Policy Institutes

Neal McCluskey

There’s a lot of debate right now about whether conservatives (I don’t know if anyone thinks libertarians can be reached) should support current No Child Left Behind reauthorization efforts. The “support this” argument is that bills in the House and Senate are not ideal because they would keep a major federal role in education, but they would end many bad things in NCLB and conservatives should take what they can get politically. But we just got a terrific illustration of what happens when you cut off just a few jellyfish tentacles: they grow back.

Yesterday, an amendment was passed in the markup of the Senate bill that would restore the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. What is the 21st CCLC? A Clinton Era program that furnishes funds – $1.2 billion in FY 2015 – for before- and after-school activities and summer programs. The problem: It appears to be a failure. As I discussed a few years ago, federal studies of the program found it not only largely ineffectual, but possibly even a negative influence. As a 2005 report summarized:

Conclusions: This study finds that elementary students who were randomly assigned to attend the 21st Century Community Learning Centers after-school program were more likely to feel safe after school, no more likely to have higher academic achievement, no less likely to be in self-care, more likely to engage in some negative behaviors, and experience mixed effects on developmental outcomes relative to students who were not randomly assigned to attend the centers.

It isn’t just Cato folk who’ve stumbled on the research. The Brookings Institutions’ Mark Dynarski just laid into the 21st CCLC last month, writing that evaluations “reported on how the program affected outcomes. In a series of reports released between 2003 and 2005…the answers emerged: the program didn’t affect student outcomes. Except for student behavior, which got worse.”

In light of the evidence, why has the 21st CCLC likely been spared in the Senate? Almost certainly because it sounds nice – who doesn’t like after-school enrichment? – and because the vast majority of voters don’t have time to research it and discover that the federal government’s own evaluations have found it wanting. And, of course, people getting money through the program likely lobbied hard to keep it. In other words, we’re almost certainly looking at classic concentrated benefits and diffuse costs: For voters and taxpayers, the 21st CCLC is but one among umpteen thousand government programs they could never keep track of and which, on an individual taxpayer basis, costs little. In contrast, for politicians sending an “I care” message, and for those getting money or services through the program, it means much more so they fight to keep it.

This is a major reason it is essential to keep the goal of removing Washington from education squarely in view at all times. Fail to eliminate it completely – to make going to Washington for education cash nearly impossible – and bad programs will be kept, many that seem gone will grow back, and new ones will emerge.

If you don’t want to get stung by the jellyfish, you can’t just cut a few tentacles.

K. William Watson

In Tuesday’s New York Times, law professor Margot Kaminski laid out a compelling case for increased transparency in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.  On Wednesday, John Murphy of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce offered a fairly convincing response in defense of confidentiality.  The problem is that—as is common in trade policy “debates”—they’re not talking about the same thing.  That’s frustrating to me because I think they’re both right.

Kaminski makes the point that the U.S. Trade Representative has been overbroad in what it deems classified material, that the current approach improperly privileges business lobbying over public interest groups, and that as negotiations cover more non-trade issues negotiators need more exposure and guidance from different people.

Murphy responds by noting that trade agreements are successfully increasing U.S. exports, that confidentiality in negotiations is both appropriate and helpful in achieving this outcome, and that systems are in place to ensure that all interested parties have input. 

Murphy’s concern is that “public disclosure of confidential negotiating texts would mean a weaker hand for U.S. officials at the negotiating table.”  For Kaminski, “it’s a question of whose input we’re getting on decisions that reach far beyond trade — into questions on the price of generic drugs or whether websites will have to monitor users online.”

Murphy is right about the value of confidentiality.  Trade negotiations are negotiations, which means the final agreement is the result of some necessary compromise.  Compromise is politically difficult, and negotiators need to know that they’ll be evaluated on the final product regardless of their initial positions.  In any event, we don’t know what’s in the agreement until it’s completed, and there will indeed be time after the negotiations conclude to debate the package.  Murphy’s also justified in being generally defensive about secrecy complaints, which often simply mask general antipathy toward trade liberalization.

But none of this really refutes Kaminski’s main argument.  To stretch the metaphor, she’s not calling for negotiators to show our playbook to the other team, she’s trying to make sure that the negotiators are actually on our team in the first place.

If trade agreements are simply about reducing protectionist policies like tariffs, quotas, and subsidies, then it makes perfect sense to give trade negotiators the leeway needed to reach the best deal.  The only policy question is whether free trade is good.  But today’s agreements, like the TPP, also cover other issues—issues where there is significant disagreement within the United States and where more isn’t always better. 

In particular, the TPP is going to set international intellectual property laws subject to enforcement through trade sanctions.  The TPP may also set international rules on minimum wage, maximum hours, and worker safety.  It may criminalize certain kinds of wildlife trade and fishing practices

U.S. trade negotiators are pushing these provisions without adequate input from domestic civil society.  The bias toward export-oriented business interests is making trade agreements economically less valuable and politically less viable.  In essence, the U.S. Trade Representative is using confidentiality to avoid engaging with the public on these issues, and that needs to change.

One way to do that, however, is through a legislative process that Kaminski specifically condemns—trade promotion authority.  Trade promotion authority gives Congress an opportunity to debate and establish the U.S. trade agenda through specific negotiating objectives.  Instead of opposing trade promotion authority, groups concerned about the goals of U.S. negotiators should work to set the right negotiating objectives.  They can even use trade promotion authority to impose specific demands for enhanced participation from public interest groups.

As long as trade agreements are being used to set regulatory policies, reasonable complaints about democratic legitimacy will be part of the debate.  So unless proponents are willing to accept a cleaner trade agenda focused more squarely on reducing protectionism, they will need to accept some form of increased scrutiny and broader participation in negotiations.

Daniel J. Ikenson

The eyes of the international trade community are fixed on Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), upon whom responsibility for crafting bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation has fallen. At last report, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hatch and Ranking Member Wyden were at an impasse over some important components of the bill, passage of which is widely considered necessary to concluding the long-gestating, 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. That agreement must be concluded before the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations make any progress. Those negotiations will have far-reaching implications for the multilateral trading system, including China, India, Brazil and other countries not currently party to these mega-regional trade agreements. Hence, TPA’s outcome is of worldwide interest.

Trade Promotion Authority has been maligned as a congressional capitulation or executive power grab.  It is neither. The U.S. Constitution grants Congress the authority to “regulate commerce with foreign nations” and to “lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises” and grants the president power to make treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate. Accordingly, the formulation, negotiation, and implementation of trade agreements require the involvement and cooperation of both branches. TPA is a compact between the branches that obliges these respective constitutional authorities, while guaranteeing an up-or-down vote by Congress, on an expedited basis, of any trade agreement negotiated by the executive branch with foreign governments, provided that the agreements meet the objectives spelled-out by Congress in the legislation. This conditionality is often ignored or brushed over by news reporters, who either spend too much time with trade skeptics or who are looking to economize on words.

Without such a compact, trade agreements would be nearly impossible to conclude because foreign negotiators – knowing that any agreement reached would be subject to congressional revisions – would never put their best offers on the table.  The process of negotiating and renegotiating with 535 officials (instead of one agency, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative) would make for an interminable process too cumbersome and costly to pursue.  For practical purposes, negotiations have to occur between small parties vested with the authority to speak on behalf of those whom they represent. Trade Promotion Authority is the solution.

But one important consideration that created the impasse between Hatch and Wyden concerned the process of holding the president to account.  The compact is intended to grant negotiating authority to the president – including expedited procedures that lead to an up-or-down vote within a certain number of calendar days – in exchange for the president’s commitment to negotiate on behalf of Congress by honoring a list of congressional objectives. The question is: how should Congress verify that the president satisfied his obligation to honor their objectives before proceeding with expedited congressional consideration?

Under previous TPA legislation, Congress was afforded opportunities to offer “Resolutions of Disapproval” over procedural concerns, including whether the trade deal advanced the objectives of Congress. Such resolutions were required to be reported to and approved by the respective trade committees in each chamber. That process would seem sufficient, given that most congressional action is funneled through committees with chairs and ranking members holding sway. Senator Wyden’s view, however, was that it should be easier to strip an agreement of “fast track” treatment, perhaps by allowing for more channels through which such “resolutions” could come to the floor for a vote and requiring 60, as opposed to 67, votes in the Senate to pass the resolution.  Wyden also seemed to favor affirmative “certification” that an agreement comports with congressional objectives, as opposed to requiring passage of a resolution that it doesn’t comport – an idea which Hatch equated to effectively requiring a second TPA vote.

Well, as of a few hours ago, various media were reporting that a deal had been struck and that Wyden agreed that the fast track “circuit breaker” would still require a resolution of disapproval to pass, but that the threshold number of votes would be 60, not 67.  That sounds like a reasonable compromise struck by senators who want TPA legislation to pass.

Of course, procedures for taking agreements off the fast track in the House will be different – presumably a resolution of disapproval channeled through Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, which would require 218 votes.  But articulating those procedures and ensuring that the TPP and other trade agreements abide Congress’s wishes will square the constitutional circle with Trade Promotion Authority, and preserve the right of each member of Congress to vote “yea” or “nay” on the TPP.

Matthew Feeney

In David Brooks’ latest New York Times column he explains that he is now a proponent of police body cameras, but adds that he did not come to his position “happily.” According to Brooks, the debate over police body cameras has revealed that an increasing number of people have lost “the language of privacy” and “an understanding of why privacy is important.”

It’s refreshing to read that Brooks does have concerns related to privacy. After all, Brooks said last June that the NSA’s snooping isn’t “particularly intrusive.”  But the rise of police body cameras is prompting a sensible conversation about privacy and why it is important.

Given the nature of their work, police officers regularly witness members of the public experience tragic and embarrassing moments, many times on private property. Police officers are often among the first at the scene of auto accidents or other life-threatening emergencies. They also talk to informants as well as victims of sexual and domestic abuse. In addition to sometimes entering private homes, police officers also occasionally visit hospitals and schools.

Brooks discusses some of the legitimate privacy concerns these kind of situations raise towards the end of his column:

When a police officer comes into your home wearing a camera, he’s trampling on the privacy that makes a home a home. He’s recording people on what could be the worst day of their lives, and inhibiting their ability to lean on the officer for care and support.

Cop-cams insult individual dignity because the embarrassing things recorded by them will inevitably get swapped around. The videos of the naked crime victim, the berserk drunk, the screaming maniac will inevitably get posted online — as they are already. With each leak, culture gets a little coarser. The rules designed to keep the videos out of public view will inevitably be eroded and bent.

Even the most committed advocate of police transparency and accountability must concede that the unedited release of all police body camera footage could lead to devastating infringements on a citizens’ privacy and potentially compromise ongoing investigations. A sensible police body camera policy will exempt some footage from public release. If a police officer arrives at the scene of a fatal auto accident, interviews a young victim of sexual assault, or gives a presentation in an elementary school there are serious privacy concerns that police body camera policies ought to address.

But, as should not come as a surprise, civil liberty advocates, lawmakers, and policing research organizations have written about these privacy concerns and when a police officer with a body camera should turn the device on.

In a paper written by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), with support from the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, the authors recommend that recordings of conversations with informants and undercover officers be prohibited. The paper also recommends that recordings be prohibited in areas such as bathrooms where there is an expectation of privacy and that police officers be required to inform members of the public if they are on camera. In addition, the paper recommends that officers be required, regardless of state law, to obtain consent from crime victims before interviews are recorded.

ACLU senior policy analyst Jay Stanley wrote a white paper on what policies ought to be included when crafting rules for police body cameras. In the paper, Stanley correctly writes that the public disclosure of police body camera footage pits “two important values against each other: the need for government oversight and openness, and privacy.” Stanley argues that videos subject to public record requests should be redacted in order to protect privacy. Stanley has also written on police body cameras in schools.

Stanley’s ACLU colleague Scott Greenwood is quoted in the PERF paper saying:

An officer might be allowed to go into the residence and record, but that does not mean that everything inside ought to be public record. The warrant is an exception to the Fourth Amendment, not a waiver. We do not want this to show up on YouTube. My next-door neighbor should never be able to view something that happened inside my house without my permission.

Greenwood is also quoted recommending that the ACLU and police executive work “to ensure that state disclosure laws contain adequate privacy protections for body-worn camera videos.”

Indeed, some state lawmakers have introduced legislation, such as Michigan’s HB 4234 and Florida’s SB 248, which seek to limit the releas of police body camera footage captured inside a citizen’s home. Florida’s SB 248 would also limit the release of footage captured within “health care, mental health care, or social services” facilities as well as “at the scene of a medical emergency involving a death or involving an injury that requires transport to a medical facility.”

State lawmakers, civil liberty advocates, as well as researchers with a focus on law enforcement have all contributed to the conversation that has naturally arisen amid the increased use of police body cameras. It seems to me that police body cameras have kept the “language of privacy” alive and well.

Of course, Brooks isn’t only concerned with the potential privacy violations that could occur when a police officer with a body camera enters a home. He is more broadly concerned that an increasing number of people don’t understand why privacy is important.

Brooks writes:

Putting a camera on someone is a sign that you don’t trust him, or he doesn’t trust you. When a police officer is wearing a camera, the contact between an officer and a civilian is less likely to be like intimate friendship and more likely to be oppositional and transactional.

I can’t speak for all readers, but I would be less likely to be antagonistic during an encounter with a police officer who was wearing a body camera. Indeed, there is some evidence to suggest that officers wearing body cameras can contribute to a reduction in police use-of-force incidents and complaints against police officers.

Brooks is right when he says the following:

Privacy is important to the development of full individuals because there has to be an interior zone within each person that other people don’t see. There has to be a zone where half-formed thoughts and delicate emotions can grow and evolve, without being exposed to the harsh glare of public judgment. There has to be a place where you can be free to develop ideas and convictions away from the pressure to conform. There has to be a spot where you are only yourself and can define yourself.

But it is Brooks’ not “particularly intrusive” NSA, rather than police body cameras, which risks compromising the zone in which citizens explore unpopular ideas and their “half-formed thoughts and delicate emotions.”

Police body cameras do raise a host of legitimate privacy concerns. But police body cameras are often used to record encounters that occur in public where, given the state of modern technology, none of use can reasonably expect the degree of privacy that, perhaps, we might otherwise like. The police encounters that take place inside private residences and inside hospitals and schools are being considered in ongoing conservations on body cameras, where the language of privacy is often heard.

Doug Bandow

Washington’s actions abroad affect the size and power of Washington at home. “War is the health of the state,” declared social critic Randolph Bourne.

The more active America’s foreign policy, the more the United States has to spend on the military: the “defense” budget is the price of Washington’s foreign policy. American military personnel and contractors die. Enemies are created, some of whom become terrorists. A national security state develops.

Thus, Americans committed to limited government and individual liberty should support a foreign policy based on humility and restraint. An imperial foreign policy like that today inevitably inflates–indeed, requires–a Leviathan state.

Nor should anyone who understands government believe the American state to be capable of competently fulfilling more expansive foreign policy objectives. At times, war is an unfortunate necessity and government must rain down death and destruction on other peoples.

Far more often, however, policymakers turn the military into just another government tool intended to achieve complicated ends that often aren’t even important, let alone vital. Attempts at so-called humanitarian intervention and nation-building, for instance, almost always turn out badly, even disastrously.

Yet domestic warrior wannabes often are not alone in promoting America’s warfare state. So do foreign classical liberals who campaign in their home countries for limits on state power. While promoting smaller governments, many of these intellectuals and activists expect the American state, or at least the Pentagon, to be large to defend their nations.

This sentiment has grown particularly pronounced with the rise of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. A number “liberals” (as Europeans typically call what Americans are more likely to term “libertarians”) in those countries believe it is America’s job to protect their nations.

Some appear almost mystified when their ideological compatriots in the United States object. As I point out in the National Interest: “For an American classical liberal, confronting a nuclear-armed power over issues which the latter views as vital but which matter little to America would be foolish, even improper, a violation of the federal government’s responsibility to the “common defense”—of this nation and its people.”

Foreign policy, which ultimately controls use of the military, is uniquely national, practical, and circumstantial. First, foreign policies of nations naturally will differ since states’ interests vary. Second, foreign policy is eminently practical since ideology cannot determine what actually will succeed in effecting a particular end. Third, foreign policy is circumstantial, depending on the particular facts and may change over time.

Taking these factors into account, Washington should act on behalf of the American people. The fact that Moscow, for instance, is beating up on Georgia or Ukraine matters in a geopolitical sense insofar as those actions may threaten the United States. But they don’t.

There is much bad in the world, but most of it has little impact on America. Initiating hostilities against a nuclear-armed power sensitive to its borders would create far more geopolitical dangers than it would resolve.

Obviously, there are humanitarian issues of concern to all, but they usually offer a terrible justification for intervention and war. Loosing the dogs of war almost always results in costly and deadly unintended consequences. The debacle in Iraq demonstrated how initiating war allegedly to do good was a costly means of doing much bad.

Of course, as has often been pointed out, the early Americans sought foreign military assistance in their revolt against Great Britain from imperial France. And there’s nothing wrong with liberals in other nations hoping for Washington to put their homelands’ interests before that of Americans. But that’s no reason for U.S. policymakers to do so.

Many modern American conservatives favor war as a matter of principle. Today these conservatives often join with foreign liberals who want the United States to act as bodyguard for their nations.

However, while the world is a messy place, most of the problems don’t much matter to the United States. Rather, they won’t so long as Washington does not make every other nations’ conflict America’s own.

Nicole Kaeding

Today is Tax Day. Federal tax returns are due to the Internal Revenue Service with a postmark before midnight. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the federal government will collect $3.2 trillion in revenue this year.

Revenue comes from five main sources:

  • Individual Income Taxes ($1.5 trillion). The largest source of federal revenues, individual income taxes are imposed on labor and capital income, with statutory rates that vary from 10 to 39.6 percent.
  • Payroll Taxes ($1.1 trillion). These taxes finance Social Security and Medicare. Employees and employers split the 15.3 percent tax assessed on wages, but economists agree that the entire burden ultimately lands on workers in the form of lower wages.
  • Corporate Income Taxes ($328 billion). These taxes are assessed on the worldwide earnings of corporations.
  • Excise Taxes ($96 billion). Excise taxes are consumption taxes on specific goods. At the federal level, excise taxes are charged on such things as gasoline and tanning salons.
  • Other ($206 billion). This category includes the remaining sources of federal revenue like federal tariffs and the death tax.  

The amount of money collected by the federal government ebbs and flows depending on economic growth, but the overall trend is upwards. Federal revenue decreased in 2008 and 2009 due to the Great Recession, but has since rebounded strongly for two reasons. First, the return of economic growth increases revenue collection. Second, the federal government has passed several large tax increases since 2010. In 2015, the federal government will collect the largest amount of revenue in its history, even after adjusting for inflation.

Where does all this money go?

The bulk of federal spending goes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and defense. These three categories compromise 62 percent of all federal spending in 2015.

The three giant “entitlement” programs are the areas of the budget that are expected to put immense pressure on federal spending over the long term. Without reforms, the CBO estimates that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will represent 60 percent of the increase in federal spending over the next ten years. Net interest is not far behind. It is responsible for 24 percent of the increase in spending over the same time period.

Despite this record intake, federal spending will still outpace revenues by almost $500 billion this year. The government does not have a revenue problem, it has an overspending problem.

Note: All data refers to federal fiscal years, not calendar years. Data for fiscal year 2015 is based on estimates.

 

David Boaz

Today, the day American taxpayers wonder if the federal government is really worth all the money and hassle, I have an article at the Washington Post on how to give taxpayers more control.

Why shouldn’t taxpayers make direct decisions about how much money they want to spend on other government programs, like paying off the national debt, the war in Iraq or the National Endowment for the Arts? This would force the federal government to focus time and resources on projects citizens actually want, not just efforts that appeal to special interests.

To do this, we’d have to expand the concept of the campaign financing checkoff to all government programs. With this reform, the real expression of popular democracy would take place not every four years but every April 15. A new final page of the 1040 form would be created, called 1040-D (for democracy). At the top, the taxpayer would write in his total tax as determined by the 1040 form. Following would be a list of government programs, along with the percentage of the federal budget devoted to each (as proposed by Congress and the president). The taxpayer would then multiply that percentage by his total tax to determine the “amount requested” in order to meet the government’s total spending request. (Computerization of tax returns has made this step simple.) The taxpayer would then consider that request and enter the amount he was willing to pay for that program in the final column–the amount requested by the government, or more, or less, down to zero.

A taxpayer who thinks that $600 billion is too much to spend on military in the post-Cold War era could choose to allocate less to that function than the government requested. A taxpayer who thinks that Congress has been underfunding Head Start and the arts could allocate double the requested amount for those programs….

Real budget democracy, of course, means not just that the taxpayers can decide where their money will go but also that they can decide how much of their money the government is entitled to. Thus the last line on the 1040-D form must be “Tax refund.”  The form would indicate that none of the taxpayer’s duly calculated tax should be refunded to him; but under budget democracy the taxpayer would have the right to allocate less than the amount requested for some or all programs in order to claim a refund (beyond whatever excess withholding is already due him).

I regret that space considerations required the loss of my historical context:

Ever since Magna Carta, signed 800 years ago this spring, the Anglo-American tradition of fiscal policy has been that the people would decide how much of their money they would give to government. Parliament arose as a representative body to which the Crown would appeal for funds. The monarch had to explain why he or she was seeking more funds–and Parliament frequently rejected the request as frivolous, wasteful, or actually injurious to the commonweal.

Today, of course, we can’t count on the legislative branch to guard our tax dollars, and technology makes it easier for us to direct them ourselves.

More on taxes – and Magna Carta – in The Libertarian Mind. Find ideas for government programs that are unnecessary or too big at Downsizing the Federal Government.

Andrew J. Coulson

Back in the mid-1990s, I was often told that Americans had no interest in what other countries were doing policy-wise. As a result, it was purportedly futile to study policy using international evidence. Ignoring that warning, I wrote a book about education around the world, back to ancient times.

Whether or not the warning was valid at the time, there is now a great deal of interest in other nations’ education policies. Well… in one nation’s in particular: Finland’s. In that country, we are often told, every child is a Socrates—except for the ones who are Jane Austens or Hedy Lamarrs—and this is due, we are told, to one or more of its current education policies (the claimer gets to pick which ones).

A recent op-ed at Cleveland.com not only jumps on this Emulate Fantastic Finland bandwagon, it also purports to use the Finnish example to critique “market-based” education policies in general.

Here’s the main problem with the movement that proclaims “Country X is doing well educationally, so let’s emulate its education system!”: there are a lot of factors outside the classroom that affect educational outcomes, and that differ among countries—culture, resources in the home, etc.—and so it’s difficult to know to what extent a given nation’s performance is due to those factors or to its education policies. Fortunately, there’s a technique that not only circumvents this problem, it turns it to our advantage:

Comparing different sorts of school systems within nations. A study that compares public and private schools within India, for example, or that looks at the effects of private sector competition in Sweden on overall outcomes, eliminates international differences as a factor.  Still, the results of such studies, taken individually, have limited generalizability.

But what if we repeat this sort of comparison scores of times in a dozen or more very different countries and we find similar results occurring over and over again? If a particular approach to organizing and funding schools consistently outperforms other approaches across widely varying circumstances, we can be fairly confident that the observed pattern is the result of the system itself and not simply an accident of circumstance, because, although the circumstances will have varied from place to place, the results will have remained consistent. That is the technique I applied in a review of the worldwide research on public, private, and truly market-like school systems. As I found, It is the most market-like systems that consistently did the best job of serving families across 7 different outcome measures used by researchers.

Perhaps most ironically for the “Emulate Finland” crowd, Finland has been slipping in the rankings on the PISA test in recent years. Moreover, Finland never performed quite so well on the TIMSS international test and has been declining on it as well. And, as will be revealed in a forthcoming paper by Gabriel Sahlgren, the introduction of the most celebrated Finnish education policies does not support the view that they aided its rise on the PISA test, due to their timing.

Walter Olson

On Sunday afternoon Montgomery County, Maryland police and Child Protective Services seized the free-range Meitiv children, 10 year old Rafi and 6 year old Dvora, after their parents, Danielle and her husband Sasha, had again let them play by themselves at a park in Silver Spring, just outside D.C. The Meitiv family became the center of a national cause célèbre in January when the county charged the parents with child neglect for letting the two kids walk home from a park. In March, CPS found the neglect charge “unsubstantiated” but puzzlingly deemed the parents “responsible” for it anyway. This time, according to news reports, the kids were again walking back from the park and had gotten to within 1/3 mile of home when police intercepted and picked them up pursuant to a 911 call from “a neighbor” who had spotted them walking alone. The kids were supposed to return home by 6; the police held them for hours in the back of a squad car and did not call the by-then-frantic parents until 8 p.m. 

The Meitivs were reunited with their kids after agreeing to “sign a temporary safety plan to take them home, which means they are not allowed to leave the children unattended at all. …Police say after a thorough investigation, a decision about whether or not the Meitivs will face charges will be made.” 

I’m familiar with downtown Silver Spring, but even if I weren’t I could assure you: this is an outrage, and a big enough one that even in the Washington suburbs, where government often gets the benefit of the doubt, there is widespread outrage. One who’s been writing eloquently on the issue is Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak (“Our rapid march toward police-state parenting has got to end,” she writes today) who emphasizes what is obvious to older readers – that kids used to walk on the street as a routine part of childhood – by quoting a checklist from a 1979 book on six-year-olds, on first-grade readiness: “Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?”

From Lenore Skenazy’s account at Free-Range Kids of the Meitivs, a family she knows personally

 

Husband Sasha Meitiv, raised in the Soviet Union under complete state control, told his wife he was less surprised. “He said, ‘You don’t understand how cruel bureaucracy can be,’” said Danielle.

Lenore Skenazy has been instrumental in bringing this issue to national consciousness, and Cato has been glad to help. Don’t miss her hilarious, yet very powerful, speech at Cato in the spring of 2014 (“Quit Bubble-Wrapping Our Kids,” more), in which I not only moderate and ask questions, but even give my impression of a 3 year old deprived of a cookie. More recently her essay “Smothered by Safety” has led off discussion at Cato Unbound.

 

[adapted and expanded from Overlawyered

Alan Reynolds

Jim Tankersley of the Washington Post believes he has discovered “The Big Issue With Hillary Clinton Running Against Inequality”:

“Inequality got worse under Bill Clinton, not better. That’s true if you look at the share of American incomes going to the 1 percent, per economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty. It’s also true when you look at the share of American wealth going to the super-super-rich, the top 0.1%, per research by Saez and Gabriel Zucman.”

What this actually reveals is the absurdity of (1) defining inequality solely by top 1% shares of pretax income less government benefits, and (2) judging any strong economic expansion as a failure because top 1% income shares always rise during strong economic expansions.

The graph uses the Congressional Budget Office estimates of top 1% shares, because (unlike Piketty and Saez) they include government benefits as income and subtract federal taxes.  What it shows is that both affluence and poverty are normally highly cyclical. When the top 1 percent’s share of after-tax income jumped from 11.2% in 1996 to 15.2% in 2000, the poverty rate simultaneously dropped from 11% to 8.7%.  Meanwhile, median income, after taxes and benefits, rose from $50,900 in 1993 to $61,400 by 2001, measured in 2011 dollars. 

 

Conversely, when the top 1% share fell from 16.7% in 2007 to about 12% in 2013 (my estimate), the poverty rate rose from 9.8% to 15%.  If we adopt the egalitarians’ top 1% mantra, must we conclude that inequality “got better” lately as poverty got worse?

The income peak of 2000 is a tough act to beat, and few of us are ahead of it today – least of all the top 1%. The brief surge in top incomes of 2006-2007, like the related speculative surge in housing prices, proved unhealthy and unsustainable. But weak economic performance and high poverty in the past four years is no reason to dismiss the 3.7% average economic growth of 1983-2000 simply because such prolonged prosperity made more people rich.

Tankersley also asks us to “look at the share of American wealth going to the super-super-rich, the top 0.1%, per research by Saez and Gabriel Zucman.”  As I’ve explained in The Wall Street Journal, however, the Saez-Zucman estimates misinterpret shrinking shares of capital gains and investment income still reported on individual tax returns, or shifted from the corporate tax to a pass-through firm, rather than (like most middle-class savings) sheltered in IRA, 529 and 401(k) plans.

It is easy to envision Republican partisans welcoming and adopting the Tankersley theme that Hillary Clinton should now be ashamed of the strong economy of 1996-2000 because “inequality got worse” as many new firms were created and stock prices soared. Yet whenever stocks crashed and the top 1% share fell (making inequality “better”?) the poverty rate rose and median incomes were flat or down.

Some Republican candidates have already alluded to the same pretax, pre-transfer “top 1%” figures to claim inequality worsened under Obama – meaning since 2009.  According to Piketty and Saez, real average incomes of the top 1% were indeed higher in 2013 ($1,119,315) than in the crash of 2009 ($975,884).  Before crashing below $1 million in 2009, though, top 1% incomes had been much higher in 2007 (the equivalent of $1,533, 064 in 2013 dollars) and in 2000 ($1,369,780). The rising tide has not lifted many small boats or big yachts since 2009, because the tide hasn’t risen much; higher tax rates in 2013 certainly didn’t help.

The trouble with Republicans using highly cyclical top 1% statistics as a political weapon against Democrats is that doing so requires capitulating to the divisive and dishonest leftist fallacy that poor people and middle-income people do best when the top 1% is doing badly.

The truth is that the poverty rate fell sharply and middle-incomes rose briskly in President Clinton’s second term, and the top 1% gladly reported more taxable income and paid more taxes as the tax on capital gains was cut from 28% to 20%.  There is a lesson to be learned here, but it is not to denigrate the so-called rising inequality of the late 1990s.

Neal McCluskey

Professor Paul Campos, something of an antagonist of our higher education system, caused a bit of ruckus last week when he wrote in the New York Times that skyrocketing college prices cannot be blamed on falling state appropriations to schools. The reality, of course, is that declining public support could explain some of the increase in prices (though not much at private colleges) but it seems unlikely it would explain all of the increases.

Let’s look at the trends.

First, note that overall state and local support, at least for general operations at public institutions, is indeed down over the last several years. Using data from the latest State Higher Education Finance report – released just yesterday – total state and local support for general operations at public colleges, adjusted for inflation using a higher education-specific index, fell from a peak of $83 billion in 2008 to $73 billion in 2014, a pretty big drop. That said, in 1989 total spending was only $64 billion, which means it has risen since then.

Of course, there has been a huge increase in public college enrollment since 1989, rising from 7.5 million full-time equivalent students to 11.1 million. So, as you can see from the blue line in the chart below, appropriations per student have definitely dropped. But do those drops explain rising prices?

Here is where the red line comes in. Note, the line is revenue received per full-time equivalent (FTE) student after accounting for state and institutional aid to students. What it shows is that net revenue per student has been going up, as expected. But look at the black, linear trend lines, which enable us to get a sense for what the overall trends have been. They show that while public institutions have lost roughly $70 per year, per student, in public appropriations, they have increased their net tuition revenue per-student $101 a year, for an annual net gain of $31.

The SHEEO data, however, are not the most damning when it comes to the Cheap States Made Us Do It hypothesis. Data from the most recent College Board pricing report, which capture state appropriations per FTE student and the cost not just of tuition and fees, but also room and board, show a much greater gap between rising college prices and what would be needed to make up for lost public funding. The College Board also uses a standard price index for calculating inflation instead of one tailored to higher ed, the latter of which would overstate past spending were all higher education costs artificially inflated faster than a “normal” basket of goods. Say, perhaps, by huge subsidies to consumers.

As the chart below illustrates, while public institutions have lost about $72 per FTE student each year using College Board data, they have increased published tuition, fee, room and board charges about $357 per year. That’s a hefty net gain of $285 per student, per year.

So what do these charts show us? What I have written before, and what Campos just argued: More is going on in rampantly inflated college pricing than just lost state funding. Almost certainly much more.

Tim Lynch

Conrad Black, writing at National Review Online, blasts the “plague of unjust prosecutions” in the American legal system.

Here is an excerpt: 

Another disturbing recent development in the saga of gonzo American prosecutors is New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman’s prosecution of the Evans Bank for violating consumer-protection regulations by not adequately making loans available in lower-income, largely minority, areas of Buffalo. These laws are sloppily written and are just pandering to specific income-level and ethnic voters, and enable opportunistic prosecutors to intensify their campaigns for higher office by pandering to targeted voting blocs and trying to superimpose affirmative action over commercial criteria on how banks treat their depositors’ and shareholders’ money. A competing bank chairman, not involved in any such case, Frank Hamlin of Canandaigua National Bank, wrote last month in a letter to his shareholders that he was “extremely suspicious of the arbitrary and capricious manner in which [prosecutors] are abusing the legal system in order to further their own political and economic interests.” Of the prosecution of Evans and another bank, he wrote that “the regulations are vague on explaining what conduct is actually prohibited. The media, of course, does the people no service by merely assuming these prosecutions are based in sound legal theory and fact … [unaware that the] legal system has mutated its focus from time-honored legal principle and justice to efficiency and political expediency… . The reason that 98 percent of prosecutions are settled and not taken to trial … has to do with a fundamental and reasonable lack of faith that our legal system is working properly.” It is a brave stand for a community banker to take opposite an attorney general who seeks votes by abusive grandstanding in the Spitzer-Cuomo tradition (that propelled both of them to the governor’s chair)….  The United States is afflicted by a plague of unjust prosecutions, almost automatic convictions, and often one-way tickets to a bloated, corrupt, and frequently barbarous correctional system. This is not what the founders and guardians of the sweet land of liberty intended.   Read the whole thing.   For related Cato work, go here and here.  

Simon Lester

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the possibility of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) saying something about the minimum wage, which the White House had been suggesting it would.  I was a bit skeptical that the TPP would really do anything on this issue, and subsequently, I spoke to a U.S. government official who seemed to indicate that the whole thing was overblown, and nothing much would happen with the minimum wage in TPP.

But now I see that Victoria Guida of Politico has been speaking to higher ranking U.S. government officials, who said the following:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, which the White House is negotiating with 11 countries, would require members to set and enforce laws on minimum wages, maximum work hours and occupational safety and health standards — things no other U.S. trade agreement has done.

Labor Secretary Tom Perez, too, is practiced at explaining why the TPP should matter to its critics, calling the labor provisions of NAFTA and the Central American Free Trade Agreement “woefully insufficient.” Labor obligations, he acknowledges, must be in the main text — as they have been in the most recent free-trade agreements — and coupled with sanctions if countries don’t comply.

The worker protections in the deals with Peru, South Korea, Colombia and Panama stemmed from the “May 10 agreement” that House Democrats reached with the George W. Bush administration in 2007, which covered freedom of association, collective bargaining rights, the elimination of forced or compulsory labor, child labor and employment discrimination. The TPP would go further with its minimum wage, hours and workplace safety standards, Perez said.

What exactly does it mean that the minimum wage would be included in the TPP?  My current understanding is that it means that all TPP parties must have a minimum wage (and I’m told that all but one currently do), but that it does not matter what the minimum wage is.  In theory, then, you could set your minimum wage at 1 cent per hour, to make it meaningless.

For those of us who see economic harm in the minimum wage, what are the implications?  Is this all just for show, and nothing to worry about?  Do other TPP benefits outweigh these costs?  Is this the beginning of much worse things to come in trade agreements?  Definitely something to keep our eye on in the final TPP text.

David Boaz

I wrote last week about Paul Krugman’s claim that “there basically aren’t any libertarians” because “There ought in principle, you might think, be people who are pro-gay-marriage and civil rights in general, but opposed to government retirement and health care programs — that is, libertarians — but there are actually very few.” I offered some evidence from Gallup, Pew, and other polls that in fact there are substantial numbers of voters who hold libertarian-ish views on both economic and social issues.

Bryan Caplan runs some regressions to find that voters’ positions on a variety of issues don’t line up the way Krugman assumes they do. Ilya Somin explores various problems with Krugman’s claims, including this:

It’s also possible to try to justify Krugman’s claim by arguing that most of those people who hold seemingly libertarian views haven’t thought carefully about their implications and are not completely consistent in their beliefs. This is likely true. But it is also true of most conservatives and liberals. Political ignorance and irrationality are very common across the political spectrum and only a small minority of voters think carefully about their views and make a systematic attempt at consistency. Libertarian-leaning voters are not an exception to this trend. But it is worth noting that, controlling for other variables, increasing political knowledge tends to make people more libertarian in their views than they would be otherwise.

Nate Silver, Krugman’s erstwhile New York Times colleague who now runs the FiveThirtyEight website, writes, “There are few libertarians. But many Americans have libertarian views.” He notes:

If Krugman is right, you should see few Americans who are in favor of same-sex marriage but oppose government efforts to reduce income inequality, or vice versa.

As it turns out, however, there are quite a number of them; about 4 in 10 Americans have “inconsistent” views on these issues.

Not actually inconsistent, of course, just not consistently “liberal” or “conservative.” Those “inconsistent” Americans just might be consistently libertarian or anti-libertarian. Silver has a nice matrix, grounded in data from the General Social Survey unlike Krugman’s off-the-cuff matrix:

On those two issues, the largest group take liberal positions on both. Substitute different issues – cutting taxes, say, or internet censorship – and you’d get larger numbers of libertarians. But whatever set of issues you choose, you’re likely going to find significant numbers of voters taking positions that don’t fit into Krugman’s two boxes.

Silver speculates on why there seems to be so little political representation for these large groups of voters:

…the hard-core partisans who vote in presidential primaries are much more likely to take consistently liberal or conservative positions than the broader American population, as Krugman’s colleague Nate Cohn points out.

And the parties themselves — who have disproportionate influence in the primaries — have highly partisan views by definition. Almost all voting in the U.S. Congress, on social issues and economic issues alike, can be reduced to a single, left-right dimension.

Does this make any sense? Why should views on (for example) gay marriage, taxation, and U.S. policy toward Iran have much of anything to do with one another? The answer is that it suits the Democratic Party and Republican Party’s mutual best interest to articulate clear and opposing positions on these issues and to present their platforms as being intellectually coherent. The two-party system can come under threat (as it potentially now is in the United Kingdom) when views on important issues cut across party lines.

Maybe that’s why we have so much trouble convincing people that there are libertarian voters.

Nate Silver looked at growing libertarian sentiment back in 2011.

Ted Galen Carpenter

The Obama administration is hailing the framework agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program as a great diplomatic triumph. It is clear, however, that several significant obstacles remain—any one of which could fatally undermine that achievement. The most obvious threat is the unrelenting hostility to the accord by hawks in the United States. The ink was barely dry when William Kristol, editor of the flagship neoconservative magazine The Weekly Standard, published an editorial openly urging Congress to kill the agreement. Outspoken congressional hawks, including Senator Tom Cotton and Senator Lindsey Graham, have made it clear that this is their objective as well. Given GOP control of both houses of Congress, such opposition is more than a minor worry.

But there are other sources of potential trouble. Just days after Kristol’s screed, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted that all economic sanctions against his country must be lifted once the final version of the nuclear accord is signed. Yet even the Obama administration has adopted the position that sanctions will be lifted only in stages as Tehran fulfills its commitments. Clearly, that dispute could unravel the entire accord.

Disagreement about the timing and extent of terminating sanctions reflects the continuing lack of trust between Tehran and Washington. Although most Americans would argue that Iran is the untrustworthy party, I point out in a recent article in Real Clear Defense, that there is also reason to doubt Washington’s willingness to abide by its commitments. The U.S. track record is not especially reassuring. During the latter stages of the Cold War, for example, the United States proposed a procedure of “cross recognition” regarding North and South Korea. In other words, if Moscow and Beijing established diplomatic ties with Seoul, Washington would recognize the government in Pyongyang. China and Russia have since done so—and now enjoy a wide range of diplomatic and economic relations with South Korea. But the United States has yet to normalize relations with North Korea.

From Iran’s standpoint, an even more worrisome precedent is the action that the United States and its NATO allies took with regard to Muammar Gaddafi’s government in Libya. Gaddafi abandoned his nuclear program in exchange for promised diplomatic and economic concessions. Within a few brief years, those nations turned on Gaddafi, openly funding and arming an insurgency to overthrow his regime. That campaign culminated with NATO (primarily U.S.) cruise missile strikes to support the successful rebel offensive.

The Libya episode hardly creates an incentive for Iran, North Korea, and other potential nuclear-weapons states to forgo such ambitions. Indeed, it likely reinforces the opposite incentive. The pertinent lesson seemed to be that only a very foolish government would give up the nuclear option in exchange for the mere promise of normalized relations with the West.

Trevor Burrus

In a hit piece on Rand Paul posted on ThinkProgress, Ian Millhiser has taken guilt by association to new heights, and, in the process, fundamentally misrepresented the views of Herbert Spencer.

In “Rand Paul’s Favorite Philosophers Think Poor People Are ‘Parasites,’” Millhiser attempts to connect Rand Paul to 19th-century classical liberal philosopher Herbert Spencer. He does this by constructing a stunningly attenuated chain of influences: Rand Paul to his father Ron Paul, who was unquestionably influential on his thinking; Ron Paul to Murray Rothbard, by whom Ron Paul was greatly influenced; and Murray Rothbard to Herbert Spencer, whose book Social Statics Rothbard called “the greatest single work of libertarian political philosophy ever written.”

Millhiser offers no direct evidence that Rand Paul himself is a fan of Herbert Spencer, even though he implies so in his title. Despite this bit of journalistic malfeasance, Millhiser marches bravely forward with further misrepresentations about Spencer’s ideas, and, by implication, Senator Paul’s. Here Millhiser is joining a long, if not admirable, tradition of people misrepresenting Herbert Spencer’s ideas in order to attack proponents of capitalism. As usual, those critics are wrong about what Spencer himself actually wrote and believed.

Modern misrepresentations of Spencer can be largely traced back to Richard Hofstadter, famed historian and dogged opponent of capitalism. Many of his books, such as The Paranoid Style in American Politics, were attempts to pathologize the American right. Such political pathologies are usually just products of the author’s own biases–“It can’t be that people actually believe this absurd stuff because they find it convincing,” thinks the author, “so people must believe it as a manifestation of deep-seated neuroses, psychoses, and hatreds.” For an example of a political pathology from the right, see Dinesh D’Souza’s The Roots of Obama’s Rage.

In Social Darwinism in American Thought, Hofstadter, a one time member of the Communist Party, uses a type of warmed-over Marxism to argue that Americans embraced the idea of “survival of the fittest” because “dominant groups” were “able to dramatize this vision of competition as a thing good in itself.” Herbert Spencer, Hofstadter argues, was at the heart of this transformation. Fast-forward seventy years and through countless misrepresentations by people like Millhiser, and Spencer is now nearly synonymous with the idea of “social Darwinism,” that is, the idea that social programs and government actions to help the worst off should be rolled back in order to cleanse the race of undesirables.   

Never one to shy away from a acerbic jab, Millhiser calls Spencer’s philosophy “genocidal libertarianism.” Millhiser’s distaste for libertarianism is well known, but he would be better served attacking what people actually said than what he’s been told they said. Libertarians have plenty of skeletons in our closets, but Herbert Spencer isn’t one of them.

Spencer’s most notorious statement, that if someone is “not sufficiently complete to live, they die, and it is best they should die” is dutifully trotted out by Millhiser as an example of Spencer’s monstrous beliefs. As with most critics of Spencer, he ignores the opening sentence of the next paragraph: “Of course, in so far as the severity of this process is mitigated by the spontaneous sympathy of men for each other, it is proper that it should be mitigated.”

Like most libertarians, Spencer was a big believer in private charity. As George H. Smith wrote over at Cato’s Libertarianism.org:

Spencer opposed coercive, state-enforced charity, but he favored charity that is voluntarily bestowed. As a matter of justice, one should not be forced to help others; but as a matter of personal or religious ethics, one may be obligated to help others. Spencer noted with consternation that his views brought on him “condemnation as an enemy of the poor.” In one essay he observed that it was becoming more common for the rich to contribute money and time to the poor, and he praised this trend as “the latest and most hopeful fact in human history.” Moreover, the final chapters in Spencer’s The Principles of Ethics are devoted to the subject of “positive beneficence,” the highest form of society in which people voluntarily help those in need.

These and many similar facts scarcely fit the common picture of a Herbert Spencer devoid of humanitarian sentiments. One must read Spencer’s extensive treatments of poverty and the poor to appreciate fully the outrageous misrepresentations of his critics. That Spencer was offended by such lies is dramatically illustrated by the fact that he broke off a close friendship of some forty years with Thomas Henry Huxley (“Darwin’s Bulldog”), after Huxley had written that, according to the Spencerian individualist, a poor man should be left to starve because charity interferes with “survival of the fittest.”

In reply to this accusation of “reasoned savagery,” Spencer wrote: “For nearly fifty years I have contended that the pains attendant on the struggle for existence may fitly be qualified by the aid which private sympathy prompts.” Even after Huxley apologized, it took several years for the friendship to heal.

To people like Millhiser, it may be laughable to believe that private charity could be sufficient to relieve the problems of the poor, and that may be true. But this would be factual disagreement about the effects and possibilities of private charity, not a disagreement about whether the poor should be helped. Like so many opponents of libertarianism, Millhiser seems to believe that opposing the government doing something is the same as opposing it being done at all.

As a Lamarckian, someone who believes that acquired traits can be inherited, Spencer’s views of evolution were in opposition to Darwinism. Spencer believed that societies would evolve through a process of “survival of the fittest” (a term coined by Spencer and later co-opted by Darwin), but this did not mean “survival of the best.” Who survives depends on who is “constitutionally fittest to thrive under the conditions in which they are placed,” but “survival of the fittest is not always the survival of the best.” 

As Smith notes, Spencer also believed that beneficence was an essential element of an advanced and evolved society. “[T]he highest form of life, individual and social,” he wrote, “is not achievable under a reign of justice only; but … there must be joined with it a reign of beneficence.” To this end, he devoted large parts of his Principles of Ethics to arguing that a fully evolved society would need more than merely the “avoidance of direct and indirect injuries to others,” it would need “spontaneous efforts to further the welfare of others.”

This little post is only the latest attempt to correct the record on Herbert Spencer. For more see George H. Smith, Damon Root, and Thomas C. Leonard, just to name a few. I’m sure it will have no effect on how Spencer is used by people like Millhiser to attack proponents of capitalism, or to even attack those, like Rand Paul, who can be spuriously connected to Spencer through three degrees of separation.

Matthew Feeney

Yesterday, former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly appeared on ABC News’ This Week and said that the recent Walter Scott shooting had reversed his opinion on police body cameras. Kelly, a former body-camera skeptic, said, “We have to assume that this officer would not act the way he did if in fact he had a body camera that was recording.”

Last week, I discussed what might have happened if Michael Slager, the now-former North Charleston police officer who shot and killed Walter Scott, had been wearing a body camera. I mentioned that it is hard to imagine Slager behaving the way he did if he had been wearing an operable body camera. Video footage of Slager’s encounter with Scott, which was captured by onlooker Feidin Santana, shows that Slager shot eight rounds at Scott while he was fleeing, planted an object widely suspected of being his Taser next to Scott after the shooting, and did not attempt CPR.

Washington Post article published the day before Kelly made his comments on This Week draws attention to how important camera footage can be in prosecuting officers facing charges in fatal shooting cases. My colleague Jonathan Blanks wrote about the findings here.

The article is full of disturbing reporting on how rare it is for a police officer involved in a fatal shooting case to face charges (only 54 have been charged out of the thousands of fatal shooting which have taken place since 2005).

A snippet: 

In a third of the cases­ where officers faced charges, prosecutors introduced videos into evidence, saying they showed the slain suspects had posed no threat at the moment they were killed. The videos were often shot from cameras mounted on the dashboards of patrol cars, standard equipment for most police departments.

Had Santana not recorded Slager and Scott’s scuffle and the subsequent shooting, it is less likely that Slager would be facing a murder charge

Video footage can provide crucial insight into fatal police shootings. While it is fortunate that Santana was in a position to film Slager shoot Scott, law enforcement agencies ought to implement police body camera policies which will ensure that fatal police shootings are recorded regardless of whether a member of the public is watching.

Kelly rightly pointed out that there are issues related to body cameras, some of which I have discussed before. But these can be adequately addressed and ought not to hamper attempts to make police officers more accountable.

Jonathan Blanks

Over the weekend, the Washington Post ran a front-page story on the rarity of prosecutions of police officers for on duty shootings. They teamed up with researchers at Bowling Green State University to look at the few cases in which charges were brought against officers. Since 2005, they found 54 criminal cases against police officers filed for police-involved shootings:

In half the criminal cases­ identified by The Post and researchers at Bowling Green, prosecutors cited forensics and autopsy reports that showed this very thing: unarmed suspects who had been shot in the back.

In a third of the cases­ where officers faced charges, prosecutors introduced videos into evidence, saying they showed the slain suspects had posed no threat at the moment they were killed. The videos were often shot from cameras mounted on the dashboards of patrol cars, standard equipment for most police departments.

In nearly a quarter of the cases, an officer’s colleagues turned on him, giving statements or testifying that the officer opened fire even though the suspect posed no danger at the time.

And in 10 cases, or about a fifth of the time, prosecutors alleged that officers either planted or destroyed evidence in an attempt to exonerate themselves — a strong indication, prosecutors said, that the officers themselves recognized the shooting was unjustified.

While 19 of the 54 cases they found are still pending, 21 officers were acquitted of charges and only 11 officers were convicted.

It is important to note that untold thousands of people are killed in police-involved shootings during that period. Just in Los Angeles County, California, there have been at least 409 police-involved shootings since 2010—and yet there hasn’t been a single prosecution for one since 2001.

As my colleague Matthew Feeney noted, the cell phone footage of Walter Scott’s death was integral to the officer’s firing and criminal charge Without it, South Carolina authorities may not have filed any charges, let alone murder. Indeed, even with the video, conviction is not certain.

You should read the whole Washington Post piece here. And be sure to follow @NPMRP on Twitter and PoliceMisconduct.net for updates on all kinds of police misconduct and abuse.

Doug Bandow

The Obama administration’s decision to negotiate with Tehran triggered near hysteria among U.S. politicians and pundits who advocate perpetual war in the Middle East. One complaint is that the talks failed to address Iran’s regional role.

These critics denounced Tehran’s imperial ambitions. For instance, the Foreign Policy Initiative insisted that “Iran’s drive to dominate the region has been years in the making.”

However, if Mideast domination is Iran’s long-term priority, Tehran has accomplished little. Most governments in the region oppose the Islamic regime and America has far more influence.

In war-torn Syria, Iran’s reach barely extends to the Damascus suburbs. Tehran enjoys outsized but not overwhelming influence in small, divided Lebanon.

In Yemen Tehran is loosely connected to a long-time disaffected rebel movement in a seemingly permanent civil war. Iran matters in Baghdad because George W. Bush removed Iraqi secularist Saddam Hussein, Iran’s great nemesis.

None of these connections yield much geopolitical benefit. Yet the Economist magazine warned that “Iran’s belligerent behavior in the Middle East is an increasing menace.”

Of course, no one wants Iran to have a nuclear weapon. But given the region’s hostile security environment it’s hard to blame Tehran for proceeding with a nuclear program—which actually began under Washington’s ally the Shah.

The U.S. and Britain ousted post-war Iran’s democratically elected prime minister in 1953. After the Shah’s fall in 1979 the U.S. backed Saddam Hussein’s savage invasion of Iran. Over the years, Washington imposed regime change or dismembered territories in several countries posing no threat to America.

The U.S., Turkey, and the Gulf States are attempting to oust Iran’s Syrian ally. Over the last decade successive American presidents have regularly threatened military action against Tehran. So has Israel. As Henry Kissinger once observed, even paranoids have enemies.

Of course, the existing Iranian regime is ugly, especially to its own people. However, the Islamist regime has been a cautious actor dedicated to its own survival. Tehran has done nothing nearly as disastrous in humanitarian or geopolitical terms as the Bush administration’s invasion of Iran.

Moreover, by almost every measure Saudi Arabia’s monarchy is worse than Iran’s theocracy. Riyadh allows no political opposition and suppresses all non-Sunni faiths. Saudis promoted the intolerant Wahhabist theology, funded al-Qaeda prior to 9/11, provided 15 of the 19 9/11 terrorists, and underwrote extremists in Syria.

Yet Washington is helping Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states kill Yemenis. Explained Secretary of State John Kerry:  “we’re not going to step away from our alliances and our friendships.”

Until now Yemen was a local affair. The Houthis’ grievances are purely domestic and they heartily dislike al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Even British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond acknowledged that “the Houthis are clearly not Iranian proxies.”

The conflict will be ugly. Even nominal “victory” would not likely be stable, but merely the latest round in an extended fight.

The situation is serious, but Washington policy is beyond parody. Announced Kerry, the U.S. was “not going to stand by while the region is destabilized or while people engage in overt warfare across lines, international boundaries and other countries.”

As I pointed out in Forbes, “this from a government which routinely bombs, invades, and occupies other nations. Indeed, Washington empowered Iran and created the Islamic State by invading Iraq.”

After negotiating the nuclear agreement with Iran the administration plans even more intensive military involvement in the Middle East. Reported the Los Angeles Times, “Obama administration officials are promising a major strengthening of U.S. defense commitments to Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf allies, possibly including a nuclear commitment to their security.” If reducing the potential Iranian threat actually increases America’s commitments, why bother?

Of course the Middle East would be better off without Iranian meddling in other nations’ affairs. But promiscuous U.S. military action, especially on behalf of authoritarian “allies” such as Saudi Arabia, is an even bigger problem. Washington should stay out of conflicts which are not America’s to solve.

Alan Reynolds

Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler gives Senator Rand Paul Three Pinocchios for making the following claim on TV:

Ronald Reagan … said we’re going to dramatically cut tax rates. And guess what? More revenue came in, but tens of millions of jobs were created.

Before examining whether or not “more revenue came in,” consider just how dramatic the Reagan-era tax changes really were.  Under the first bill in 1981, all personal tax rates were eventually reduced by 23%.  But it is often forgotten that these rate reductions in were foolishly delayed until 1984.  By then, however, the 49% tax bracket was down to 38%, the 24% rate to 18% and the 14% rate to 11%.  

When the 1986 Tax Reform took effect in 1988, higher marginal tax rates fell further to 28-33% for those previously in tax brackets of 38-50%.  The corporate tax was cut from 46% to 34%.  After being reduced to 20% from 1982-86, however, the top capital gains tax was raised to 28% in 1987 before being rolled-back to 20% in 1997 and 15% in 2003.

Mr. Kessler mainly takes issue with Senator Paul’s comment that “more revenue came in” after the highest marginal tax rates on income or capital gains were reduced (I’ll deal with jobs issue in a separate blog).

Before considering his evidence, take a close look at the graph below – which compares reductions in top tax rates for personal income and taxable capital gains with the growth of real federal tax revenues, measured in 2009 dollars.  

Aside from cyclical revenue losses in the aftermath of recessions (1982-3, 2001-2, 2008-10), it appears undeniable that real revenues grew most briskly after top tax rates were reduced, including reduced tax rates on capital gains in 1978, 1997 and 2003.  By contrast, real revenues were flat or down during years of high tax rates on income and/or capital gains, such as 1969-77.  Although early years are not shown in this graph, real revenues were actually lower in 1961 than in 1952 – a period with 91% tax rates and three recessions.

The graph stops with 2012 because fiscal 2013 includes the fourth quarter of 2012 when taxpayers realized gains and collected bonuses to avoid Obama’s higher tax rates.  Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez report that income reported by the Top 1% fell by 14.9% in 2013 when top tax rates on income and capital gains were increased. “The fall in top incomes in 2013 is due to the 2013 increase in top tax rates,” notes Saez.

Mr. Kessler does not actually deny that “more revenue came in” after tax rates were reduced in 1984 and 1988, even though he accuses Senator Rand of lying about that. Kessler instead tries to attribute much of the (unmentioned) 1981-90 revenue increase to badly-estimated “tax increases” in 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1987.  Those tax laws mainly involved in reneging on promises to further accelerate business depreciation in 1984-85, not changes in rates. The 1983 law raised the Social Security tax rate one percentage point, but not until 1988-90.

Kessler also changes the subject from growth of revenue over time to revenues as percentage of GDP. He says, “revenues as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), which is the best way to compare across years, dropped from [a record high of] 19.1 percent in 1981 to a low of 16.9 percent in 1984, before rebounding slightly to 17.8 percent in 1989.”  Far from being “the best way” to discover whether or not “more revenue came in,” revenues as a percentage of GDP tell us almost nothing about that.  The only two times revenues hit 19% of GDP – in 1969 and 1981 – the economy and revenues promptly collapsed under that burden.

Kessler then confuses old revenue estimates with actual revenue.  He says, “the Treasury Department in 2006 confirmed that tax cuts reduced revenue.” That is untrue – at least three Pinnochios untrue.  

The author of that brief 2006 Treasury memo, Jerry Tempalski, simply compiled original static estimates from the Treasury, JCT or “statements or tables included in the Congressional Record without a citation for the source of the estimates.”  Tempalski warns that such revenue estimates “do not take into account the effect of the bills on GDP, even though some bills … were primarily designed to stimulate the economy.” He also admits that he made “no adjustment for estimates that proved to be inaccurate.”  In other words, Kessler’s alleged proof is just a list of antique estimates – some from unknown sources, some known to be wrong, and none of them extending beyond four years.

According to an updated version of this so-called Treasury Department study, the 1964 Kennedy tax cuts, which took rates down from 20-91% to 14-70%, were estimated to lose the equivalent of $64 billion in 2009 dollars. On the contrary, federal revenues in 2009 dollars soared from $710 billion in 1963 to $914 billion in 1967 – an awesome gain of 28.8% in just four years.  Similar vintage estimates for rate reductions in 1984-88 are no more credible today than those absurdly erroneous estimates of 1964. 

Measured in 2009 dollars, real federal revenues rose from $1.37 billion in 1981 to $1.64 billion by 1990 – a 21.3% gain. President Reagan left office in January 1989 but his tax rates lasted another year.  Top tax rates were then increased in 1991 and 1993, but real federal revenues in 1993 were no higher than in 1990 when the top tax rate was 28%.  As a share of GDP, revenues were 17.8% in 1989 but remained well below that level until 1995.  Revenues again reached 17.9% of GDP in 2007 (despite some revenue-losing 2001-03 tax breaks), but only14.9% from 2009 to 2012.

The usual cheerleaders for Carter-era tax rates jumped on Twitter with shouts of “Voodoo!” and “Smoke and Mirrors” when Washington Post writer Glenn Kessler awarded Rand Paul Three Pinnochios for telling the truth about tax revenues rising from 1981 to 1990.  It is Mr. Kessler who deserves Three Pinnochios. 

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