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Archive for September, 2011

In the latest issue, The Economist gives a startling look on the dire situation of courts in America. Budget cuts and, at the federal level, political obstruction have fostered delays and case backlogs. Some of the dire consequences:

  • In California, uncontested divorces now take a year to obtain.
  • One circuit court in Georgia has stopped civil adjudication (traffic offenses, etc.) altogether.
  • Courts in 14 states are closed on some work days.
  • One municipal court in Ohio stopped accepting new cases because it could not afford to buy paper.
  • New York judges’ pay has been frozen for a dozen years, even as their caseload has increased by 30%.
  • In Florida in 2009, according to the Washington Economics Group, the backlog in civil courts is costing the state some $9.8 billion in GDP a year.

And so on.

As a libertarian, I believe that the judicial function is a core function of government, and that government should fund it properly and do adjudication well. Judges should be highly paid and courthouses well staffed and efficiently run. Private arbitration is all well and good, but arbitration contracts ultimately depend on enforcement by the public courts. States should be increasing, not cutting, judicial budgets, even if they have to raise taxes or cut more severely other programs in order to do so.

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The new CNN/USA Today poll on the economy offers few surprises.

  • 90 percent of those polled characterize the economy as poor (40 percent somewhat poor + 50 percent very poor). This is the worst outcome since December of 2008 when 93 percent characterized the economy as poor.
  • The majority (52 percent) blame Bush and the Republicans. It is interesting to note that this is the best showing to date for the GOP.  In July, by comparison, 57 percent blamed Bush and the Republicans. Since then, the percentage blaming Obama and the Democrats has increased (from 29 to 32 percent) while the percentage blaming both the GOP and the Democrats equally has increased (from 10 to 13 percent).

Now for the surprise: although the administration needs to place the economic problems squarely at the feet of the GOP and keep it there until the election, it is getting little help from Vice President Joe Biden. In a radio interview yesterday, the Vice President was quite frank and accurate in his assessment:

“Even though 50-some percent of the American people think the economy tanked because of the last administration, that’s not relevant,” said the vice president. “What’s relevant is we’re in charge.”

“Right now, we are the ones in charge, and it’s gotten better but it hasn’t gotten good enough,” Biden told WLRN. “…I don’t blame them for being mad. We’re in charge. So they’re angry.”

Biden said it is “totally legitimate” for the 2012 presidential election to be “a referendum on Obama and Biden and the nature and state of the economy.” He said Americans will need to make a choice between what the Obama administration is offering to address the problem and what is being offered by the eventual Republican nominee.

I can’t imagine that the administration was pleased to hear Joe Biden’s admission of responsibility.  Anyone who has read Suskind’s new book Confidence Men can get some useful insights as to the lack of clarity and the internal disarray surrounding economic policy within the Obama White House. But Republicans should not be overjoyed at the Vice President’s moment of clarity. If he is correct, the 2012 election will hinge on whether the Republican nominee has anything of substance to say on how best to promote recovery. Beyond a critique of Obamanomics and few well worn statements about taxes and regulations, has anyone heard anything rising to the level of a credible alternative?

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In particular, a victory today for the right to bear arms on college campuses in Oregon.  A three judge panel of the Oregon state Court of Appeals ruled that the Higher Education Board cannot ban students from concealed carry on campus.  Bill Graves of the Oregonian writes:

The court ruled that while the State Board of Higher Education has authority to control and manage its property and to enact administrative rules, it cannot override a state law that says only the Legislature can regulate the use, sale and possession of firearms.

Not exactly a stretch to predict that politicians and/or administrators will attempt to chisel away at this right in the near future.  The cited article notes some ways that this could happen.  Remain ever vigilant of your rights, Oregonians, since they are in peril whenever the state is awake - which is always as Thomas Hobbes noted long ago!

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John Sides has a short but interesting post on 538 today looking at surprisingly strong public support for technocratic limitations on pure democracy. A few months ago I floated the idea of multiple voting as a way of overcoming, partially, the baleful effects of voter irrationality. Technocratic management would be another way to do it. These sorts of proposals seem to be unexpectedly popular. Voters generally don’t think highly of other voters’ intelligence.

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Surprised?

According to Governor Perry’s wife, “he’s never had a debate class or a debate coach in his life.”  For those who have enjoyed the Governor’s debate showings, Bad Lip Reading has added him to their selection of fine videos.

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Jobs for Colombia!

The Hill is reporting that Reid and Pelosi are at odds with the White House over free trade bills that Obama wants Congress to pass.

Now, assume for the moment that Democrats really are the party of the poor and downtrodden.  How, then, does this this statement make sense?:

He even chastised Republicans for being “more concerned about what jobs are being created in Colombia or Panama or Korea than what jobs are being created here in America.”

Shouldn’t the party that is bad at economics but desirous to help the poor be saying something along the lines of this:  “This bill will send jobs to Panama and Columbia.  And that is great, because they need them more than we do!”

Even as a foreign policy measure, sending jobs oversees probably promotes better relations, and it lessens immigration pressures.

One would almost think that Democrats want to suppress the economics of poor Latin American countries so that more people have the incentive to migrate here to mow the lawns of rich leftists who live in neighborhoods where low income immigrants cannot live because of zoning restrictions and other racist urban planning.

Holy Inconsistency, Batman!

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The Atlantic Yards controversy isn’t new, but this recent Grantland article by Malcolm Gladwell on how rich men were able to use eminent domain in this case to get richer is still noteworthy.   It loses a little steam at the end when he starts to rant a bit.  But Gladwell nicely lays out what went on while highlighting the ugliness of eminent domain seizures for essentially private use.

BTW, I still don’t see why Justice O’Connor added stadia to railroads and utilities as justifiable reasons for takings that can be transferred to private entities.  Seems like apples and oranges.  The logic of including stadia would also seem to justify just about any commercial development open to the public.

When the flashy Brooklyn Nets play in their new arena, make sure to remember all of the folks whose land was essentially legally stolen to make that possible.  I will – and I will certainly never set foot in the place.  Vote with your dollars!

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A new Gallup Poll reveals: “A record-high 81% of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the country is being governed, adding to negativity that has been building over the past 10 years.”

One has to wonder about the sanity of the 19 percent that is satisfied.

Other findings:

  • 82% of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job.
  • 69% say they have little or no confidence in the legislative branch of government, an all-time high and up from 63% in 2010.
  • 57% have little or no confidence in the federal government to solve domestic problems, exceeding the previous high of 53% recorded in 2010 and well exceeding the 43% who have little or no confidence in the government to solve international problems.
  • 53% have little or no confidence in the men and women who seek or hold elected office.
  • Americans believe, on average, that the federal government wastes 51 cents of every tax dollar, similar to a year ago, but up significantly from 46 cents a decade ago and from an average 43 cents three decades ago.
  • 49% of Americans believe the federal government has become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens. In 2003, less than a third (30%) believed this.
Given the high likelihood of a government shutdown, little evidence that the economy will recover any time soon, and more than a year until the 2012 elections, I can only imagine that these numbers will continue to move south.

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This is darn scary and something that has to freak out even those friendly to Obama (especially if you agree with mainstream Democrat economic advisors on the role of AD).  And it isn’t a single data point as Brad Smith at the Division of Labor blog points out.  From Ron Suskind’s book Confidence Men (via Division of Labor):

“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.”

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Glenn Greenwald highlights the fact that the Obama Administration is doing something about the Bahrain regime’s crackdown on pro-democracy protestors… by selling the government more weapons.

Does anyone really think US intervention in Libya is about human rights?

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Nobel laureate in economics Ronald Coase in “The Problem of Social Cost“:

Actually very little analysis is required to show that an ideal world is better than a state of laissez faire, unless the definitions of a state of laissez faire and an ideal world happen to be the same. But the whole discussion is largely irrelevant for questions of economic policy since whatever we may have in mind as our ideal world, it is clear that we have not yet discovered how to get to it from where we are. A better approach would seem to be to start our analysis with a situation approximating that which actually exists, to examine the effects of a proposed policy change, and to attempt to decide whether the new situation would be, in total, better or worse than the original one. In this way, conclusions for policy would have some relevance to the actual situation.

Remember, utopia is Greek for “no place.”  (more…)

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We Do Sports, Too – Take II

We rarely stray into sports here at Pileus unless there is a political or economic issue at stake.  However, Sven did so once here.  So why not.  Here’s some weekend sports fodder as baseball (the greatest sport ever conceived) winds down its regular season:

Jason Stark at espn.com has a post up at his blog imploring us to take seriously Matt Kemp’s pursuit of the first Triple Crown since 1967.  But should we get all worked up about this?  Stark seems to think so.  He sets it up by noting how long it has been since anyone won a Triple Crown and that it has been a really long time since someone did the trifecta in the National League.  Then he states this: “So don’t ask us why more people aren’t worked up about Matt Kemp. Can’t explain that. But it’s time to start paying attention — close attention –
because Kemp has put himself in position to actually pull this off.”

Well, Kemp’s quest for the Triple Crown isn’t unremarkable.  However, I think the explanation for why people aren’t all that worked up about it is that serious baseball fans don’t consider the Holy Trinity of stats that make up the Triple Crown to be all that holy anymore.  When was the last time you saw a real student of the game make a big deal out of batting average or RBI (at least alone)?  Instead, these analysts (and their “sabermetrician” friends) focus on more refined statistics to judge the value of batters, fielders, and pitchers.  And that is a pretty easy answer that explains the “problem” Stark has identified.

This is not to say Kemp isn’t having a heck of a year.  Indeed, he is having a stellar year that should be getting more press (and probably isn’t because the Dodgers stink and he plays on the left coast).  Kemp’s Wins-Above-Replacement (WAR) is 9.6 and his Runs Created is 132.  Indeed, he’s rated 102nd all-time in terms of WAR (according to Baseball Reference).  But it isn’t his pursuit of the Triple Crown that we should be focusing on.  It is this great year period that is borne-out by more than the pretty lame indicators of BA, HR, and RBI.

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A mildly humorous but certainly informative video on the process by which a legal case gets to the Supreme Court (from the indispensable Institute for Justice).  This might be particularly useful as a starter for homeschoolers looking to talk about the U.S. legal system.

HT: Cato@liberty.

In other IJ news, Lifetime Television is making a movie about the infamous Kelo case which the institute litigated.  It will star Brooke Shields and be based on the book Little Pink House by Jeff Benedict.  Never thought I’d say this about something showing on the “source for women’s entertainment” – but I’m looking forward to seeing this picture.  For those who can’t wait, you can watch this video on the case:

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In two separate incidents, attackers allegedly using “turban bombs” recently assassinated two prominent Afghan politicians.  I wonder if this admittedly low number of events will nonetheless (due to the potentially high individual and social cost) cause a shift in cultural practice such that Afghan men will be asked to take off their headgear prior to meetings with powerful men.  Or will tradition/culture outweigh prudence?  And will a substantial number of politicians signal their manliness by not asking guests to do so and thus prevent an otherwise rational spontaneous evolution in cultural practices?   Or would such requests or a shift in culture be irrational responses to low probability events?

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Friends:

I need a little quick help.  I’m teaching a graduate policy analysis class this semester.  It is mostly applied welfare economics, public goods, social welfare functionals, discount rates, risk, etc., etc.    In other words, standard utilitarian fare.  However, I would like to spend one hour on rights.

So, your first response is “1 hour?!!!!”  I know.  Isn’t public policy all about rights?  Well, maybe it should be.  But policy analysis, at least as it is usually taught in graduate school, is about tradeoffs–which don’t fit too well into the world of rights, obligations and imperatives.

So here is what I need: a good  but not too long (book chapter length) article that talks about rights and public policy.  A focus on how rights can be incorporated—in a practical, useful way—into a larger utilitarian framework (rather than a Kantian rant against utilitarianism) is preferred, though not necessarily confined to just rule-utilitarianism.    Something Epstein-ish, perhaps, would be good.  I’m not satisfied with what I was using (a sort of philosophically taxonomy of rights, duties and obligations), so I need something quick.

Any ideas?

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The debate over the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s imminent application for full recognition at the United Nations continues to rage domestically and internationally. The dominant perspective here in the U.S., at least among Republicans, is that Palestinian statehood should be denied except on Israel’s terms. The most common reason given seems to be that the Israelis are more trustworthy and just better people than the Palestinians. For instance, this Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial argues that the Palestinians are full of hatred for Israel, disqualifying them from their own state. (It also wrongly asserts that the PLO has not recognized Israel’s right to exist. The PLO has not recognized Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.)

Should Palestine’s recognition depend on the virtue or justice of its people? Certainly, other governments should not reward terrorism or human rights violations by offering statehood to groups of people who use such means to control territory and establish a government. Recognizing the PLO in the 1970′s would have been gravely mistaken. But the internal mental state of Palestinians – the extent of their hostility toward Israel or the United States – should not matter at all. When considering how to use the recognition power, governments ought to place first and foremost the promotion of peace and stability. A secessionist movement does not have to be virtuous and high-minded to be recognized as a state. There have been many dubious aspects about secession movements in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Eritrea, Bangladesh, and South Sudan, but that hasn’t prevented the United States and other powers from recognizing these countries in order to establish stability and prevent further killing.

When considering whether to recognize Palestine as a fully independent state, governments should tough-mindedly consider the consequences of doing so for long-term peace and stability. As I argue in my forthcoming book, Secessionism, providing a legal path for secession does not require celebrating the motivations or consequences of secession, but “legalizing secession” does reduce the risk of major violence. Basing the recognition decision on the relative moral desert of the Israelis and Palestinians as peoples – if such a comparison between groups of peoples can even be made – is a distraction.

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Stupid yet still clever

 

The underlying policy views are very confused (a corporation isn’t a person, it’s a group of people who don’t lose their other rights just because they have freely associated financial interests).  But as a political slogan, I found this very clever (and funny).

 

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What Would Coase Say?

What would Coase say about the problem identified in this article from Forbes of all places?

HT: Marginal Revolution.

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HT: Vero.

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Yup, you heard me say it.  David Brooks accurately describes his view of Obama and helps us understand his last few years of columns on the President.  And here is his flawless insight: “I’m a sap, a specific kind of sap. I’m an Obama Sap.”

Perhaps I should rethink my take that Obama is likely to win reelection.  I mean, Brooks jumping off the bandwagon has gotta be a sign of something, right?

Too much snark, Sven? ;-)  Yeah, probably.  I have more respect for Brooks than I usually let on.

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The “Submerged” State

There is an interesting piece in today’s NYT by political scientist Suzanne Mettler. The basic argument is relatively straightforward. Americans dislike government because they fail to understand how greatly it benefits them. This is partially a story of ideology, partly a story of policy design. The first point is relatively simple. On the last point, the piece is referring to design issues that allow beneficiaries to receive their benefits through third party providers, thereby obscuring the source (and explaining how one might carry a placard telling the government to keep its hands off of Medicare). Design issues also arise in what Chris Howard has referred to as the “invisible welfare state,” or what Mettler describes as the “submerged  state,” i.e., a state that executes functions via tax expenditures. Citing the examples of the mortgage interest deduction or the tax treatment of employer-provided health care, the author notes that such policies leave “beneficiaries with the false impression that their economic security was owed merely to their own efforts.”

The submerged state obscures the role of government and exaggerates that of the market. It leaves citizens unaware of the source of programs and unable to form meaningful opinions about them.

The solution: make the benefits of the “submerged” state more visible.

I am a great fan of transparency. It is my suspicion, however, that if citizens looked beyond the treatment of their mortgage interest, health care, and church contributions, they would quickly lose enthusiasm for the submerged state.  This same state uses the same means to provide countless billions in corporate welfare to transfer-seekers thereby tilting the competitive field to benefit those who have most effectively purchases access. One should not be surprised that the majority of the benefits accrue to the top quintile.

I might be wrong, but I am not certain that full transparency would make the submerged state far more popular. It might, in fact, have the opposite effect.

 

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Most mainstream TV journalists are nice to look at and can speak without stumbling over their words, but why are these sufficient qualifications?  Consider these problems:

  • Journalists, as many studies show, are vastly to the political left of the distribution of US voters (probably even to the left of Democrats)
  • Journalists, as a group, have no particular expertise on public policy issues (certainly, the universities and think tanks in the country could produce enough well-spoken policy experts to do the job).
  • Journalists have no experience as either elected or appointed officials in government.
  • Successful journalists have some smart people among their numbers, but the smartest are typically not the pretty boys and girls that read off monitors for a living and host debates.

Even more of a puzzle is why Republicans let leftist journalists host GOP debates.  How do they gain by letting these people try to make them look bad?  If they want a journalist, why not pick, say, a Jonah Goldberg (who would be awesome), even if he isn’t as pretty as Brian Williams or Anderson Cooper?

Is it that they worry that they couldn’t get networks to cover their debates?  Given that anyone who would be watching a debate more than a year before the election is going to be very much a person very interested in politics who would be just as happy to watch it on C-Span or the Discovery channel as any major network.

Perhaps the candidates think that any amount of free air time will help their name recognition with the broader electorate.  But the GOP debates so far would be very unlikely to appeal to the independent voters that the candidates need to attract to win a general election (they aren’t paying attention, and if they were, they’d just get spooked off by the extremism).

The “Let him die” fiasco of the last week (more on that later, maybe) just illustrates how the GOP isn’t serving their interests.  Far better—for citizens—to get an intelligent, articulate conservative to host these debates.

Of course this is assuming that the candidates would want to go head-to-head with an intelligent conservative.  Can you imagine, for instance, an extended Bill Buckley-Rick Perry exchange?  Makes me shudder with glee and wish I had finished building that time machine.

I sense, however, that going up against a brilliant interlocutor in a debate, one who knows the ins and outs of different strains of conservative/libertarian political thought and takes those ideas seriously, is the last person that a typical candidate would want asking them questions.  There are a few potential candidates who would welcome such an opportunity.  But they are the ones not running.

That fact, sadly, is what makes following politics so dispiriting.

 

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The Can Has Been Kicked…

Today the President announces his $3 trillion deficit plan. First reaction: meh.

We get to count (once again) a trillion from the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan. That will be combined with $1.5 trillion in revenue and another $500 billion in cuts. Let’s start with revenue. We are going to hear—endlessly—about the Buffet rule. The Oracle of Omaha notes that his secretary pays at a higher marginal rate than he does. Of course, the top marginal rate for income over $379k is 35 percent. I don’t know what the Oracle pays his secretarial staff, but I know that the Oracle can only achieve a lower rate by taking his compensation primarily as investment income rather than salary. Fine.  The president could not have gotten a millionaire tax passed when the Democrats controlled both chambers. He most certainly is not going to get it now. Indeed, there is no plan to do so. As the NYT reports:

Administration officials said Sunday night that they were not including any revenue from the Buffett Rule in Mr. Obama’s overall $3 trillion proposal, adding that it was more of a guiding principle the president will adopt as budget negotiations with Congress advance.

And

Under Mr. Obama’s proposal, $800 billion of the $1.5 trillion in tax increases would come from allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire. The other $700 billion, aides said, would come from a combination of closing loopholes and limiting deductions among individuals making more than $200,000 a year and families making more than $250,000.

So the millionaire tax is only a rhetorical ploy designed to warm the populist heart.  It will play well—it is hoped—to frame the 2012 election as a choice between the millionaire-coddling GOP and the Hope and Change populism of the Democrats. Since the millionaire tax is not part of a deficit program, it is nothing but a campaign meme.

Even if the millionaire tax were serious, the real revenue isn’t to be extracted from the Oracle of Omaha, it must be extracted from the upper-middle class. And as the above quote suggests, that is precisely the goal. I remain astounded that the media still refers to this as the Bush tax cut. The Obama administration negotiated an extension of these very tax cuts on December 17, 2010, before the start of the current Congress. As you may recall, the President still held majorities in both chambers. Given that the extension was passed with unified Democratic control of the House, Senate, and presidency, I remain somewhat puzzled that they are still described as the Bush tax cuts. One might quibble about the applicability of the misnamed Pottery Barn rule (“you break it, you bought it”). But most certainly, if you pass a bill when you control majorities in both chambers of Congress, you own it…until you don’t.

The $700 billion in closing loopholes and deductions could be a good thing if part of comprehensive tax reform designed to eliminate the extraordinarily dense network of tax expenditures that comprise the tax code. Many of these are the instruments used in our de facto industrial policy driven, in large, by successful transfer seeking. They distort market signals and provide significant benefits to the top quintile of income earners. Even if their elimination is foolishly prohibited by Grover Nordquist’s tax pledge, anyone who has respect for market mechanisms should welcome their elimination. But my guess is, there will be significant cherry picking in identifying which loopholes and expenditures to target. But even if the elimination of some of these expenditures could be considered a net change, the post Tax Reform Act (1986) decades proved that there were no expenditures that could not be taken back and then resold to the highest bidder.

As for spending cuts, it appears that any hopes that the fiscal crisis would create a foundation for entitlement reform were misplaced. No hope, no change. The President would like to claim $248 billion from Medicare and another $72 billion from Medicaid, with the bulk of the cuts coming from providers. Given that so much of the savings from the Affordable Care Act were to come from these same sources, I find the claim that even more savings are to be found—without forcing the wholesale defection of providers from Medicaid, for example—to be a bit questionable.

There are no proposals for entitlement reform. No announced plans to increase the retirement age and nothing specific (thus far) on means testing of benefits. To the extent that this is the case, it may be little more than another hunt for “waste, fraud, and abuse.” Given the the GOP has long promised to eliminate the same “waste, fraud, and abuse,” it appears that there is room for a bipartisan snipe hunt.

The President has chosen not to promote entitlement reform and has promised to veto any legislation that seeks cuts in spending without increases in taxes. Following the debt ceiling circus from this summer, the President clearly cannot anticipate that the GOP will suddenly embrace tax increases. So there only seems to be a single conclusion one can arrive at: the deficit-cutting plan has little to do with deficits or reforming the key drivers that will lead, ultimately, to the fiscal crisis that the OMB, the GAO, and the CBO have been predicting for well over a decade.

Since we are entering election season, the lesson should be framed by using the lightly edited words proclaimed by JFK at his inaugural, “the torch has been passed can has been kicked to a new generation of Americans — born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling forced to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.”

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Although the original Constitution is a remarkable achievement, it is the Bill of Rights added to the Constitution that so many cherish most about the document.  And for that they have the Anti-Federalists – especially George Mason – to thank given that these men pushed hard for specific enumeration of protected rights despite opposition by Federalists such as Alexander Hamilton.

Institutions can be mechanisms for a particular political culture to become “sticky.”  In the case of the Bill of Rights, ideals that existed at one time became embedded in the state’s core document, thus making them and laws rooted in those ideals difficult (but not impossible) to excise through the political process even when the political culture that supported those ideals and laws had withered.  Institutions such as these also have a feedback effect on our political culture.  In short, culture can be self-replicating by generating institutions that are educative of a certain vision of the good and that create interested constituencies to defend and propagate that vision.

Given some of the enduring features of America’s political culture*, the country wouldn’t be a completely different place minus the Bill of Rights.  However, the Bill of Rights almost certainly provided a bulwark that has helped defend that older vision of the good (in favor of protecting individual rights) against state encroachment at the behest of interested minorities or tyrannical majorities.  We have a long way to go to reclaim the so-called “Constitution in Exile” or “Lost Constitution” but things like the Bill of Rights have meant we have a lot less far to travel to do so.  On this Constitution Day, thanks to George Mason and so many others of the Founding generation that resisted the powerful arguments of Hamilton et al.

* One could argue that they might not have been so enduring without the educative effects of the Bill of Rights, but I think this gives institutions too much independent power despite what I’ve noted.

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Seth Cohn wins Commenter of the Day for getting all three answers to my Middle-Earth quiz right. Here are the answers with brief logic:

1. The Shire will export Longbottom leaf and import mithril armor and iron ore. (Logic: Being abundant in land and scarce in labor and capital, The Shire can make leaf more cheaply than other countries but is a high-cost producer of the others. This is known as the Heckscher-Ohlin Theorem.)

2. The price of Longbottom leaf will fall and the price of mithril armor rise in Gondor. (Logic: We can infer that Gondor exports mithril armor and imports Longbottom leaf from its factor endowments. According to the Theory of Comparative Advantage, opening up to trade reduces the price of the imported good and increases the price of the good that is now in demand in foreign markets.)

3. Owners of labor (workers) support free trade in Mordor, while capital and land support protection. (Logic: Workers benefit from free trade in goods and services in Mordor because free trade will raise the relative price of iron ore and reduce the relative prices of the other goods, since labor is the abundant factor of production and Mordor will export iron. The increase in the price of iron ore, which uses labor intensively, bids up wages of workers throughout the economy. For the same reasons, owners of scarce capital and land oppose trade because their incomes will be bid down. This is known as the Stolper-Samuelson Theorem.)

Update: Fellow Pileite Grover Cleveland reminds me that it is quite unusual to see a “politician” who is well versed in economic theory. Yes, Seth Cohn is a New Hampshire legislator – but not exactly a professional politician at $100 in salary per year.

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Seen on an International Political Economy quiz:

The world of Middle-Earth has become largely peaceful, and international trade is growing. The Shire, Gondor, and Mordor are three countries in Middle-Earth. The Shire is abundant in land and scarce in labor and capital; Gondor is abundant in labor and capital and scarce in land; Mordor is abundant in labor and scarce in land and capital. Some of the products these countries trade include Longbottom leaf (produced intensively with land), mithril chain-mail armor (produced intensively with labor and capital), and raw iron ore (produced intensively with labor).

Questions:

  1. If you had to guess, which product(s) do you think the Shire imports, and which product(s) do they export?
  2. What would you predict to happen to the prices of Longbottom leaf and mithril chain-mail armor in Gondor after Gondor opens up to trade with the outside world?
  3. In Mordor, owners of which factor(s) of production tend to support free trade in the long run, and which factor owners tend to support protection instead?

First commenter to get all three answers right wins Commenter of the Day with a nice, big, fancy, front-page post and everything.

UPDATE FROM EDITOR: See here for the Answers and Winner.

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Happy Birthday LCL

The Loeb Classical Library published by Harvard University Press is 100 years old this year.  I can’t speak too highly of this “library.”  The Loeb series has some of the best works ever produced and each is bilingual (with English and Latin or Greek on facing pages).  But the experience of owning and reading these books goes well beyond the spectacular list - one gets great enjoyment from merely holding and turning the pages of these aesthetically pleasing vessels of classical literary, philosophical, historical, and political knowledge.  I first discovered them in college (reading Demosthenes’ Philippics) and have aspired since to read/own the entire series.  I even bought one for my first son on the occasion of his birth (a Plutarch).

Here is a description of the LCL from one celebration of this birthday:

Over the years, the Loeb as physical object has become instantly recognizable to bibliophiles: uniform, small-format hardcovers, with green covers for the Greek titles and red for the Latin. So familiar and covetable are the Loebs that Harvard University Press recently marked the 100th anniversary by inviting readers to send in photographs of their collections. What makes such images tantalizing is their promise of completeness. There are now 518 volumes in the Loeb Classical Library — just enough to make the idea of owning and reading them all seem an attainable challenge. The earliest authors in the Loeb catalog, Homer and Hesiod, wrote in the 7th century BCE; the latest, the Anglo-Saxon monk Bede, wrote in the 7th century CE. Here, then, is 1,400 years of human culture, all the texts that survive from one of the greatest civilizations human beings have ever built — and it can all fit in a bookcase or two. To capture all the fugitive texts of the ancient world, some of which survived the Dark Ages in just a single moldering copy in some monastic library, and turn them into affordable, clear, sturdy, accurate books, is one of the greatest accomplishments of modern scholarship — and one of the most democratic.

And this is pretty cool too:

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There have been quite a few interesting pieces on Solyndra in the past few days (see here, here, here, here and here for some good examples of recent coverage).  As most of you know, Solyndra was one of the beneficiaries of the administration’s efforts to engage in a green industrial policy, receiving a loan guarantee of $535 million as part of the 2009 stimulus. Solyndra was something of a poster child for the administration’s recovery program. It was building solar cell panels and creating the jobs of the future. It even figured prominently in the video the administration posted on its success stories (here, at 3:08).

The President made a special visit to the firm to publicize his administration’s successes in May 2010. On August 31, 2011, Solyndra announced it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. A week later, the FBI raided Alas, Solyndra in support of an investigation by the Department of Energy’s Inspector General. Since then, White House emails have been subpoenaed and the House has begun an investigation.

It is too early to arrive at any conclusions regarding the political significance of the story. It may be what one should expect with most industrial policy fiascos—a mix of hubris, transfer-seeking, and general ham-handedness. In other words, it might simply be business as usual. In this case, the administration’s seemingly endless desire for photo ops may have been combined with the kind of cronyism that was regularly denounced on the campaign trail but seems to be intrinsic to our system regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are in charge.

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I’m guessing that one would be hard-pressed to see in very many other places around the globe the following bumper sticker I saw last night:

“I’ll serve and protect myself, thank you very much.”

I’m not a big fan of bumper sticker philosophy and should probably shrug this one off without commentary.  But what the heck, it inspired a few thoughts beyond thinking of it as an exemplar of American exceptionalism.

So…On the one hand, I love the rugged individualism that the sticker’s slogan expresses.  My dark side also enjoys the poke it takes at the standard police motto given that the guardians are sometimes a threat to those ostensibly guarded.  I also like its not-so-subtle support for the 2nd Amendment.

However, I’m still influenced enough by Hobbes and Thucydides - not to mention other thinkers less negative about human nature and the state of nature but still decidedly “statist” -  to think such an anarchist-suggesting slogan is a bit naive.  In anarchy, we’d still be required (assuming we wish to survive at minimum and the world is not populated by angels) to form or purchase collective defense forces unless we could guarantee that others would not use coercive power against us.  Indeed, given the benefits of amassing coercive power in a world of such “self-protectors,” we’d soon find ourselves desirous of a state or a state-like entity so we could peacefully rest our head at night.

That being said, I still love the bumper sticker’s sentiment of self-help since ultimately we need to be able to defend ourselves when necessary even if we still desire a state* (like when the government fails to fulfill its ultimate end or even when the state itself becomes enough of a threat to our natural liberties to warrant the use of force — see many places around the globe or America 1775).  And I certainly respect and appreciate the notion that we should “serve” ourselves rather than rely on or demand the service of others.  But again, one probably shouldn’t think too deeply about what one reads on the back of a pickup truck.

* I prefer a strong but limited government.  In other words, one that enjoys the capacity to secure individual rights but does very little beyond that.

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Radley Balko at Reason has written a lot of great pieces (here and here and many other times) on the issue of legally videotaping police officers at they discharge their official duties.  Unfortunately, as Balko has chronicled, the police aren’t always so keen about citizens recording them and have on many occasions arrested people for doing so.  I’m with civil libertarians on this one - the right to video police should be a way to improve rather than hinder respectful and effective law enforcement since it reduces the potential for abuse of powers while hardly interfering with the ability of cops to do their very necessary job.  And the idea that public officials have a competing right to privacy while actually engaged in an official encounter with a citizen is laughable.

Given the hostile reaction by some government officials and lawmen to “video vs. the cops,” it is nice to see when the police get what the civil libertarians are talking about.  Thus it is worth highlighting what the spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office of Taylor County, Texas recently told the Abilene Reporter-News:

John Cummins, spokesman for the Taylor County Sheriff’s Office, said his agency does not provide direct training on how to handle video recording at scenes.

“If you are a party to the encounter, then you can record the encounter,” Cummins said. “Simply put, a citizen has the right to record an encounter with the police they are involved in.”

Cummins gave an example of a resident being able to record a field sobriety test, but noted that the resident must obey all other laws while recording.

Hopefully Cummins would also support the right of third parties to record such an encounter.  Let’s keep guarding the guardians!

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Segments of the conservative press in the UK are currently running a concerted campaign against very minor proposals by the coalition government to relax land use regulation, arguing that this will encourage the further development of ‘urban sprawl’. Similar attitudes are prevalent in America – the supposed exemplar of a ‘sprawling’ society– where prior to his departure as a CNN anchor the conservative populist Lou Dobbs ran an almost nightly campaign against US urban development patterns. In this post I do not wish to enter the debate about the merits (greater living space and greater mobility) and demerits (loss of open space and long distance commuting) of low density urban development.* Rather, I wish to argue that insofar as sprawl is considered an environmental ‘externality’ it is the result of ‘government failure’ and not ‘market failure’.

The first aspect of government-generated urban sprawl that needs to be recognised is the role played by the state-subsidised and non-priced provision of roads, and large trunk roads (such as the US Interstate Highway system) in particular. In both Britain and in the USA the public sector is responsible for financing the roads that encourage a low-density form of urban development. The provision of tax-payer subsidised road-space encourages would-be commuters to live further away from their places of work than might otherwise be the case and as a consequence increases the demand for the expansion of sprawling low-density suburbs. This tendency to demand more road-space and the sprawling development that often goes with it is further accentuated by the provision of road space according to that cherished principle of the social democratic left – that ‘public services’ should be ‘free at the point of delivery’. The refusal of governments to use road pricing mechanisms which charge people directly according to their personal level of road usage encourages excessive travel to work distances and again makes the demand for suburban development higher than it would otherwise be.

Critics of urban sprawl are often vociferous advocates of large-scale public transportation or mass transit schemes as an alternative to automobile-focussed development. The construction of subsidised metro systems, however, far from discouraging urban sprawl merely adds to the demand for commuters to live in a more dispersed pattern, encouraging suburbanisation and development away from the older urban centres. If the users of public transportation are not faced with the full cost of the transport service that they use, they travel longer distances than would otherwise be the case – thus increasing the demand for a more dispersed housing pattern. Neither do public transportation systems reduce the demand for automobile use. At most they reduce the demand for car travel as the primary mode of getting to and from work. They do nothing, however, to reduce the demand for car use between suburban areas – where inter-suburban shopping and leisure trips predominate – creating additional pressures for sprawl. One need only look at the rapid outward expansion of suburban development in the Washington DC/Northern Virginia area to witness this phenomenon – an area served by one of the most heavily subsidised metro systems anywhere in the United States – and indeed the world.

In addition to encouraging sprawl via the provision of ‘free roads’ and subsidised public transit, government land use regulation often further intensifies the problem. In the US, large-lot zoning ordinances and prescriptive requirements for set-backs, road-widths and mandatory car parking all conspire to produce a low density and fragmented pattern of urban development. In the UK meanwhile, the ‘Green Belts’ drawn around most of the major cities in an attempt to limit sprawl, encourage a ‘leap-frog’ pattern of development – one which is now evident in US cities such as Portland which have copied key elements of the British model. While Green Belts have acted to physically stop the outward growth of cities such as London – the outer boundary of which has barely shifted since the mid 1950s- they have also acted to shift pressure for development to the areas beyond the designated zones. Development which might, in the absence of green belts, have taken place on the immediate urban fringe, is pushed 30 or 40 miles further out – intensifying the demand for long distance commuting across the green belts.

Critics of urban sprawl often highlight ‘market failure’ as its cause. Yet, with government ownership of roads, government refusal to charge consumers directly for the roads and ‘public transport’ that they use, and government-enforced land use regulations which encourage leap-frog development, it should be clear that ‘government failure’ is the primary source of any environmental externalities in this domain. First steps towards internalising these externalities would involve the introduction of widespread road pricing, privatisation of major trunk roads, and the abolition of government subsidies for both road construction and for ‘public transportation’.

*For an excellent review of these issues see Bogart, W. (2006) Don’t Call it Sprawl: metropolitan structure in the 21st century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Might there be a tension in the thought of conservatives and libertarians who laud the market while advocating not merely the right to home school but the superiority of homeschooling itself?

One of the virtues of the extended free market is that it allows for (and rewards) the division of labor and the benefits that flow from this arrangement.*  In particular, as Adam Smith noted in his An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, the division of labor allows for “the great multiplication of the production of all the different arts . . . which occasions, in a well-governed society, that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people.”  Add to that the idea of comparative advantage, and to riff on the Red Stripe beer commercials, “Hooray markets!”

But does this hold true in the realm of education?  I don’t see why not.  If some individuals focus on learning and practicing the knowledge and methods most effective at producing education, we could certainly expect better outcomes to flow from this than if we used amateurs (including ourselves) to educate our children.  But the potential benefits don’t stop there.  Those who don’t choose to enter the teaching profession or formally teach their own children can specialize and focus their productive energies on activities for which they have a comparative advantage.  The outcome?: Kids benefit from better teaching.  Parents benefit from the more efficient allocation of their talents/labor.  And society is better off as a whole.

Therefore, those who value efficiency and market outcomes should celebrate this.  But why then do so many conservative and libertarian parents homeschool their children and celebrate it as a superior arrangement?

One possible reason is that they believe education is not exactly rocket science, so the benefits from the division of labor are anywhere from zero to minimal (or even negative if you can’t replicate the individualized instruction when farming out education to specialists).  This might be true for grades K-5 – but even there parents face huge opportunity costs from doing something that, ostensibly, others can do easily.  And I really doubt this assumption is true for grades 6-12 since it is probably quite difficult for most parents to have the specialized knowledge necessary to teach children more advanced subjects.  I’m a university professor, and I’m pretty sure someone else would be better placed to teach my kids a whole range of subjects than I am (even leaving aside the opportunity cost issue).  That doesn’t mean I believe that all or even a lot of teachers – especially in public schools – actually know what they are talking about.  But theoretically specialization should result in…actual specialized knowledge.  And superior schools with the right incentive structures are likely to get teachers who know their stuff and how to teach it.

Another possible reason is that homeschooling advocates believe the benefits of individualized instruction (possible with homeschooling) will more than compensate for the losses sustained due to lack of specialized knowledge.  Again, this might be true for grades K-5.  But I doubt it for the higher grades.  And I think many homeschoolers doubt it too – which is why homeschoolers of older children often try to arrange a more traditional group instruction session led by another parent who has special knowledge in a particular subject area like math or science.  Of course, doing this necessitates sacrificing one of the supposed benefits of homeschooling.

A third possible reason is that homeschooling advocates think peer effects in regular school settings are decidedly negative, while homeschooling allows for greater and better control of whom their kids associate with during their formative years.  I think this is a decent argument if we assume that the kids your children interact with in your neighborhood, churches, and other social institutions aren’t pretty much the same as they’d meet at your local public or private school.  But is this assumption true?  Moreover, what is lost from not having to interact and learn how to deal with a broader set of people?  Of course, this last question could also be asked of those who send their kids to selective (read: expensive) private schools and public schools in high-end communities.

A fourth possible reason is that homeschooling advocates simply reject what goes on in more traditional group educational settings, public or private.  Here we have what I think is the strongest grounds for the superiority of homeschooling.  Whether it is the green theology, the cult of athletics, fear of school drug cultures, the politically-influenced (or just plain misguided) curriculum, or the general base culture that many schools tolerate or even celebrate, traditional educational settings give parents a lot of reasons to think they aren’t the best environments for their children.  However, many communities have private schools that, while not immune from such things, do not suffer greatly from them either.  This is particularly the case for religious schools, which many prefer anyway.  Therefore, parents have an option other than homeschooling that allows them to avoid the overall environment problem.  Religious schools also offer the moral and ethical education that many homeschoolers want for their children (and that, according to one study, motivates them to take their kids out of traditional school settings in the first place).  Unfortunately, the fact that individuals in the US are forced to pay twice for schools if they send their kids to private school prevents many parents from choosing the private school option (or at least forces more trade-offs).

Of course, there are many other reasons why parents might choose homeschooling.  Moreover, I don’t want to suggest that homeschooling is a bad option, especially compared to the many failing public school systems around the country.  However, I did want to note the possible tension between belief in the efficacy of what markets can harness and zeal for homeschooling.  For many people, private schooling seems to offer the best option if one wants to take advantage of the division of labor and comparative advantage, avoid the worst aspects of public schooling, and minimize opportunity costs involved in home schooling.  Politically, this means that we ought to work for greater school choice so that more parents can take their children out of destructive public schools without having to lose out on what Adam Smith taught us more than two centuries ago.

* Interestingly, Smith believes that the division of labor itself is rooted in our natural “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another” rather than any “human wisdom” about its positive consequences.

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Since Jason brought up the topic of representation, some readers might enjoy James Caeaser’s take on the role of democracy in the American Political Science Association.

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Political scientist John Sides has contributed an interesting guest post to FiveThirtyEight, in which he reviews the evidence that social class influences the way Congresspeople vote. In particular, Congresspeople are unlikely to come from working-class backgrounds, and class seems to affect voting at the individual level. If Congress had the same mix of class backgrounds as the general American public, they would in general be slightly more liberal.

My first reaction was: I wonder how much of this reflects IQ. Intelligence makes people think like economists and also increases people’s income and probably shifts class background toward mentally intensive occupations.

My second reaction was: Assuming the result stands, do we want Congress to reflect the same background as the American public? Should everyone be represented equally? It’s not obvious to me that they ought to. I’m on record here as supporting limiting in some way the right of government employees and contractors to vote. Even if you don’t share my libertarian proclivities on public policy, however, a slightly upper-class-tilted public policy regime might be desirable for straightforward reasons of stability. In a pure democracy that is strictly responsive to the median voter, businesspeople and professionals might become alienated from democracy itself. That may sound like a bit of a stretch for the United States, but not for many countries around the world where upper-class opposition to democracy has entrenched electoral fraud, clientelism, or military supervision of civilian authority.

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Barro on the Economy

This weekend, economist Robert Barro had an interesting piece in the NYT entitled “How to Really Save the Economy.”  Although there is nothing particularly new for those who have followed Barro over the years, it is worth a quick read. Drawing on Keynes, Barro calls for a mix of policies that would create the conditions necessary to create the stable expectations and environment that would stimulate investment.

The key proposals:

reforming Social Security and Medicare by increasing ages of eligibility and shifting to an appropriate formula for indexing benefits to inflation; phasing out “tax expenditures” like the deductions for mortgage interest, state and local taxes and employer-provided health care; and lowering the marginal income-tax rates for individuals.

I would add three more: reversing the vast and unwise increase in spending that occurred under Presidents Bush and Obama; introducing a tax on consumer spending, like the value-added tax (or VAT) common in other rich countries; and abolishing federal corporate taxes and estate taxes.

As you might guess, Barro is skeptical that these changes could be implemented in the current political climate (Republicans support a VAT? Democrats support elimination of corporate taxes?). Nonetheless, he makes a strong case for this policy mix the piece is well worth a few minutes of your time.

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I heard this scripture at an interfaith 9-11 memorial my wife and I attended this evening:

For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.  (Galations 5:13)

This wouldn’t make a bad motto for Pileus, actually.  We like to stress that liberty goes hand in hand with responsibility.  True enough.  But freedom and responsibility (duty, one might say) are made perfect by charity, I think.

Anyway, lots of memories tonight.

 

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The Nation has an excellent article on “Blowback in Somalia,” about the United States’ disastrous decision in 2006 to back an Ethiopian invasion and overthrow of the Islamic Courts Union in Mogadishu. The Union was a largely moderate confederation of allied civilian groups that had finally kicked the warlords out of the Somali capital. However, the radical Shabaab militia was part of the confederation, and the U.S. government believed that they needed to destroy them. Result? Today, 40% of Somalia’s territory is controlled by the Shabaab. Even more disturbingly, the Shabaab may be implementing a strategy of terrorism against civilians in areas of Somalia that have up until now been largely peaceful: Somaliland and Puntland.

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I’ve embedded below a nice short interview Reason TV recently conducted with Dan McCarthy, editor-in-chief of the American Conservative.  Dan is the perfect person to lead an explicit attempt to bring together conservatives and libertarians, traditionalists and individualists.  When I first met him, I was quite impressed with his knowledge of the history of conservatism and familiarity with the traditionalist and classical liberal literature.  In the post-fusionist (and less erudite) Right that has emerged since Reagan, this breadth of interest and knowledge is a rarity, especially in the depth that Dan also displays.  I certainly hope he succeeds at pushing a new fusionism, and the magazine is able to remain in print.  I’m especially concerned that AmCon survive because it has been one of the more serious critics of recent American foreign policy and has actively sought to get top international relations scholars into their pages (for example, Michael Desch, Andrew Bacevich, and John Mearsheimer).  The magazine also has a gorgeous new design that it rolled out in September with one of the best looking pieces of cover art I’ve seen in some time (see right).

I don’t agree with everything I read in AmCon (and founder Pat Buchanan has always been a controversial figure who some people don’t like to associate with too closely), but the magazine certainly represents ideas that deserve airing/debate and that just haven’t been getting a fair hearing in other prominent venues.  So if Reason or National Review are your regular meals in the libertarian or conservative worlds, I really recommend that you add a helping of AmCon to your reading diet; you’ll soon be thanking its chef, Dan McCarthy!  

I liked Dan’s description of what AmCon is: “We’re conservatives who are not part of the movement – we’re sort of the independent conservatives, the individualist conservatives in some sense.  We certainly have an element of the Russell Kirk stuff, we also have an element of kind of the radical Rothbardian libertarians.  And we bring them together and kind of let them fight it out and make things as lively as possible.”  

* Dan also blogs @TAC and his personal blog, the Tory Anarchist.  He is also a Pileus reader.

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The Great Debate

Last night’s presidential “debate” was relatively underwhelming (transcript here).  But Ron Paul proved, once again, that he is a gift that keeps on giving. On the issue of border controls, Paul made a few good points:

1. The provision of welfare state benefits (e.g., free education and health care] creates incentives for illegal immigration

2. People are fleeing the drug wars that are a product of our drug laws (i.e., reform the drug laws, reduce the profits for the drug trade, eliminate the incentives to engage in these wars).

 

Then things began to get a bit, shall we say, expansive:

“I think this fence business is designed and may well be used against us and keep us in. In economic turmoil, the people want to [leave] with their capital. And there’s capital controls and there’s people control. So, every time you think of fence keeping all those bad people out, think about those fences maybe being used against us, keeping us in.”

Ron Paul has stated that this will be his last run for the presidency. I, for one, will miss him.

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This morning’s email brought a frantic request from a department chair in Boston anxiously awaiting a promotion review that was sent USPS from Connecticut a mere 9 days ago. I responded by sending the materials as pdfs via email (I am assuming the total transmission time could be measured in seconds). I am sure many of us can share similar anecdotes. They often lead us to puzzle as to what justification, if any, exists for the USPS.

There have been a few interesting pieces in the last few days on the plight of the USPS. The case for allowing the USPS to slip quietly into the night seems rather compelling. Drawing from a fine piece by Steven Greenhouse (NYT), the salient facts are as follows:

  • In an age of electronic communications and private carriers like UPS and FedEx, the demand for the USPS’ services has fallen: “Mail volume has plummeted with the rise of e-mail, electronic bill-paying and a Web that makes everything from fashion catalogs to news instantly available. The system will handle an estimated 167 billion pieces of mail this fiscal year, down 22 percent from five years ago.”
  • The USPS is far less efficient than its competitors: “Labor represents 80 percent of the agency’s expenses, compared with 53 percent at United Parcel Service and 32 percent at FedEx, its two biggest private competitors. Postal workers also receive more generous health benefits than most other federal employees.”
  • The USPS has little flexibility to manage its costs: “the agency has had a tough time cutting its costs to match the revenue drop, with a history of labor contracts offering good health and pension benefits, underused post offices, and laws that restrict its ability to make basic business decisions, like reducing the frequency of deliveries.”
  • The USPS cannot meet its existing contractual obligations to its workers: “the agency is so low on cash that it will not be able to make a $5.5 billion payment due this month [to fund the future health care costs of retirees] and may have to shut down entirely this winter unless Congress takes emergency action to stabilize its finances.”

Undoubtedly, if we told the story of a private firm that was encountering flagging demand, an uncompetitive cost structure, and an inability to make the necessary adjustments to become competitive, we would welcome its collapse. These are precisely the kids of enterprises that the market is supposed to eliminate. As the story notes, Postmaster General Donahoe is asking Congress to provide greater discretionary authority to address the costs (e.g., through layoffs, closing of offices, placing postal services through stores like Wal-Mart). But if the past is any guide, Congress will prove unwilling to allow the USPS the freedom to act like a private enterprise even if it is forced to compete with private enterprises.

I am trying in vain to think of a cogent argument for maintaining the USPS.  Yes, it employees 653,000 people. But the justification must go beyond its payroll (even if we accepted the claim that maintaining government employment was valuable in a recession recovery, one would still have to make the difficult argument that these 653,000 are somehow more deserving than another sample drawn from the long-term unemployed). At least in my household, if I could convince the letter carrier to deliver directly to the recycling bin, it would save me some time. If there is a physical object I need delivered, I turn first to UPS and FedEx—and they have never let me down. If it can be transformed into an electronic format and sent via email, all the better.

The key question: Is there any reason why we should not allow the USPS to pass into the history books?

 

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