to meet the White House hopeful who by most polls is chasing Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination for president.

    Posted by Mike DeBow at 12:34 PM in Politics

    July 06, 2007
    March to the Sea c. 1907

    The July 6, 1907 NYT reports on yet another attempt to re-create Sherman's March to the Sea through Georgia. Being from Northwest Georgia this pressing desire to recreate the march is interesting:


    CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - A start was made yesterday by military men to traverse the route pursued by Gen. W.T. Sherman, on his march through Georgia. A year ago Father Sherman, a Jesuit priest and son of the Union General, attempted to make the trip, but only reached Cartersville, where he was stopped because of public criticism.

    The trip is being made by commissioned officers, with only enough enlisted men to care for the stock and to pitch camps. There are thirty-four officers from the Military Staff College at Leavenworth in the party.

    There was considerable comment by Confederate veterans, but none of the objections raised was of serious import.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 01:21 PM in Politics

    July 01, 2007
    Then and Now c. 1907

    The July 1, 1907 NYT has the following concerning the State of Illinois planning a commemoration of the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates, to be held in the presidential election year of 1908:

    The Illinois commemoration is well worth while if only to impress alike the parallel and the distinction between conditions then and now. Then there were bitter differences of opinion, whereas now it is difficult to draw party distinctions, as the parties might almost exchange their leading candidates...Perhaps the greatest distinction between then and now is that whereas in the old time all the talk was of what the Constitution meant, now all the talk is how the Constitution can be made to mean what the temper of the hour would like it to mean. The distinction is vital. The Constitution is a written document, and the meaning of the words has not changed. Yet the Supreme Court from the bench has found it necessary to say the lawful way to change it, if the Nation wants to change it, as according to the method provided, and not by "construction."

    Posted by Craig Depken at 09:48 AM in Politics

    June 25, 2007
    R.I.P. Antioch College

    The board of Antioch College, located in the lovely town of Yellow Springs, Ohio and the home of the world's most bizarre sexual conduct policy, has announced its decision to close the main campus of the college.

    What are radicalized lefty students who aren't smart enough to get into Oberlin College going to do now?

    NB: Links to funny Onion stories about Oberlin here and here.

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 02:10 PM in Politics

    June 09, 2007
    Global warming non est disputandum

    Wired.com reports an AP story, "NASA Head Regrets Global Warming Remarks"

    LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The head of NASA told scientists and engineers that he regrets airing his personal views about global warming during a recent radio interview, according to a video of the meeting obtained by The Associated Press.

    NASA administrator Michael Griffin said in the closed-door meeting Monday at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena that "unfortunately, this is an issue which has become far more political than technical and it would have been well for me to have stayed out of it."

    Hot air has this great headline:
    NASA chief steps in global warming goo

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 02:46 PM in Politics

    May 23, 2007
    On political symbolism c. 1907

    I am back from a trip to South Carolina/North Carolina during which I was unplugged from news/politics/blogging. Blogging on my part will recommence with the usual quality.

    The May 23, 1907 NYT has a letter to the editor which asks an interesting question:

    It is amusing to note the very many unsatisfactory attempts made by the Socialists to explain the use of the red flag in their parades and as a symbol of their beliefs. As the cross is a sign of Christendom throughout the world so is the red banner symbolic of international Socialism, is one of the explanations. In answer to the fore going may I ask...why the color of red of all colors known to mankind was chosen as best expressing the doctrines of Socialism?

    Where the black flag stands for piracy so does the red flag stand for anarchy; where the white flag signifies peace, so does the red flag signify war; and a red banner flauntingly displayed in a peaceful land does not signify the good intentions of those bearing it.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 01:08 PM in Politics

    May 05, 2007
    Commencement Blues Part XII

    Just got back from the university's commencement. Sigh.

    The speaker was Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) who among many other irritating things said something to the effect that the increases in our life expectancy since 1900 are owed to government programs like "Medicaid and Medicare". To which, I reply:

    life expectancy.JPG

    Other DoL commencement related posts.

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 04:17 PM in Politics

    April 19, 2007
    On revenues vs. freedom c. 1907

    From the April 19, 1907 NYT:

    Thousands of Americans will give attention to Mr. Cortelyou's inquiry into the present barbarous method of conducting the customs examination of passengers' baggage, and if he should order sensible reforms their gratitude will be his reward.

    The present method is senseless, outrageous, and indecent. It makes the Government seem to assume that every citizen of this Republic returning from abroad is a cheat and a liar. Lest some might forbear to lie intentionally arrangements are made to betray them into lying by inadvertence. The exacting of a declaration aboard the ship and the enforcing of a further examination on the dock constitute a method that would be most offensive against criminals or the public enemy. The resulting benefit to the revenues is insignificant, the annoyance to everybody is serious enough to constitute a public abuse.

    We are glad that the Secretary of the Treasury is thinking about the matter.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:29 AM in Politics

    On cigarettes c. 1907

    From the April 19, 1907 NYT:

    SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The House to-day passed the Young anti-cigarette bill making unlawful the selling of cigarettes or cigarette papers in Illinois. The bill now goes to the Senate.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:24 AM in Politics

    On terrorism c. 1907

    From the April 19, 1907 NYT:

    ST. PETERSBURG - To-morrow will witness a stormy debate in the Lower House of Parliament that has been in preparation for a fortnight past.

    The Conservatives will introduce a motion that the House disapproves of Terrorism. A resolution of the Constitutional Democrats, the Poles, and the Mohammedans, expresses horror at the great wave of Terrorism, but says that it is an outgrowth of the absence of a constitutional regime. A resolution to be introduced by the members of the Group of Toil and the Social Democrats will set forth that Terrorism is necessary to break the grip of Despotism.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:18 AM in Politics

    April 13, 2007
    When adaptive expectations goes wrong

    Remember how horrible the 2005 hurricane season was? And, since none of you stopped driving your SUVs, the 2006 season was supposed to be worse. So, FEMA stockpiled tons of food to be ready. Of course, there were maybe two hurricanes during 2006, and now all that FEMA food has spoiled.

    In late August 2006, I was listening to NPR report on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina while also warning of the coming Hurricane Ernesto. I guess the editors of NPR didn't realize that they wouldn't be successful in drumming up fear of the '06 season when we were only in the E's while the year before we were already in the K's.

    If you're looking for something to do early next week, check out the FairTax rallies. If any DOL readers happen to be in the Shreveport area, you can join Doug and I Tuesday evening and hear us discuss it on Tom Pace's radio show Monday starting at 4pm. For those unfamiliar with the FairTax, learn more here.

    Hope APEE went well. My fiancee joined the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil last saturday, so I had to skip. I also sponsored one of my former students who joined as well.

    Posted by Tim Shaughnessy at 12:39 PM in Politics

    Old Wine

    The two biggest ideas pushed early in the Bill Clinton's administration were centrally planned health care and National Performance Review ("let's make government run like a business with no profit motive!"). Already in her presidential run, Hillary Clinton has promised universal health care (confusing health care with insurance coverage, cost sharing with cost reduction). Today HRC advocates coming in and cleaning up government.

    In an interview with The Associated Press, Clinton said the government needed to become more consumer-friendly, cost-efficient and transparent in the way it does business. "We have to bring the government into the 21st century," she said. "We expect to be able to go to an ATM machine, stick a card in and get money, but we can't figure out how to get medical records from the Department of Defense over to the VA. It makes no sense."

    Meanwhile John Edwards spends a day as a health care worker.

    Not a lot of new ideas.

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 12:09 PM in Politics

    April 12, 2007
    Madeleine Albright Lecture

    I've just returned from hearing Madeleine Albright deliver Berry's Shatto Lecture; the event is part of this week's inauguration of Berry's new president. (Side note: Fed Chair William McChesney Martin is one of Berry's past presidents.)

    I have a mixed review of Albright's talk. One the positive hand, she criticized Europe's lack of support for bringing an end to the Iraq mess and (in response to a student question) she rightly characterized the thuggish regime of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe as corrupt.

    On the negative hand, Albright criticized the U.S. for being the second worst donor, in percent of GDP, of foreign aid among developed countries. That figure is, in one sense, correct (source here--scroll down to Chart 1 (p.14)), but it refers only to official or governmental development assistance. Since only 20% of foreign aid is governmental (same link as before; scroll down to Table 1), the U.S.'s aid to other countries is 5 times the amount of official development assistance. Of course, the argument for aid presupposes that foreign aid is actually useful in alleviating poverty--the evidence supporting this assumption is weak at best.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:20 PM in Politics

    Should Taxpayers Buy Me a Printing Press or a TV Network?

    From CNN:

    TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani told CNN Wednesday he supports public funding for some abortions, a position he advocated as mayor and one that will likely put the GOP presidential candidate at odds with social conservatives in his party.

    "Ultimately, it's a constitutional right, and therefore if it's a constitutional right, ultimately, even if you do it on a state by state basis, you have to make sure people are protected," Giuliani said in an interview with CNN's Dana Bash in Florida's capital city.

    A video clip of the then-mayoral candidate issuing a similar declaration in 1989 in a speech to the "Women's Coalition" appeared recently on the Internet.

    "There must be public funding for abortions for poor women," Giuliani says in the speech that is posted on the video sharing site YouTube. "We cannot deny any woman the right to make her own decisions about abortion."

    When asked directly Wednesday if he still supported the use of public funding for abortions, Giuliani said "Yes."

    "If it would deprive someone of a constitutional right," he explained, "If that's the status of the law, yes."

    Rudy doesn't seem to know the difference between positive rights and negative rights. If he thinks a constitutional right to abortion means that they must be taxpayer subsidized, then he should be for taxpayers providing me with a printing press or tv network to exercise my First Amendment rights. I wouldn't have voted for him in any case, but Rudy has now made it clear that he is incapable of fulfilling the presidential oath to protect and defend the constitution.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:54 AM in Politics

    April 11, 2007
    Dennis Miller's radio show

    Comedian and libertarian-ish neo-conservative Dennis Miller now has a talk radio show. Check your local listings; here in St. Louis it runs 10am - 1pm. To give you the flavor of the show, today's guests are Christopher Horner (Competitive Enterprise Institute), John McEnroe, Irshad Manji ("The Trouble with Islam Today"), and Gloria Allred.

    Miller's enthusiasm for the Iraq war may be as delusional as Dwight Schrute's enthusiasm for superheroes (note Milleresque zany pop-culture reference!) but he's always perceptive, and he's always good for a chuckle. Bonus: the show uses cool bumper music (e.g. Dick Dale's "Misirlou"; John Barry's James Bond themes).

    My favorite line from Miller's interview in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this morning:

    Al Gore -- At some point, he'll come riding over the hill like he's the cavalry. But it won't take long for everyone to figure out he's not Forrest Tucker. He's Larry Storch, and he's got his hat on sideways.
    Posted by Lawrence H. White at 10:55 AM in Politics

    April 09, 2007
    Adapting to Warming

    Newsweek has a remarkable series of articles on global warming. The articles try to identify gainers as well as losers, and they paint a much less gloomy picture than most of the mainstream media. This article by Richard S. Lindzen probably should be read as the theme article. (Links to other articles are at this site.) Its opening sentences:

    Judging from the media in recent months, the debate over global warming is now over. There has been a net warming of the earth over the last century and a half, and our greenhouse gas emissions are contributing at some level. Both of these statements are almost certainly true.

    What of it? Recently many people have said that the earth is facing a crisis requiring urgent action. This statement has nothing to do with science. There is no compelling evidence that the warming trend we've seen will amount to anything close to catastrophe. What most commentators—and many scientists—seem to miss is that the only thing we can say with certainly about climate is that it changes.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 01:08 PM in Politics

    April 06, 2007
    Restore Freedom of Speech

    Most recent reports about the money-raising success of candidates are all about the horse race. Few have suggested the fairly obvious point that McCain-Feingold has not been effective. This editorial gets it pretty much right:

    But corruption has, if anything, surged. Confidence in government remains low. Nasty, attack-ad politics are as prevalent as ever. And, of course, corporations, unions and billionaires quickly found a new vehicle for their soft-money influence-peddling – the so-called “527” groups.

    The predictions that arguably did come to pass did so for reasons having little to do with McCain-Feingold. Does anyone really think that grass-roots groups are thriving because of the law and not because of the unprecedented networking power offered by the Internet? Does anyone really think the fact that 28 Republican incumbents (but no Democratic incumbents) lost their House and Senate races last year was because of the law and not because of the GOP's vast, poll-confirmed plunge in popularity?

    The failure of McCain-Feingold, however, does not mean that all attempts at campaign reform are futile. Instead, it's time for a new approach – one that has transparency as its primary goal, not unworkable and at times legally dubious attempts to restrict political speech and campaign spending.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 10:51 AM in Politics

    April 05, 2007
    Worst First Pitch EVER!

    In case you missed it, check out the Mayor of Cincinnati's opening day first pitch. I really like the puzzled look on former Red Eric Davis' face.

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:51 AM in Politics

    April 01, 2007
    Socialism vs. Individualism c. 1907

    The April 1, 1907 NYT reports on a speech given by Columbia University President Nicholas Murray Butler at the University of California a few days earlier. In the article is the following quote of Dr. Butler:

    At bottom, and without special reference to immediate concrete proposals, Socialism would substitute for individual initiative collective and corporate responsibility in matters relating to property and production, in the hope thereby of correcting and overcoming the evils which attach to an individualism run wild. But we must not lose sight of the fact that the corporate or collective responsibility which it would substitute for individual initiative is only such corporate or collective responsibility as a group of these very same individuals could exercise. Therefore Socialism is primarily an attempt to overcome man's individual imperfections by adding them together, in the hope that they will cancel each other. This is not only bad mathematics, but worse psychology.
    Unfortunately for about 100 million people during the twentieth century, Dr. Butler's words were not (I think) intended as an April Fools joke. Adding up human imperfections in the manner Dr. Murray describes seems to have led to tsunami of suffering and misery perpetrated by the very people and against the very people the system was supposed to "save" from the avarices of capitalism and capitalists.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:44 AM in Politics

    March 30, 2007
    What's in a word? c. 1907

    The March 30, 1907 NYT reports that the Oklahoma state constitution has been sent to the printer:

    The printer who has charge of getting out the Oklahoma Constitution announces that the work will be finished next week and the distribution commenced.

    It will consist of 125 pages, including the boundary provision, and will contain over one hundred thousand words. [emphasis added]


    My version of the U.S. Constitution, sans all amendments, is 4,426 words. Including the first ten amendments adds another 482 words (and what a contentious 482 words they have proved to be!).

    From 1789 to 1907, the constitution of a state-to-be required 22.5 times as many words as the U.S. Constitution? I wonder whether the Oklahoma territory faced more and more complicated issues that required more words to clarify. Another hypothesis is that by 1907 government had intruded into the lives of individuals 22.5 times more than it had in 1789. Another possibility (my personal favorite), is that the 100,000 word Oklahoma constitution is a testimony to the genius of the Founders, who knew how to say what they wanted to say without extra verbiage.

    If the state constitution of Oklahoma was intended to outline the same rights at the state level as are conveyed in the U.S. Constitution, yet it took 22.5 times as many words to do so, would this suggest that the (legal/moral/explicative) value per word in the Oklahoma constitution was lower? If so, was this the effect of demand side or supply side influences (or both)?

    Posted by Craig Depken at 11:33 AM in Politics

    March 29, 2007
    On immigration c. 1907

    The March 29, NYT has the following report on the population of the United States:

    There are now nearly 8,000,000 more people in the Continental United States than there were six years ago, according to an estimate based upon the figures compiled by the Census Bureau in a special report issued to-day. According to its estimates the population of the Continental United States in 906 wasa 83,941,510, an increase over 1900 of 7,946,935....The growth in population in the Continental United States from 1905 to 1906 was 1,367,315.

    Computed on the basis of the estimate the density of the population of the Continental United States in 1906 was 28 person per square mile, as compared with 26 in 1900.

    The five leading cities and their estimated population in 1906 are as follows:

    New York: 4,113,043
    Chicago: 2,049,185
    Philadelphia: 1,441,735
    St. Louis: 649,320
    Boston: 602,278


    Posted by Craig Depken at 11:23 AM in Politics

    March 28, 2007
    Bush yucks it up a notch

    There's a surrealness to this AP story about the Prez yuckin it up good for the correspondents dinner.

    In keeping with the lighthearted traditions of the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association dinner, Bush poked fun at himself and a few others in remarks that drew laughter and applause at the Washington Hilton Hotel.

    ...

    Looking ahead to life after leaving the White House, Bush said he might follow
    President Clinton's lead and produce a memoir.

    "I'm thinking of something really fun and creative for mine," he said. "You know, maybe a pop-up book."

    Possible titles: "How W. Got His Groove Back, "Who Moved My Presidency?" and "Tuesday with Cheney."

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 11:50 PM in Politics

    March 27, 2007
    No Smoking Comrade

    1531986.jpg

    I'm not a smoker and don't like the habit in others, but I love liberty more than I hate smoking. Click above for some great anti-ban gear.

    HT: Ben

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 12:49 PM in Politics

    Incentives Matter: Campaign Cash Edition

    A news item:

    BOSTON (AP) - A millionaire thanks to his work as a venture capitalist, Mitt Romney is acutely aware of the motivating power of money. His presidential campaign hopes it will have a similar effect on college students, which is why it's offering them a cut of their fundraising.

    Participants in "Students for Mitt" will get 10 percent of the money they raise for the campaign beyond the first $1,000. While candidates often offer professional fundraisers commissions up to 8 percent, campaign experts believe the Massachusetts Republican is the first to do so with the legion of college students who have historically served as campaign volunteers.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:17 AM in Politics

    March 21, 2007
    Global Warming Debate

    Robert J. Samuelson nails it as regards global warming policy discussion:

    What's most popular and acceptable (say, more solar) may be the least consequential in its effects; and what's most consequential in its effects (a hefty energy tax) may be the least popular and acceptable.

    The actual politics of global warming defy Hollywood's stereotypes. It's not saints versus sinners. The lifestyles that produce greenhouse gases are deeply ingrained in modern economies and societies. Without major changes in technology, the consequences may be unalterable. Those who believe that addressing global warming is a moral imperative face an equivalent moral imperative to be candid about the costs, difficulties and uncertainties.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 01:05 PM in Politics

    March 19, 2007
    Happy Feet & Unhappy Bears?

    ‘They [polar bears] cling precariously to the top of what is left of the ice floe, their fragile grip the perfect symbol of the tragedy of global warming. Captured on film by Canadian environmentalists, the pair of polar bears look stranded on chunks of broken ice….’ says an article on global warming. According to the article from which the following excerpts are taken, the only factually correct part of this quote is that the image was captured on film.

    This is the Disneyfication of politics: bad, greedy people on one side, and ‘cuddly’, helpless polar bears on the other. How long till we get an animated fable about polar bears to sit alongside the penguin eco-flick Happy Feet?

    Whatever the truth about climate change, we need to get beyond these childish tales of two legs bad, four legs good – of wicked man, and innocent beast. ... What we need is a cool-headed and balanced discussion about the costs and benefits of different courses of action, from Kyoto-style emissions cuts and new, non-carbon technologies, to adaptive measures and the promotion of economic growth as a means of coping with problems. ...

    The debate we’re getting – simple but cynical tales of human greed, backed by cute photos of cuddly creatures – is the polar opposite of the debate we need.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 11:10 AM in Politics

    March 14, 2007
    Keystone Kops Election Bureau

    A news item on election security:

    Some key components of one of Georgia's most sacred institutions — that had been discovered in discarded office furniture — were recently auctioned on eBay.

    About 40 voter access cards and three electronic ballot encoders belonging to DeKalb County were purchased earlier this month on the auction Web site, according to Secretary of State Karen Handel. Another seven supervisor's cards, used to activate the encoders, also were up for bid.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:59 PM in Politics

    Compare Quotes

    From the AJC [bold added for emphasis]:

    "We call on Congress to reauthorize SCHIP," [Georgia Governor Sonny] Perdue said at an event that highlighted a study showing a drop in the number of working families nationally that get insurance through their employers. "We call on Congress to fix SCHIP's inadequate funding formulas. And we call on Congress to provide funding to states like Georgia who have successfully implemented the program and now face an immediate federal funding shortfall.

    "Georgia stands ready to do our part," the governor said, "but we simply cannot go it alone."

    From Bastiat:

    "Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else."

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:45 PM in Politics

    March 13, 2007
    A Rewrite of History

    This article conveys a sense of the historical nonsense that appears to be found in 300. The closing sentence provides an apt summary and an indication of the nature of the state that "Spartan virtues" would yield: "Most Greeks would have traded their homes in Athens for hovels in Sparta about as willingly as I would trade my apartment in Toronto for a condo in Pyongyang."

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 05:26 PM in Politics

    March 11, 2007
    Are we buying this one?

    The OMB has released a "study' of the costs and benefits of major legislations and rules changes at the Federal level. I haven't digested all of the report, but this graph (and associated paragraph) was a bit too much:

    costs-benefits-omb.PNG

    The difference between cost and benefits shows the net benefits of major regulations from 1992 though September 2006. We were unable to go back beyond 1992 because of a lack of comparable data on benefits. Figure 2-2 also shows that in no year were costs significantly greater than benefits, even though benefits are likely understated relative to the costs since agencies estimate costs but not benefits for some of the rules reviewed by OMB over this time period.52 Figure 2-2 also shows that over its first 6 years, this Administration issued regulations with average annual net benefits 262 percent greater than the average annual net benefits produced by the regulations issued during the previous eight years.

    It seems the graph is attempting to depict the marginal cost and marginal benefit of regulation, i.e. the costs and benefits of new regulations and rules changes. As an economist, I recognize the possibility (if not the probability) that public policy can provide significantly greater marginal benefits than marginal costs. However, after more than 100 years of active legislation and rules changes, would not diminishing returns set in? Is it likely that, in the 21st century, new regulations are uncovering vast oceans of previously unrealized benefits? I am not so sure.

    I have a hard time believing that every major regulation over the past fourteen years has been an overwhelming success in this arena, but perhaps my priors are clouding my judgement.

    OMB report here

    Posted by Craig Depken at 09:47 PM in Politics

    March 07, 2007
    Did they really get the message?

    The anti-pork, er, I mean anti-earmark campaign hit its stride last year. In this year's Citizens Against Government Waste 2007 Pork Book, is a historical trend in the number of earmarks (JPEG here).

    CAGW estimates pork spending in FY2007 (thus far) at 13 billion, down from $29b in FY2006.

    That's a savings of $53 for every man, woman, and child (including non-citizens)! How about that.

    Now, if it will only stick.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:57 PM in Politics

    February 27, 2007
    Another Installment of Al Gore's "Do as I Say, Not as I Do ..."

    From the Tennessee Center for Policy Research:

    Last night, Al Gore’s global-warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, collected an Oscar for best documentary feature, but the Tennessee Center for Policy Research has found that Gore deserves a gold statue for hypocrisy.

    Gore’s mansion, located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES).

    In his documentary, the former Vice President calls on Americans to conserve energy by reducing electricity consumption at home.

    The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh—more than 20 times the national average.

    Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh—guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year. As a result of his energy consumption, Gore’s average monthly electric bill topped $1,359.

    Since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Gore’s energy consumption has increased from an average of 16,200 kWh per month in 2005, to 18,400 kWh per month in 2006.

    Gore’s extravagant energy use does not stop at his electric bill. Natural gas bills for Gore’s mansion and guest house averaged $1,080 per month last year.

    For a previous installment of the Al Gore hypocrite, see here.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:59 AM in Politics

    February 26, 2007
    Presidential debates c. 1907

    The Democrat(ic?) party selected William Jennings Bryan to run for President in 1908. The party chose their candidate in 1906. At this time, a century ago, the Republican party hasn't chosen their candidate (at least not publicly), although there are a number of contenders. One being Albert J. Beveridge.


    The timing of presidential politics in 1906-1908 is interesting. The campaign of 1908 seems to have started earlier than most presidential campaigns I can remember - save for the seven Democrats running in 2003. I am not a presidential historian, but I'd wager it took much longer to campaign in the past as communications and transportation technology were less efficient. Further, from what I have read about the debates between politicians from that era (and earlier), it seems that the debate was oftentimes more in-depth, and perhaps honest, than today; thereby requiring a little more time than a YouTube video. Finally, as many in today's media and society seem shocked that the 2008 presidential campaign seems to be in second, if not third, gear, it is informative (at least to me) to see that the long-campaign is nothing new in our history.


    The Feb. 26, 1907 NYT reports on a written "debate" between Mr. Bryan and Mr. Beveridge which was printed in Reader Magazine, focusing, in part, on the role of the states relative to the federal government. It is interesting that Bryan would "debate" with a presidential candidate (not nominee) of the other party so early in the campaign - such interchange today would be so refreshing it might actually be terrifying. Perhaps the willingness of Bryan to engage Beveridge in debate is a signal of the strength of Bryan's (and Beveridge's) convictions?

    See if you can identify the candidate by their language:

    1.

    A systematic absorption of power by the Federal Government would not only cause discontent and weaken the attachment of the people for the Government, but a withdrawal of power from the State would breed indifference to public affairs - the forerunner of despotism.

    The further the legislative body is from the community affected by the law, the easier it is for special interests to control. This has been illustrated in State Legislatures when long-time charters have been granted to franchise corporations by the votes of members whose constituents, not being interested, do not hold them to strict account, and it would be worse if Congress acted on the same subjects.

    2.

    Every corporation, so great that its business in Nation-wide, is championing State rights. Every railroad that has felt the regulating hand of the Nation's Government, is earnestly for State rights. Every trust attorney is declaiming against the dangers of centralization. Do you know who is not? I do not say that all advocates of State rights are trust attorneys, but all trust attorneys are advocates of State rights.

    We are one people, speaking one language, living in one country, under one flag. What affects one of us, affects all of us. Most of the evils that develop among us are common evils, to be reached only by a common remedy. Scarcely any evil is confined to one State. It is clear that where an evil is general, States acting separately cannot uniformly attack it; and it is a fact that in the case of every general evil the States, acting separately, never have uniformly attacked it. The American people alone, acting in common - that is, acting as a Nation - can destroy evils which affect them in common - that is, affect them as a Nation.


    Answer below the fold.

    Read More »

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:30 AM in Politics

    February 24, 2007
    On the cost of government c. 1907

    The Feb. 24, 1907 NYT reports that the 59th Congress (1907-1908) will spend a little more than $1 billion per year - the most to date. In 1907 the economy was estiamted to be approximately $34b, and the federal government was spending approximately 3% of the economy per year. The per-capita cost of the federal government was approximately $12.50 ($268 in 2005 dollars), whereas in 1879-1880 the cost per capita was $7. Today, the per-capita cost for the federal government it is approaching $10,000 (ouch) and federal government spending amounts to appproximately 20% of the nation's economy.

    What's driving the run-up in costs in 1907? The military. The largest increase in appropriations was for the navy: in 1897 the navy was appropriated $30m, in 1907 the total was $102m. The story offers that spending on the navy in 1907 was $20m more than the spending during the Spanish-American War of 1898-1899. The largest proportional increase in spending was for fortifications ($24m over two years).

    The article does have this to say about the increases in government spending:

    If the wealth of the country, rather than its population, is considered, the cost of Government is now at a much less figure on $1,000 per capita [of national income] than ever before in the history of the Republic. The fact that big Congressional appropriations are no longer political issues shows that the people care little for economy in administration so long as there is general prosperity. At the close of each Congress the minority seeks to show that there have been great extravagances in appropriations. The presentation made by the ranking Democrat of the Appropriations Committee receives space in the newspapers, but seldom attracts more than one editorial paragraph in the way of comment. [emphasis added]
    I like the use of the word "Republic" - we don't see enough of that word these days.

    Note: The Republicans held the majority after the 1906 elections.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 02:07 PM in Politics

    February 22, 2007
    On G.W. (the first) c. 1907

    The Feb. 22, 1907 NYT has the following story concerning the legacy of George Washington:

    It is not a wholly easy task that the Italian Government has set for the School Directors of the kingdom in directing them to explain to their pupils to-day "the meaning and importance" of the anniversary of Washington's birth in the United States. It is, indeed, a task for which a good many of our own teachers might find themselves only indifferently equipped.
    Nothing different today.
    [I]t is hard to picture definitely what it was that he did for his country and what was the full significance of his remarkable career. This is all the harder because the approximately true Washington is known and can be known only to a limited number of rather careful students, while the portrait that serves and must serve for the great mass of us is at best vague and in many respects quite misleading.
    At least the Washington mythology seems to have been foisted on him and not created and nurtured by him. This is in stark contrast to today's leaders who seem to write a book a year with yet another explanation of their life and why we should think it important.
    Two seemingly contradictory facts stand out in the life of Washington. One is that we cannot conceive of the independence of the country won and its National Government established without him, and the other is that in peaceful times it is quite possible that Washington would have passed thorough an uneventful existence known only to his immediate associates.

    Following up on Ed's post earlier today:
    Had he lived in the latter half of the nineteenth century he might, indeed, have been one of the great property holders of the day as he actually was of his own day. He was by native propensity a bold speculator in land values, and at seventeen, when surveying for Lord Fairfax, he located lands he afterward secured and made very profitable. His fortune, estimated at above half a million at his death - among the very largest, if not the largest, of that time - was gathered in part by skillful and sagacious farming, but also by shrewd speculation and by investment in corporate ventures.

    The NYT offers a final salutation:
    But all this conjecture is really beside the mark. What we know and what we cannot afford to forget are his indispensable services to our country and the splendid unselfishness with which they were rendered.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 06:26 PM in Politics

    Something to think about?

    I've just finished Ernle Bradford's "Hannibal," part of the Wordsworth Military Library. Finally I think I have a grasp of why Hannibal is important to world history and, as it turns out, it has little to do with elephants and the Alps.

    On page 95 Bradford writes:

    The one thing that Fabius [Roman Consul turned dictator] had to do, he realised, was avoid defeat. The victory that he must aim for was not the traditional one upon the battlefield - something that the genius of his opponent rendered unlikely - but success achieved over a very long period of time, if need be. The presence of his troops must be used to reassure the allies and their cities that Rome was watching over them. Time and the extent of the land itself must be made to work for him. The Carthaginian's [Hannibal's] army must be reduced slowly, its morale snapped, and its opportunities for engaging him in a straightforward battle reduced to a minimum.
    The delaying tactics led to a 17 year war that was fought on two continents - Europe and Africa - from Spain to Macedonia. While Hannibal pretty much had his way with the Romans whenever they engaged in battle, Hannibal ultimately lost. The question is, which side of the current-day conflict is Hannibal and which side is Fabius?

    Early in the war with Hannibal, Rom