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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!

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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.

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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?

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Gordon Tullock, RIP

Gordon Tullock, one of the leading figures in Public Choice, died yesterday at the age of 92. As James Bovard notes: “Since he had perennially scoffed at the notion that voting is worthwhile, it is ironic that he cashed in his chips on Election Day. But since he was living in Illinois at the time of his death, he probably voted anyhow.”

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The Next Congress

Democrats are increasingly pessimistic about holding the Senate. As Greg Sargent notes in the Washington Post:

with Democrats narrowly favored in New Hampshire and North Carolina, the route to 50 seats will probably also require Democratic wins in Colorado and Iowa at the outset, followed by a surprise pickup elsewhere. This is not impossible. But it’s difficult.

After the recounts, runoffs, and lawsuits have run their course, it looks like the GOP will control both chambers.

What then? The Editorial Board of the New York Times predicts a continuation of obstructionism.

It’s not just that they are committed to time-wasting, obstructionist promises like repeal of health care reform, which everyone knows President Obama would veto. The bigger problem is that the party’s leaders have continually proved unable to resist pressure from the radical right, which may very well grow in the next session of Congress.

The conclusion: “It’s hard to imagine a Congress less productive than this one, but obstructionism could actually get worse if a new majority took hold.”

Yet, imagine if a Democratic President and a Republican Congress could actually work together to produce meaningful reforms? Rather than obstructionism, perhaps it would feel a lot like the 1995-2000 period, one that brought an expansion of trade, entitlement reform, and a balanced budget. There is an interesting piece on Politico that asks several prominent scholars and past/present policymakers where there may be room for bipartisan agreements before the 2016 elections. Among the eleven “bipartisan ideas that might actually pass,” the most consequential would be:

  • Rehabilitate our prison laws (presented by Rand Paul, who provides a brief discussion of his REDEEM Act)
  • Stop bulk data collection (discussed by Sen. Patrick Leahy, coauthor of the USA FREEDOM Act)
  • Immigration reform (identified by Jon Huntsman and Lee Hamilton)
  • New Trade Promotion Authority ( presented by Robert Zoellick)

There are others that I am less enthusiastic about (e.g., increased military funding, advocated by—surprise, surprise—William Kristol) and a few I might have hoped for but were absent (e.g., progressive indexing in Social Security, the elimination of most tax expenditures). The key point: unified GOP control of the Congress could open the door to a productive period of significant reform. It has happened before.

Any predictions about Tuesday’s results and the long-term ramifications?

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Registration for the next New Hampshire Liberty Forum is now open. It will take place March 5-8, 2015 in Manchester, N.H. Sponsored by the Free State Project, the Forum is an excellent opportunity to find out what is going on in the burgeoning liberty movement in New Hampshire. At this year’s forum, in addition to headliners Patrick Byrne (overstock.com CEO), Jeffrey Tucker (FEE, Liberty.me), and Sheriff Mack, Liberty Forum will feature David Boaz (Cato), Walter Block (Loyola), former Pileite James Otteson (Wake Forest), and friend of Pileus William Ruger (CKI, Texas State). And that’s just the start – I’m helping to put together some of the workshops and panels, and we have some interesting and unusual speakers yet to be confirmed. Like the last PorcFest, this year’s Liberty Forum will focus on interactive events and workshops showcasing what’s happening now in New Hampshire and planning for the future.

This year’s event takes place at a new venue, the Manchester Radisson, which is the largest conference center in the state. We simply outgrew the Nashua Crowne Plaza. Expect 500-700 attendees this year. In some ways, it will feel like a much smaller, more intimate conference because of the breakout sessions and social mixers scattered throughout the schedule.

Hope to see you there!

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Friday Links

Federal revenues ($3.02 trillion) for fiscal year 2014 are above estimates and have set a new record. Another record: $4 billion spent in the 2014 midterms. Question: are there no limits to how much one might spend to earn the right to spend?

Republicans support entitlement reform, unless they don’t (which is the case as elections approach). Yet, there is hope for bipartisanship on one Social Security reform.

The return of the master? Not Keynes, but Alvin Hansen and secular stagnation, or at least that is one fear.

There is now Ebola in New York. Even though the number of cases of Ebola contracted in the US still lags behind the number of men who have married Kim Kardashian.

Rand Paul makes a major foreign policy speech on “conservative realism.” The text is here.

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