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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. 

Jason Bedrick

Educational choice laws have the potential to expand educational opportunity and improve quality. However, design matters. Ideally, educational choice laws allow very wide participation and eschew technocratic regulations that can impede or even undermine their success.

Unfortunately, Alabama’s scholarship tax credit (STC) law is far from ideal.

Last week, the Alabama State Senate passed legislation making numerous changes to the state’s STC law. Yet while the legislation includes several improvements, the changes fail to address the law’s most serious flaws, and would further constrain what is already among the most limited private school choice laws in the nation.

Eligibility

Under the Alabama Accountability Act, low- and middle-income students who are zoned to attend a district school designated as “failing” are eligible to receive tax-credit scholarships from a nonprofit scholarship-granting organization (SGO). Sadly, while other states are seeking to expand eligibility, the Alabama Senate is seeking to further restrict it.

The legislation would lower the income eligibility level from 150 percent of Alabama’s median household income (about $65,000 for a family of four in 2014–15) to that of the federal free-and-reduced lunch program, which is 185 percent of the federal poverty line (about $44,000 for a family of four). It also eliminates the provision that allowed students to continue receiving scholarships if their parents’ income outgrew the eligibility guidelines, which could contribute to the poverty trap.

Even worse, rather than eliminate the problematic “failing schools” provision, the legislation would narrow the scope of what constitutes a “failing” school. The legislation would restrict tax-credit scholarships to students zoned to district schools scoring in the lowest 6 percent on the state standardized assessment in reading and math, down from 10 percent (among other provisions). However, even schools that perform higher on average might not meet the particular needs of particular students. Educational choice laws should provide opportunities to all students, no matter where they live or how well or poorly their local district school performs on average.

Tax Credits and Scholarships

Under current law, the total amount of tax credits available for donations to SGOs is $25 million. That may sound like a lot, but it isn’t. Alabama spends just under $10,000 per student in its district schools. If the scholarships averaged half that amount, there would be sufficient tax credits to fund only 5,000 scholarships, which is less than 0.6 percent of the approximately 841,000 district and private school students statewide. The law would raise the total credit cap by $5 million, which is a step in the right direction, but a very small one. The legislation would also eliminate the $7,500 per donor cap on tax credits, which unnecessarily limited donations to SGOs.

However, the legislation would also impose a new cap on the amount that scholarships can be worth: $6,000 for elementary school students, $8,000 for middle school students, and $10,000 for high school students. While it’s reasonable to impose some cap on scholarship sizes to ensure that the state saves money, it is better to cap the average scholarship size, as New Hampshire did, which grants SGOs greater flexibility in meeting the needs of particular families.

Confiscating Donations

Perhaps the most troubling provision of the legislation would mandate the potential confiscation of donated funds that the Alabama Supreme Court recently ruled constitute private money. But for a 5 percent allowance for administrative costs, the legislation would require SGOs to expend all tax-credit eligible donations as scholarships by the end of the following academic year. After that point, the state would confiscate the remaining donated funds and hand them to the “State Department of Education for the benefit of its At-Risk Student Program.” However noble or effective the At-Risk Student Program may be, it does not justify the confiscation of private funds donated to SGOs or any other nonprofit, no matter what tax deduction or credit the donors may receive. 

Alabama’s school choice law needs improvement, but the proposed legislation entails taking one step forward and 10 steps back. Alabama lawmakers should go back to the drawing board.

Adam Bates

A quick and happy update from New Mexico: Gov. Susana Martinez (R) has signed HB 560, which I detailed here, into law.  New Mexico has thus effectively abolished civil asset forfeiture by requiring a criminal conviction before the government can seize property.

Gov. Martinez’s statement can be read here.

House Bill 560 (HB 560) makes numerous changes to the asset forfeiture process used by law enforcement agencies in New Mexico. As an attorney and career prosecutor, I understand how important it is that we ensure safeguards are in place to protect our constitutional rights. On balance, the changes made by this legislation improve the transparency and accountability of the forfeiture process and provide further protections to innocent property owners.

As expected, civil liberties advocates across the political spectrum cheered the move.

ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson: 

This is a good day for the Bill of Rights. For years police could seize people’s cash, cars, and houses without even accusing anyone of a crime. Today, we have ended this unfair practice in New Mexico and replaced it with a model that is just and constitutional.

Institute for Justice Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath:

New Mexico has shown that ending policing for profit is a true bipartisan issue with broad public support. America is ready to end civil asset forfeiture, a practice which is not in line with our values or constitution. This law shows that we can be tough on crime without stripping property away from innocent Americans.

Emily Kaltenbach of the New Mexico chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance:

New Mexico has succeeded today in reining in one of the worst excesses of the drug war. Like other drug war programs, civil asset forfeiture is disproportionately used against poor people of color who cannot afford to hire lawyers to get their property back. This law is an important step towards repairing some of the damage the drug war has inflicted upon our society and system of justice.

Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. "Chip" Knappenberger

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger. While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic. Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

This week, we have two notable items of interest.

First and foremost, a must-read article from Judith Curry’s Climate Etc. blog where Judy quite adeptly introduces us to the concept of an “availability cascade”—a process that has come to dominate and define climate alarmism. Curry writes that an

availability cascade is a self-reinforcing process of collective belief formation that triggers a self-perpetuating chain reaction: the more attention a danger gets, the more worried people become, leading to more news coverage and greater alarm.

She describes how the cascade of events began with the 1992 United Nations Rio Treaty aimed at “avoiding dangerous climate change through stabilization of [carbon dioxide] emissions,” transformed from “global warming” to “climate change” so as to pick up extreme weather events, and now has swept human health into the growing avalanche of woe.

Judy’s article is one of the best pieces we have read on the web is recent weeks (and we’re not just saying that because she incorporates some of our work!). Bravo to her! Here is a longer excerpt, but you (really, really) ought to have a look at the whole thing:

Climate change may exacerbate environmental problems that are caused by overpopulation, poorly planned land-use and over-exploitation of natural resources. However, for the most part it is very difficult to separate out the impacts of human caused climate change from natural climate change and from other societal impacts.

Nevertheless, climate change has become a grand narrative in which human-caused climate change has become a dominant cause of societal problems. Everything that goes wrong then reinforces the conviction that that there is only one thing we can do prevent societal problems–stop burning fossil fuels. This grand narrative misleads us to think that if we solve the problem of climate change, then these other problems would also be solved.

Politicians, activists and journalists have stimulated an ‘availability cascade’ [link] to support alarm about human-caused climate change. An availability cascade is a self-reinforcing process of collective belief formation that triggers a self-perpetuating chain reaction: the more attention a danger gets, the more worried people become, leading to more news coverage and greater alarm. Because slowly increasing temperatures don’t seem alarming, the ‘availability entrepreneurs’ push extreme weather events and public health impacts as being caused by human-caused climate change, more of which is in store if we don’t quickly act to cool the planet by reducing fossil fuel emissions.

… The availability cascade of climate change as apocalypse acts to narrow the viewpoints and policy options that we are willing to consider in dealing with complex issues such as public health, weather disasters and national security. Should we be surprised when reducing [carbon dioxide] emissions does not ameliorate any of these problems?

The other piece worth checking out this week appeared on the site The Conversation and was authored by Ivan Oransky, one of the founders of Retraction Watch, a site that “tracks retractions as a window in the scientific process.”

Oransky eaxmines the question, “is science really better than journalism at self-correction?” The recent Rolling Stone retraction of an “incendiary article about an alleged gang rape on the campus of the University of Virginia” has some suggesting that “journalism should be more like science” in employing a “journalistic method” much like the “scientific method,” which involves rigorous hypothesis testing. Oransky, however, thinks that science–perhaps increasingly–is failing to live up that ideal. He writes:

The problem is that in science–or, more accurately, scientific publishing–this process seldom works as directed.

… Just as a good narrative sells in the media, a compelling storyline carries outsize weight in science. Journals are more likely to publish positive findings than negative results. And as emerging scholarship shows, it’s not unusual to publish studies that simply are not true. That’s confirmation bias at work again, aided and abetted by the way many scientists use statistics. Simply put, if you do 20 experiments, one of them is likely to have a publishable result. But only publishing that result doesn’t make your findings valid. In fact it’s quite the opposite.

Why does this happen? Because the entire scientific community, from the junior researchers to the editors-in-chief, are vulnerable to the same sort of credulity from which Rolling Stone’s editors suffered, which is a particular form of confirmation bias.

At the Center for the Study of Science, we have taken this a step further and we stress how this positive finding publication bias can misshape and misdirect scientific knowledge. It’s worth checking out both Oransky’s full article and our explanations of the bigger implications. Also, the Retraction Watch website is worth bookmarking and stopping by on occasion to see the types of things have led to papers being retracted from the scientific literature. It is rather eye-opening to see all that goes on.

As always, you ought to have a look!

Chris Edwards

Presidential candidate Rand Paul has announced his support for a balanced-budget amendment (BBA) to the U.S. Constitution. This is an old idea, but a good idea. A BBA has been proposed in Congress as far back as 1936. In 1982 the Senate passed a BBA by a vote of 69-31, but it failed to get the needed two-thirds approval in the House. In 1995 a BBA passed the House by a 300-132 margin, but it fell one vote short of passage in the Senate.

Today we need a BBA more than ever. Historical budget data show that federal politicians have become increasingly irresponsible over the years. The bipartisan 19th century belief that balancing the budget was morally proper and economically prudent disappeared during the 20th century. As the chart below shows, from 1791 to 1929 the federal government balanced its budget in 68 percent of the years. But from 1930 to 2015, the government balanced its budget in just 15 percent of the years.

What changed in the 1930s? The unfortunate rise of Keynesian economics encouraged politicians to think that deficit spending helped the economy. Also, the 1935 creation of Social Security launched the government into the era of “entitlement” spending, which is spending that is on automatic pilot. Entitlement spending grows relentlessly year after year without politicians having to vote for the increases. It allows politicians to pretend that they are not responsible for the resulting deficits and debt.  

A legal cap on overall federal spending would be a better way to restrain the budget than a BBA. But either way, let’s hope that Paul can spur a renewed debate on fiscal control. We need it: despite today’s growing economy, the current administration recently proposed a budget that has half-trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. From a historical perspective, that sort of disregard for fiscal prudence is remarkable. In his 2014 book, America’s Fiscal Constitution, Democratic politician and financial executive Bill White argued that until recently, aiming for balanced budgets was part of an “informal constitution” that both parties understood.

Another 2014 book, A Nation Wholly Free, examined the drive to eliminate the federal debt under President Andrew Jackson in the 1830s. Author Carl Lane found,

Debt freedom, Americans in the Jacksonian era believed, would improve the material quality of life in the United States. It would reduce taxes, increase disposable income, reduce the privileges of the creditor class, and, in general, generate greater equality as well as liberty.

Those early Americans were right about debt freedom. A frugal government that balances its books helps to secure liberty and benefits average citizens. Hopefully, Paul and other reform-minded candidates can revive such sound fiscal thinking in Washington.

Matthew Feeney

At the press conference this week about officer Michael Slager’s killing of Walter Scott, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said that he had ordered an additional 150 police body cameras. According to Summey, every officer in the North Charleston Police Department will be outfitted with a body camera once they have been trained to use it and a body camera policy has been written. In February, the city announced that it would spend $85,000 of a $275,000 federal grant on 115 body cameras.

It is, of course, impossible to know how Slager would have behaved if he had been wearing a body camera during his encounter with Scott. But it is worth conducting the thought experiment nonetheless. 

Let’s consider footage of the incident captured by Feidin Santana, a bystander. In the video, Scott flees a scuffle with Slager following a routine taillight traffic stop. There appear to be Taser barbs attached to Scott as he runs away from Slager, who fires eight rounds as him while standing flat-footed. Scott falls about 15–20 feet from Slager after the eighth round is fired. (The coroner reportedly told one of Scott’s family lawyers that five of those rounds hit Scott.) Slager then handcuffs Scott, returns to where the scuffle took place, picks up an object, and drops that object near Scott.

Police reports state that officers performed CPR on Scott, yet the footage shows no officers performing CPR. The video does show Scott receiving some medical attention, but this is several minutes after the shooting and does not include CPR. 

It is hard to imagine that if Slager had been wearing an operating body camera that he would have behaved the way he did. Knowing that first-person footage of the incident would be seen by investigators, would Slager have planted an object–widely believed to be his Taser–near Scott after the shooting? Would Slager, a CPR-certified officer, have left Scott without medical attention? Would he have claimed that he felt threatened when he fired eight rounds at a fleeing 50-year-old man? Would he have even fired his weapon at all?

Even if the answer to each of those questions is “yes,” a body camera would have provided officials with more information than written police reports.

Thankfully, Santana was at the scene of Scott and Slager’s scuffle and provided video showing that police reports of the killing presented an inaccurate account of what happened. But the public should not have to rely on conscientious citizens with cellphone cameras who happen to be in the right place at the right time to ensure that incidences of police misconduct are accurately reported.

Tim Lynch

Over at Cato’s Police Misconduct website, we have identified the worst case of the month for March: the conspiracy to frame an innocent man, Douglas Dendinger, in Bogalusa, LA.

Here’s the story: Dendinger agreed to take on the task of a “process server.” That is, he would hand-deliver legal papers to a person who has been sued, putting that person on notice about the legal action. In this instance, Dendinger was to serve papers on a former police officer, Chad Cassard, who was being sued for police brutality.

Dendinger found Cassard as he was leaving the local courthouse and made the delivery. At that moment, Cassard was in the company of several police officers and prosecutors. Those people became hostile and furious with Dendinger over what this lawsuit would mean for their friend/colleague.

The story then takes a bizarre and disturbing turn: Later that day, the police arrive at Dendinger’s home and arrest him on several charges, including two felonies (1) obstruction of justice and (2) witness intimidation. Cassard and a few of his cohorts claimed that Dendinger had served the papers in a violent fashion.

Because of those charges, Dendinger was in very serious legal trouble. He was looking at many years in prison.

Fortunately, a cell phone video of the “incident” emerged. Turns out, Dendinger did nothing wrong. All he did was peacefully hand-deliver an envelope to Cassard. Once the video surfaced, the charges were dropped.

We now know that local police and prosecutors leveled false accusations about what happened that day. Had the case proceeded to trial, and with no video evidence, it would have been Dendinger’s word against several witnesses with law enforcement backgrounds. A jury would have been hard pressed to disbelieve several witnesses who claimed to see the same thing. A miscarriage of justice was narrowly averted.

The cell phone video exposed an outrageous criminal conspiracy by officials in Bogalusa. More here.

Alex Nowrasteh

Senator Jeff Sessions’ (R-AL) Washington Post op-ed calls “for an honest discussion on immigration.” He then lays out his case against legal immigration. 

Although I appreciate Sessions’ honesty in calling for large reductions in legal immigration–a level of candor too often shrouded by immigration-restrictionists’ political correctness (“I’m only against illegal immigration”)–his op-ed makes a poor case for more government regulation of international labor markets.

Below, I look at Senator Sessions’ arguments against legal immigration. His writings will be in block quotes and my responses will follow.

The first “great wave” of U.S. immigration took place from roughly 1880 to 1930. During this time, according to the Census Bureau, the foreign-born population doubled from about 6.7 million to 14.2 million people. Changes were then made to immigration law to reduce admissions, decreasing the foreign-born population until it fell to about 9.6 million by 1970. Meanwhile, during this low-immigration period, real median compensation for U.S. workers surged, increasing more than 90 percent from 1948 to 1973, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Senator Sessions only presents the income data for Americans during the time when immigration was restricted. Real per-capita GDP increased by 95 percent during the 1880–1930 period of high-immigration that he cites. There are other sources for wage data from that period, although all of them are troublesome compared to the modern economic information available.

The United States did not have closed borders from 1948 to 1973. The Bracero guest-worker visa program let in nearly five million lower-skilled Mexican workers to temporarily labor in American agriculture, a policy that did more to limit unlawful immigration during that period than any other.

From 1948 to 1982, the size of the U.S. workforce practically doubled from 60 million to 111 million. A baby-boom, women entering the workforce, and other migrations increased the number of workers. The number of working women increased from 16.3 million in 1948 to 43.3 million in 1982 to 73 million in 2012. The number of male workers shot up to from 43 million in 1948 to 76 million in 2012. Female labor market gains did not take jobs away from men. There is not a fixed supply of jobs to be divided up amongst Americans: the market constantly creates and destroys new job opportunities and increasing supplies of workers and consumers help that process along.

Internal migration was also a big factor. About 29 million black and white Southerners migrated to the North during the course of the 20th century. Those migrations took place during periods of rapid income growth around the nation. If immigrants supposedly lower the wages of Americans, wouldn’t women also lower the wages of men and Southerners depress the wages of Northerners and Westerners? The scale of those migrations and the entry of women into the workforce dwarfed the post-1968 immigration.

Senator Sessions’ theory that the supply of workers is the prime determinant of wages ignores much. Worker productivity is also influenced by the type and quantity of capital in the economy, the differences between immigrant workers and native-born workers, and the availability of technology. In a well-functioning economy, increases in the supply of workers increases demand for workers, which don’t lead to more unemployment.

This ongoing wave coincides with a period of middle-class contraction. The Pew Research Center reports: ‘The share of adults who live in middle-income households has eroded over time, from 61% in 1970 to 51% in 2013.’ Harvard economist George Borjas has estimated that high immigration from 1980 to 2000 reduced the wages of lower-skilled U.S. workers by 7.4 percent—a stunning drop—with particularly painful reductions for African American workers. Weekly earnings today are lower than they were in 1973.

Senator Sessions begins by talking about middle-income households, but he cites George Borjas’ work on how lower-skilled immigrants decrease the wages of Americans with less than a high-school degree. In order to compete with middle-income Americans, immigrants must have similar skill sets. Because not all labor is the same, a lower-skilled immigrant who works in agriculture does not compete with a middle-skilled American accountant. By the senator’s own admission, immigrants are more likely to be less skilled than middle-class Americans, so it’s hard to see how immigrants in one skill category lower the wages of Americans in another.

Concerning Borjas, his findings that immigrants decrease the wages of Americans are the most negative in the economics literature. In that paper, he holds the supply of capital as fixed–an assumption that may be fine for an academic publication but it is not useful for analyzing policy. The stock of capital is dynamic, increasing with population. Ignoring that important effect would make any increase in population decrease wages. It should further be noted that Borjas, like other economists, admits that immigration does help Americans more than it harms them, but with some distributional consequences.

Applying Borjas’ research methods to different periods of time yields less negative results. This recent paper used Borjas’ methods but includes the wage data up through 2010, finding effects so small that they are insignificant. That is a significant rebuttal to Borjas’ findings.

In contrast to Borjas’ work that holds the stock of capital fixed, economists Gianmarco Ottaviano and Giovanni Peri assume that capital adjusts in response to immigrant inflows. They find that immigrants have a very small effect on the wages of native-born Americans without a high school degree (-0.1 percent to +0.6 percent) and an average positive effect on all native workers of about +0.6 percent. The negative wage effects of new immigrants are concentrated on older immigrants. Unsurprisingly, new immigrants compete with older immigrants who both share similar skills while native-born Americans benefit from a larger supply of lower-skilled workers.

Research by Peri and Chad Sparber finds that increases in lower-skilled immigration induce lower-skilled natives to specialize in jobs that require communication in English while the immigrants specialize in jobs that are more manual-labor intensive. Communication jobs are more highly compensated than manual-labor jobs. This complementary task specialization reduces the downward wage pressure because natives react by adapting and specializing in more highly paid occupations, not by dropping out of the job market. This effect decreases wage competition between lower-skilled natives and immigrants by around 75 percent. Peter Henry found that low-skilled immigrants to an area induced natives to improve their school performance so that they wouldn’t have to compete with lower skilled immigrants. Immigrants push Americans up the skills ladder.

Yet each year, the United States adds another million mostly low-wage permanent legal immigrants who can work, draw benefits and become voting citizens. Legal immigration is the primary source of low-wage immigration into the United States. In other words, as a matter of federal policy—which can be adjusted at any time—millions of low-wage foreign workers are legally made available to substitute for higher-paid Americans.

If controlling immigration to the United States was as easy as flipping a policy switch, then there would be no debate over immigration reform. The most contentious issue, the 11 to 12 million unlawful immigrants, wouldn’t be here. The only times in American history when our immigration laws were largely obeyed were when there was a Great Depression that turned off the “jobs magnet,” a world war that prevented the crossing of borders, and a large-scale guest-worker program to funnel would-be unlawful immigrants into the legal system (the Bracero program). Since 1964, we have not had a Great Depression (thank God), world war (thank God), or a functional guest-worker visa program for lower-skilled workers. As a result, we have a large problem with illegal immigration that spending on border enforcement can’t halt. Only a functional legal immigration system can prevent illegal immigration.

This federal policy continues at a time when robotics and computerization are slashing demand for workers. One Oxford University professor estimates that as many as half of all jobs will be automated in 20 years. We don’t have enough jobs for our lower-skilled workers now. What sense does it make to bring in millions more?

Economist, futurist, and Artificial Intelligence researcher Robin Hanson is skeptical of the claim that 47 percent of jobs are at risk of being automated. He wrote:

Yet this 47 percent figure comes mainly from the authors ‘subjectively’ (their word) labeling 30 particular kinds of jobs as automatable and 40 as not. They give almost no justification or explanation for how they chose these labels. Such a made-up figure hardly seems a sufficient basis for expecting catastrophe.

Even if 47 percent of jobs were soon to be automated, why not let the market decide how many workers should be added to our economy? Surely the free market is better able to regulate labor markets than well-meaning politicians.

Every few decades going back to the early 19th century, concerns about machines taking away our jobs briefly push Luddite fears to the forefront of public debate. Interestingly, an editorial adjacent to Senator Sessions’ op-ed in the Washington Post is skeptical of Luddism. What sense does it make for the U.S. government to base immigration policy on yet another prediction that our jobs will soon be automated?

The percentage of the country that is foreign-born is on track to rapidly eclipse any previous historical peak and to continue rising. Imagine the pressure this will put on wages, as well as schools, hospitals and many other community resources.

The economy is dynamic and adaptive, just like immigrants. They don’t just magically appear on our shores; they are incentivized to come here for economic, family, or humanitarian reasons. If there are few job opportunities then fewer immigrants will come. Once here, immigrants increase production and demand for goods and services.

As a percentage of the U.S.-born population, yearly immigrant flows to the U.S. are half of what they were during the 19th century and early 20th centuries. Australia’s immigrants, as a percent of their entire population, is about double what it is in the United States. Using the same metric, Canada’s immigrant population is about 50 percent bigger than in the United States. Australia and Canada are both wealthy, growing economies with more liberalized immigration and migration policies than the United States. Senator Sessions has spoken approvingly of Canada’s immigration system in the past. Having more immigrants is correlated with a more quickly growing economy, not increasing poverty and joblessness.

As for the pressure on government services, those must be put in to perspective. It is currently illegal for new immigrants to get most means-tested welfare benefits. Those barriers to welfare use should be increased, as we’ve written about in detail at Cato. Even so, poor immigrants use much less means-tested welfare than poor-natives. We should absolutely seek to lower those expenditures through welfare reform, but imposing more government controls over immigration is a difficult and backwards way to go about it. The fiscal effects of immigration are small–mostly clustered around zero. The long-term taxes paid by immigrants and generated through the economic activity they jumpstart are about equal to the benefits that they consume. (Read here for a literature survey on the topic.)

If welfare and government budgets are the primary concerns, then reform or eliminate those programs. Reforming the fiscal policies of the government will have a much bigger, direct, and immediate effect on our budgetary problems than attempting to change demographics by fiddling with immigration policy.

What we need now is immigration moderation: slowing the pace of new arrivals so that wages can rise, welfare rolls can shrink and the forces of assimilation can knit us all more closely together.

The pace of immigrant assimilation is unaffected by immigration restrictions and has been for as long as data on the issue have been available.

But high immigration rates help the financial elite (and the political elite who receive their contributions) by keeping wages down and profits up. For them, what’s not to like? That is why they have tried to enforce silence in the face of public desire for immigration reductions. They have sought to intimidate good and decent Americans into avoiding honest discussion of how uncontrolled immigration impacts their lives.

Any honest discussion of immigration must acknowledge that our immigration system is more complex and restricted than virtually any other sector of the economy. A two-second glance at this chart of immigration laws should be enough to dispel the myth that immigration is “uncontrolled.” Indeed, too much government control over an economic activity leads to chaos. The problem with immigration isn’t that it’s “uncontrolled,” but that the quantity and restrictiveness of government controls have created an unpredictable system of arbitrary government edicts and poorly understood statutes that run contrary to our rule-of-law principles.

There is undoubtedly wage competition between some immigrants and some Americans. But that relatively small amount of wage competition is dwarfed by the economic gains of a more open labor market. Senator Sessions points to some problems in America, like a stubbornly high unemployment rate for some workers and an unsustainable welfare state, but economic protectionism through immigration restrictions will not fix these problems; it will only worsen them.

I’ve previously rebutted Senator Sessions’ claims that immigration will make us poorer. I’m not alone in thinking that immigration is a boon for the U.S. economy. Virtually every economist who studies immigration concludes that it benefits Americans. Economist David Card called research on the topic “the elusive search for negative wage impacts of immigration.” An honest discussion over immigration policy must also consider the universally acknowledged and known economic benefits of immigrants.

Gerald P. O'Driscoll Jr.

A monetary standard is a set of institutions and rules governing the supply of money in an economy. These rules and institutions collectively constrain the production of money. Through its constraints on money creation, the standard indirectly acts on prices. A monetary standard may also affect the rate of growth of real economic output, but that depends on expectations. Monetary institutions may also affect other economic institutions, which themselves influence economic growth.

Some authors talk about a monetary regime, and still others a monetary constitution. For purposes of this discussion, the same underlying issues are being discussed.

The banking and financial system interacts with the monetary standard and differences in the one may affect how the other operates. Though very important, the banking and financial system is not my main focus.

Modern authors often talk of the “choice” of a monetary standard, but historically monetary standards evolved over time. Gold and silver evolved as the money of choice by an historical process first enunciated by the Austrian economist Carl Menger in 1892.[1]

Sovereigns often tried to choose a monetary standard, as by decreeing either gold or silver to be money. Sometimes their choices were effective and sometimes market forces upended their choices. That was especially likely to occur when a sovereign choose two standards (bimetallism), most often a gold and a silver standard.

If the sovereign chose wisely, he adopted an exchange rate between the two metals reflecting their market prices. Inevitably, over time, the market exchange rate between the two metals changed due to demand and supply factors. Each metal had nonmonetary uses, and demand conditions tended to change over time. So, too, did supply conditions for the two metals.

Once market and official exchange rates diverged, bimetallism became unstable. The metal undervalued in monetary use would tend to disappear into nonmonetary uses. The bimetallic standard evolved into a monometallic standard.

There is an important lesson here. In monetary matters (as in others), a sovereign proposes and the market disposes.

We now live in a fiat money world. That is, we have a fiat monetary standard, which has its own institutions and rules. The standard critique of such a standard is that it does not sufficiently constrain inflation. The value of a U.S. dollar today is a small fraction of what it was in 1913, the year the Federal Reserve System was enacted into law.[2] Differences in the inflation performance of different standards are very important. But they may not be the most important issue.

Consider the case for the gold standard made by one of its most prominent exponents. “The gold standard was the world standard of the age of capitalism, increasing welfare, liberty, and democracy, both political and economic. In the eyes of free traders its main eminence was precisely the fact that it was an international standard as required by international trade and the transactions of the international money and capital market.”[3] The linkage between the gold standard, free trade, free capital markets, and global prosperity is the strong argument for a gold standard. It has recently been reprised by Benn Steil and Manuel Hinds.[4]

Mises also made an essentially political argument for the gold standard, or what he termed sound money. “Ideologically it belongs in the same class with political constitutions and bills of rights. The demand for constitutional guarantees and for bills of rights was a reaction against arbitrary rule and the non-observance of old customs by kings.”[5]

The argument is that the gold standard, free trade and free capital flows are interlinked. It exemplifies how the selection or evolution of a monetary standard also affects other economic institutions. Along with the rule of law, they were the source of strong economic growth in both the West, especially in the United Kingdom and the United States in the 19th century.[6]

My main point in this introductory comment is that the selection of a monetary standard is not merely a technical issue. It is also an embodiment of political values, and one’s view of the relationship between the citizen and the state.

[1] Menger, C. (1892) “On the Origin of Money.” Trans.C. A. Foley. Economic Journal2: 238-55.

[2] The United States was on the gold standard when the Federal Reserve was created. The movement from gold to fiat money occurred in stages.

[3] Mises, L. von (1966) Human Action: A Treatise on Economics. 3rd ed. Chicago: Henry Regnery, p. 472.

[4] Steill, B. and M. Hinds (2009) Money, Markets and Sovereignty. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

[5] Mises, L. von (1971) The Theory of Money and Credit. Trans. H. E. Batson. Irvington-on-Hudson, The Foundation for Economic Education, p. 414.

[6] The United States was legally on a bimetallic standard in the 19th century (except during suspension in the Civil War). It was not formally on the gold standard until the Gold Standard Act of 1900.

[Cross-posted from Alt-M.org]

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