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I am pleased to be a part of a new initiative to teach moral philosophy, economics, and public policy to high schoolers and policymakers, Ethics and Economics Education of New England (E3NE). High schoolers get too little instruction in economics and usually none at all in moral philosophy, at the moment when they are first starting to try to make sense of the social and political world. We’re trying to solve that problem with Ethics & Economics Challenge, a program involving weekly discussions in schools, free books, and an end-of-year speech competition in which they can win college scholarships. We’re also bringing expert guidance on public policy to state legislators with Big Idea Conferences, focusing on issues where state policies differ widely from an expert consensus (e.g., occupational licensing, exclusionary zoning, public pension funding).

Along with myself, several people associated with Pileus are also involved in E3NE: TFAS President Roger Ream, former Pileus blogger Jim Otteson, and my sometime coauthor Will Ruger.

After Thanksgiving we will be having a fundraising campaign. We have four schools interested in starting E&E Challenge in the spring, but we need money for scholarships, books, and the costs of driving to the schools. Our Board member Matt Philips is generously funding my salary. Every little bit helps, so we appreciate your support. For now, please visit our website, and stay tuned!

President Obama is preparing to issue an executive order on immigration—the executive action that has been promised for some time. As one might guess, the NYT editorial board is pleased. Some supporters of liberalized immigration (including a path to citizenship) are concerned over the damage that Obama’s actions will do to the rule of law. As Damon Linker (The Week) explains:

The rule of law is far more about how things are done than about what is done. If Obama does what he appears poised to do, I won’t be the least bit troubled about the government breaking up fewer families and deporting fewer immigrants. But I will be deeply troubled about how the president went about achieving this goal — by violating the letter and the spirit of federal law.

Yes, yes, yes… presidents have taken extralegal action in the past—George W. Bush’s post-9/11 war on terror is a convenient case in point. But as Linker notes: “No matter how you feel about Bush’s actions, up until now, executive transgressions of the law have been made in the name of protecting the common good from a grave threat in a time of emergency.” Where is the emergency today?

Have we really gotten to the point where the executive can ignore and even violate, on the absurdly open-ended basis of “discretion,” the express intent of a federal law he is constitutionally empowered to execute — not because of an emergency, not because of a national threat, but merely because he wants to be a nice guy?

It appears that we have. Continue Reading »

Historic Milestone?

The press has been a buzz about the climate agreement between Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping. The agreement commits the US to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent by 2025 (2005 baseline), well ahead of current projections. China has committed to stop growth in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 at the latest, largely by increasing its reliance on renewables and nuclear energy.

Secretary of State John Kerry (New York Times) describes the agreement as an historic milestone that “can inject momentum into the global climate negotiations” and “sends an important signal that we must get this agreement done, that we can get it done, and that we will get it done.”

Stephen Stromberg (Washington Post) seems almost as excited as the Secretary of State, noting that “Obama’s accumulating accomplishments on climate change might define his legacy.”

This [agreement] sweeps away years of anxiety about whether China and the United States — responsible together for nearly half of global greenhouse gas output — would ever cooperate on climate, rather than each perpetually waiting for the other to act. It will always be tough to get many nations to move together, and keep moving together, in the same direction. But two dominant — and historically reluctant — players now are.

Perhaps, but there is much room for skepticism. The agreement is simply that—a nonbinding agreement between two leaders who will not be around long enough to ensure implementation. Continue Reading »

Catalan Elections Bet

We’ve been having a lively debate in the comments to these two posts about the true level of support for independence in the Catalan population. I say a plebiscite on the question would yield a clear majority in favor; others disagree. So it seems like a good opportunity for a friendly bet!

I propose the following two bets:

1. If “plebiscitary elections” are held for the Parliament of Catalonia before the end of 2015 with a “unitary list” of pro-independence forces, I win the bet if the unitary list wins an absolute majority of valid votes (excluding blank and spoiled ballots and abstentions), and you win the bet if it doesn’t. If plebiscitary elections are not held for the Parliament of Catalonia with a unitary list of pro-independence forces before the end of 2015, then this bet is void.

2. If regular elections are held for the Parliament of Catalonia before the end of 2015, I win the bet if the summed votes of CiU (or CDC if it runs separately from Unio), ERC, CUP, SI, and any other pro-independence parties exceed 50% of valid votes (excluding blank and spoiled ballots and abstentions), and you win the bet if they do not. If regular elections are not held for the Parliament of Catalonia before the end of 2015, then this bet is void.

Please notify me if you would like to take me up on either or both bets and give a proposed bet amount in a currency of your choice. I will give even odds. I will limit my total exposure on all bets to $800/€600. All payments will be made by Paypal.

A Mandate for Meh

A week has passed since the election, and I think Ron Fournier (National Journal) has provided a decent interpretation of the results:

The winners were disgust, apathy, and a gnawing desire for a better choice – an alternative to what the two major parties currently are offering.

Rather than a mandate for anything, the results suggest a continuation of a pattern of voters casting a no confidence vote for the status quo. As Fournier concludes, the future could hold one of two possibilities:

The first is depressing, and potentially crippling: Voters continue to cast protest votes, extending the era of boom-and-bust cycles, with power shifting between two unpopular, dysfunctional parties.

The second is disruptive and uncertain, but renewing: Old political structures and habits give way to new systems that are transparent, authentic, competent and empowering in a way that appeals to the rising generation of so-called millennials.

Anyone want to place a bet on which of these outcomes is more likely?

Participation in the November 9 “participatory process” in Catalonia exceeded my expectations. According to reports, 2.3 million people participated in a nonbinding vote organized by volunteers, a figure that would amount to over 40% of the electorate. (No electoral roll was used for this election because of Spanish Constitutional Court rulings prohibiting the support of the Catalan government; voters had to show identification in order to vote.)

Of those who voted, 81% supported “Yes-Yes” (yes to Catalan statehood, yes to Catalan independence), 10% went “Yes-No,” and 4.5% voted “No.” Gràfic dades 3Many voters who would have otherwise voted “No” boycotted the process entirely. Still, in the last Catalan election, 3.6 million votes were cast. We could take that number to be a rough estimate of those who would actually turn out to vote in a binding referendum. Since over 1.8 million voters went for Yes-Yes in a purely nonbinding show of support, we can confidently predict that a binding referendum would yield a clear majority in favor of independence.

Another data point in favor of this conclusion is that just under 1.9 million voters voted in favor of Catalonia’s proposed new statute of autonomy in 2006, which was 73% of those voting. A binding referendum on independence would surely attract higher negative turnout, but there is no way around the conclusion that support for independence could well reach 55 or even 60% in such a vote.

What next? Catalan President Artur Mas said in a speech after the vote results were announced that he would pursue negotiations over a legally binding referendum with the Spanish state. But what will happen when the Spanish state refuses to negotiate with him, as it will assuredly do? Mas seems to be leaving the door open to a prolonged period of stasis, which is exactly what the Spanish government wants, thinking as they apparently do that the Catalans will eventually “return to sanity” if they simply wait long enough. On the other hand, he could simply be giving the Spanish government one last chance to negotiate, and if that fails, to go ahead with an extraconstitutional plan, such as the “plebiscitary election” favored by the Catalan Republican Left.

While Republicans nationally enjoyed a wave election, Republican federal candidates in New Hampshire underperformed relative to other states. Scott Brown lost very narrowly to incumbent Jeanne Shaheen, dogged throughout the campaign with the “carpetbagger” label. The highly conservative, hawkish Marilinda Garcia also lost in the second congressional district, my district and the more left-leaning one in the state. The governor’s race was close, but first-term incumbent Maggie Hassan pulled it out. That result was not surprising, since first-term governors in New Hampshire rarely lose (a term is just two years), and her opponent Walt Havenstein had low name recognition and also faced carpetbagging accusations, having just moved back to New Hampshire from Maryland.

At the state legislative level, however, the GOP did much better. They took over the executive council and state house and extended their lead in the senate. Lacking veto-proof majorities, however, they will need to work with Governor Hassan to accomplish anything.

Libertarians did rather well in this election as well. Of the 116 New Hampshire Liberty Alliance-endorsed candidates in this election, 86 won. Not all of those 86 are real libertarians. The NHLA has a mechanistic scoring system for endorsements: as long as you vote 80% pro-liberty on the roll-call votes they track (or for challengers, are 80% pro-liberty in your questionnaire answers), you are endorsed. Since most roll-call votes are economic liberty issues rather than personal liberty issues, traditional conservatives often do extremely well on NHLA ratings. Still, a very sizeable chunk of the next state house – around 20% – will be quite liberty-friendly.

Unfortunately, four very solid libertarian incumbents lost: three by extremely narrow margins and one by a wide margin because of a Republican wave in his district (he is a Democrat). One metric some people are interested in is the number of Free State Project early movers who won races. I can say that the number is more than half of those who made it past their primaries, and a new record. I can also say that this list is both wrong and too short (warning: click link only if you have a strong stomach for paranoia and/or enjoy schadenfreude).

Other interesting stories from the election… There is a rather unhinged (and I don’t use that term lightly) Free Stater hater in Bedford, a wealthy restauranteur and sometime Republican bigshot, who did everything he could to defeat a Republican incumbent state senator, Andy Sanborn, because he was friendly with Free Staters. In the end, Sanborn defeated his opponent by a far wider margin than he had in 2012 (the 2014 was a rematch of the two).

The Dems sent out last-minute mailers to just about every competitive house district (judging from reports), accusing all the Republican candidates of supporting the “ultra-extreme Free State Project.” That didn’t work out too well for them: the GOP has at least 235 seats in the new state house (out of 400), with three ties (yes, ties) still to be resolved.

In a slightly Republican-leaning state senate district that had gone to a Democrat in ’12, an insurgent candidate, Kevin Avard, who spent only about $6000 on the race, upended the incumbent. Avard is a libertarianish conservative, which will make for about three of that breed now in the senate (plus Sanborn and John Reagan).

So what can we expect from the next legislature? The Continue Reading »

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