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Anthony Burgess on "the Duty to Distrust the State"

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 09:11

David Boaz

Anthony Burgess wrote some 50 books, but he became most famous for one that was made into a hit movie – A Clockwork Orange, published in 1962 and filmed by Stanley Kubrick in 1971. Two years later Burgess wrote an essay reflecting on the book, the film, and their message. But the essay was not published until 2012, in the New Yorker, where it could be seen only by subscribers. Only this summer did the New Yorker open access to its archives, if only temporarily. So at last I have a chance to draw attention to the section of it I particularly enjoyed, on the dangers of the modern state:

We probably have no duty to like Beethoven or hate Coca-Cola, but it is at least conceivable that we have a duty to distrust the state. Thoreau wrote of the duty of civil disobedience; Whitman said, “Resist much, obey little.” With those liberals, and with many others, disobedience is a good thing in itself. In small social entities—English parishes, Swiss cantons—the machine that governs can sometimes be identified with the community that is governed. But when the social entity grows large, becomes a megalopolis, a state, a federation, the governing machine becomes remote, impersonal, even inhuman. It takes money from us for purposes we do not seem to sanction; it treats us as abstract statistics; it controls an army; it supports a police force whose function does not always appear to be protective.

This, of course, is a generalization that may be regarded as prejudiced nonsense. I personally do not trust politicians or statesmen—very few writers and artists do—and consider that men enter politics for the negative reason that they have little talent for anything else and the positive reason that power is always delicious. Against this must be set the truth that government makes healthful laws to protect the community and, in the great international world, can be the voice of our traditions and aspirations. But the fact remains that, in our own century, the state has been responsible for most of our nightmares. No single individual or free association of individuals could have achieved the repressive techniques of Nazi Germany, the slaughter of intensive bombing, or the atomic bomb. War departments can think in terms of megadeaths, while it is as much as the average man can do to entertain dreams of killing the boss. The modern state, whether in a totalitarian or a democratic country, has far too much power, and we are probably right to fear it.

It is significant that the nightmare books of our age have not been about new Draculas and Frankensteins but about what may be termed dystopias—inverted utopias, in which an imagined megalithic government brings human life to an exquisite pitch of misery. Sinclair Lewis, in “It Can’t Happen Here”—a novel curiously neglected—presents an America that becomes fascist, and the quality of the fascism is as American as apple pie. The wisecracking homespun Will Rogers-like President uses the provisions of a constitution created by Jeffersonian optimists to create a despotism which, to the unthinking majority, at first looks like plain common sense. The trouncing of long-haired intellectuals and shrill anarchists always appeals to the average man, although it may really mean the suppression of liberal thought (the American Constitution was the work of long-haired intellectuals) and the elimination of political dissidence. Orwell’s “1984”—a nightmare vision which may conceivably have prevented the nightmare fact from being realized: no one expects the real 1984 to be like Orwell’s—shows the unabashed love of power and cruelty which too many political leaders have hidden under the flowers of “inspirational” rhetoric. The “Inner Party” of Orwell’s future England exerts control over the population through the falsification of the past, so that no one can appeal to a dead tradition of freedom; through the delimitation of language, so that treasonable thoughts cannot be formulated; through a “doublethink” epistemology, which makes the outside world appear as the rulers wish it to appear; and through simple torture and brainwashing.

Both the American and the British visions conjoin in assuming that the aversive devices of fear and torture are the inevitable techniques of despotism, which seeks total control over the individual. But, as long ago as 1932, Aldous Huxley, in his “Brave New World,” demonstrated the submissive docility that powerful states seek from their subjects as being more easily obtainable through non-aversive techniques. Pre-natal and infantile conditioning makes the slaves happy in their slavery, and stability is enforced not through whips but through a scientifically imposed contentment. Here, of course, is a way that man may take if he really desires a world in which there are no wars, no population crises, no Dostoyevskian agonies. The conditioning techniques are available, and perhaps the state of the world may soon frighten man into accepting them. 

The whole thing is worth reading, with its reflections on freedom and conformity, good and evil, Orwell and B. F. Skinner (he was big in 1973).

Categories: Policy Institutes

Prof. Krugman Snared By 364 Trap

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 22:05

Steve H. Hanke

In his New York Times column of September 15, 2014, How to Get It Wrong,Paul Krugman pleas for open-mindedness and reason. From whence did Prof. Krugman convert from his embrace of dogmatism?

Well, it’s clear that he has not converted. Indeed, the evidence resides about three quarters of the way through his column:

“The great majority of policy-oriented economists believe that increasing government spending in a depressed economy creates jobs, and that slashing it destroys jobs — but European leaders and U.S. Republicans decided to believe the handful of economists asserting the opposite. Neither theory nor history justifies panic over current levels of government debt, but politicians decided to panic anyway, citing unvetted (and, it turned out, flawed) research as justification.”

This passage brings back vivid memories of the 364. In 1981, Margaret Thatcher was prime minister and my friend and collaborator, the late Sir Alan Walters, was her economic guru. Britain’s fiscal deficit was relatively large, 5.6% of its gross domestic product, and the economy was in the middle of a nasty slump. To restart the economy, Thatcher instituted a fierce fiscal squeeze, coupled with an expansionary monetary policy. This was immediately condemned by 364 dyed-in-the-wool Keynesian economists - virtually all of the British establishment. In a letter to the Times, they wrote, “Present policies will deepen the depression, erode the industrial base of our economy and threaten its social and political stability.”

Thatcher and Walters were vindicated quickly. No sooner had the 364 affixed their signatures than the economy turned around and boomed for the next five years. That result provoked disbelief among the Keynesians. After all, according to their dogma, the relationship between the direction of a fiscal impulse and economic activity is supposed to be positive, not negative.

The 364’s dogma was proven wrong. Thatcher and Walters were right.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Middle East and North Africa: A Fatal Attraction

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 15:21

Steve H. Hanke

Last week, President Obama addressed the nation to proclaim that the U.S. and an unspecified coalition were going to once again ramp up our military operations in Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This time, the target is the Islamic State, the group terrorizing Iraqi and Syrian citizens.

Just what is the economic condition of that troubled MENA region? This is a question that must be addressed by anyone who is looking over the horizon. After all, the state of an economy today will have a great influence on post-war prospects tomorrow.

My Misery Index allows us to obtain a clear picture of the current economic situation. The Index is the simple sum of the inflation rate, unemployment rate and bank lending rate, minus per capita GDP growth. I calculated a misery index for the countries in MENA where sufficient data were available.

As the chart shows, many of the countries in MENA are, well, miserable. Indeed, a score of over twenty indicates that serious structural economic problems exist. To correct these problems, thereby reducing misery, major economic reforms (read: free-market reforms) must be implemented. But, even if the respective governments approve such changes, it is unclear whether they can be implemented. To put a bit of color on that conjecture, consider that only 13 of the 21 countries in MENA reported the four pieces of economic data that are required to calculate my Misery Index. The regional governments’ inability to produce reliable economic data is a canary in a coal mine. When it comes to MENA, most of the countries have been singing for a long time. The region is, by and large, miserable.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Chile's Proposed Education Reforms Would Kill the Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 12:17

Andrew J. Coulson

For the past three decades, Chile has had a nationwide voucher-like school choice program. Parents can choose among public and private schools, and the government picks up most or all of the tab. But, since the election last fall of a left-leaning government led by Michelle Bachelet, the future of the program has been in doubt. In May, President Bachelet introduced a first round of reforms aimed at dismantling aspects of the program, though these are still under debate. I’ve written about what that could mean for Chile’s educational performance and equality in today’s edition of the Santiago-based El Mercurio. Here’s the original English version:

Chile’s elementary and secondary education system has been harshly criticized in recent years for academic underperformance and for having large gaps in achievement between lower-income and higher-income students. There is significant truth to both charges. What is less widely known is that Chile has been improving substantially in both respects for at least a decade, and that president Bachelet’s proposed reforms are likely to reverse that improvement.

Though Chilean students perform in the bottom half of countries on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, many of the nations that participate in that test are rich and fully industrialized. When compared to other Latin American countries, Chile is number one across all subjects. More importantly, Chile is one of the fastest-improving countries in the world on international tests, and so it is gradually closing the gap with rich nations.

Crucially, the bulk of Chile’s improvement has been coming from traditionally lower-performing, lower-income students, so the nation has also been narrowing its own achievement gap between rich and poor. One way that researchers measure inequality is to compare the performance of students who have many economic and educational resources in the home with the performance of those who lack such resources. By 2009, the gap in performance between the high- and low-resource students was already smaller in Chile than in most industrialized countries, including Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, and the United States. Another measure of inequality is the difference in the number of years of schooling that high- and low-income children complete. By that measure, Chile has the least inequality of any country in Latin America.

Chile, in other words, is the top performer in the region and one of the fastest improving in the world. Not only have researchers noticed these golden eggs of Chilean education, they have also begun to understand the goose that lays them. Most studies find that Chilean private schools outperform municipal schools, but the difference is sometimes quite small. A more important discovery, by Professor Francisco Gallego and others, is that increased competition from private schools improves outcomes across the board. As the ratio of private to municipal schools in a given area rises, so too does the performance of students in both sectors.

Professor Gregory Elacqua has added another important insight: chains of private schools tend to outperform independent private schools. On top of that, the larger chains outperform the smaller ones.

And which type of private schools are the most likely to grow and form new chains? The answer is for-profit schools. Though Catholic schools can also be thought of as a network or chain, and though they, too, perform well academically, they have not expanded as rapidly as for-profit schools in recent decades and they have been less likely to locate in the very poorest neighborhoods.

So an obvious recipe for continuing Chile’s pattern of educational improvement and the shrinking of its educational gaps is to encourage the growth of networks of high-performing for-profit schools. This is of course the precise opposite of the reforms proposed by president Bachelet, who wishes to ban for-profit schools and forbid parental co-payments. If implemented, schools serving roughly one million students would have to shut down.

Sadly, the government seems unaware of how successful the existing system has been. It wants to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs without even having noticed the eggs. The Bachelet government, and the student leaders who encouraged it to adopt these reforms, want to believe that a centrally planned school system would work better than the more free enterprise approach that exists today. Camila Vallejo, for instance, once said that Venezuela’s centrally planned education system is more advanced than Chile’s. But on the famous PISA international test, Venezuela’s most developed state performs far below Chile’s national average. And the avowed mission of Venezuela’s system is to indoctrinate youth with the government’s ideology. There seems to be little appetite for that sort of system in Chile.

It is good that Chileans are unsatisfied with the status quo and eager to improve it. High standards are crucial for the advancement of nations as well as individuals. But if the desire for improvement is to be satisfied, it must be accompanied by an honest appraisal of what works and what does not—in the real world. Chile’s entrepreneurial approach to education has elevated it above its regional peers, narrowed its educational gaps, and is helping it to improve overall. Central planning, as Venezuelans are rediscovering, has a less encouraging record.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Imperialist Tourist Spots Help Explain Chinese Aggressiveness Today

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 11:29

Doug Bandow

BEIJING—Modern China continues to rise.  But ancient China remains.  And bears witness to a history the West would prefer to forget.

The Summer Palace is one of Beijing’s most enchanting tourist destinations.  But some of the old buildings are in ruins—courtesy of the Western powers.

Imperial China long was a cultured and advanced civilization that eventually fell into decay.  By the 1800s the Western powers had begun to carve out concessions and colonies.

The Summer Palace first was created in the 12th century and was meant to ease the life of the royal family.  In 1860 during the Second Opium War French and British troops destroyed most of what is now called the Old Summer Palace.

In 1886 the Empress Dowager Cixi used funds planned for a navy to rebuild the royal playground.  She called the site the Garden of Peace and Harmony, an appropriate name, except for the garden’s unwanted guests.

In 1900 came the Boxer Rebellion, named for the violent xenophobic, spiritual movement named the “Righteous and Harmonious Fists.”  The Boxers targeted foreigners, especially missionaries, and Chinese Christians.  The revolt, supported by the Empress Dowager, reached Beijing, in which Western diplomats were killed and legations were besieged.  The Western nations raised an eight-nation rescue force, including American troops.

The allied forces eventually relieved the city—alas, the Boxers discovered that their training did not render them immune to bullets.  One of the casualties was the New Summer Palace. The gardens and buildings were burned by the allies, objects contained within were plundered.

The Empress Dowager had to rebuild again on her return to Beijing, which she had fled in advance of the allies.  She died in 1908 and the republican revolution occurred three years later.

This unseemly history is of more than just academic interest.  It helps explain Beijing’s behavior today.

No doubt, some Chinese, both in and out of the People’s Republic of China, have an exaggerated sense of Chinese history, civilization, and destiny.  And Imperial China, despite the fascinating esoterica surrounding it, was an unfriendly place for most of the humane values which we value today.  Nevertheless, China has been treated badly, especially by the Western powers which today are most insistent on Beijing following Western standards.

This historical experience helps explain the nationalism which afflicts even young Chinese who are liberal in many other ways.  The same students believe in a strong, even dominant China.

In fact, many ethnic Chinese living outside of the PRC cheered Hong Kong’s 1997 reversion to Beijing’s control.  For them, the issue was CHINA, not the particular regime ruling the territory known as China at this moment.

More important, those in charge feel a special responsibility as their nation gains the resources, influence, and power necessary to reverse a century or more of humiliation.  That may not justify increasing Chinese assertiveness, especially in the West’s eyes.  But it helps explain the behavior.

This doesn’t mean other nations should automatically concede the PRC’s claims.  But it suggests that Chinese assertiveness involves something other than malevolent aggression.

In which case, as I write in my new article on China-US Focus, “Washington is foolish to militarize disputes which are, at most, of only moderate geopolitical interest.  Other nations, especially those, like Japan, whose behavior has been, shall we say, less than exemplary, have a special responsibility to accommodate Beijing’s perceptions and interests.”

History helps explain Beijing’s policies and politics today.  While those in the West might have amnesia about what their ancestors did to the forebears of China’s leaders, the latter are not so likely to forget.  Policymakers in the U.S. would do well to consider that history in designing their approach to Beijing.  A peaceful and prosperous 21st century might depend on it.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Immigration's Real Impact on Wages and Employment

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 11:23

Alex Nowrasteh

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) has been releasing a series of reports claiming that immigrants are benefiting from the slightly recovering job market while natives are not.  Of course, if immigrants were even less likely to gain jobs than Americans, CIS would use that as evidence that immigrants are a drain on the economy.  No matter.  

The implicit assumption in CIS’ publications is that if those millions of immigrants weren’t working in the United States, more native-born Americans would have jobs – a static view of the economy.  CIS’ fixed pie implication is inappropriate to any kind of reasonable economic analysis of the effects of immigration on the labor market.  That is the primary reason why labor economists do not use CIS’ methods when attempting to measure the labor market impacts of immigration.  Even if CIS’ numbers were compiled correctly, they are not measuring anything useful.

A large body of academic economic research has found that immigration has a relatively small effect on U.S-born American wages and their employment prospects.  For wages impact, the estimates are that immigrants either lower the wages of some American workers by about 2 percent or raise them by about 2 percent in a dynamic economy (this, this, and this).  The employment effects vary little but, like wages, the effects are small and clustered around zero.  Nowhere will you find a tradeoff where one additional immigrants means that one American loses a job in the economy.

The CIS papers make no counterfactual dynamic economic estimates of the strength of the labor market without immigrants.

Here are some additional facts you won’t see in CIS’ papers:

Unemployment rates for the native born and immigrants move in the same direction with a correlation coefficient of 0.92.  Immigrants and natives tend to cluster in different occupations but the unemployment rate for both groups is very similar over time.  They both respond to a growing or shrinking labor market.


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Employed adult immigrants as a percent of all adult employed workers has edged up from about 15 percent in 2005 to about 16 percent in 2014.  Employed adult natives as a percent of all employed adults declined from about 85 percent in 2005 to about 84 percent in 2014.


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The job market also looks pretty poor for all workers.


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Most employment gains since 2010, the depths of the Great Recessions, have gone to natives.  But immigrants have also done pretty well considering their lower percentage of the population and workforce.  There are several reasons why this could be true.  Immigrants are much less likely to have access to unemployment insurance and other means tested welfare programs, so their reserve wages are lower – meaning they’re willing to re-enter the labor force for a lower wage rather than stay unemployed.  Welfare discincentivizes some unemployed Americans from reentering the workforce.  And Immigrants are more mobile than similarly skilled native-born workers.

A new NBER working paper by Brain C. Cadena and Brian K. Kovak observed that low skilled workers were disproportionately affected by job losses during the Great Recession and are typically the least mobile workers – meaning they do not move very far for new low skilled job openings.  They found no measurable shift in the local supply of native-born low skilled workers with a high school degree or less in response to declines in the number of local jobs.  Low skilled Mexican born workers are the exception – they are the most mobile workers in the United States.  Between 2006 and 2010, Cadena and Kovak found that a 10 percentage point larger employment decline drove a 7.6 percentage point larger decline in population for Mexican workers in local labor markets, all else remaining equal.  The same employment decline drove a 5.3 percentage point decline in local population for highly skilled workers.  As discussed already, the native low skilled population did not move in response to changes in the local labor market.

Mobility is influenced by the availability of welfare benefits, but many immigrant are self-selected for mobility – they did move here from another country after all so they are less tied down to any particular region of the United States.  Immigrant labor mobility smoothens labor markets over geographical areas and has other benefits, and it likely explains some of their job gains.


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Unauthorized immigrants are very mobile workers.  If they come from geographically closer places like Mexico or Latin America then they can respond very rapidly to changes in the U.S. labor market.  They are then very mobile once they arrive in the United States.  The stock of unauthorized immigrants peaked in 2007 before the Great Recession and dipped after that as the unemployment rate for immigrants rose (-0.42 correlation coefficient).  By the way, the worst period for native job growth occurred during the period when the number of unauthorized immigrants also declined.  If immigrants really did substantially decrease employment opportunities for Americans, we wouldn’t see that effect.


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics and Pew Research

The CIS papers do not attempt any type of regression analyses or to analyze the effects of immigration on a dynamic labor market.  What would happen to the labor market if millions of immigrant workers, consumers, and entrepreneurs disappeared?  The CIS report sheds zero light on that despite a vast peer-reviewed academic economics literature that finds immigrants are attracted to growing economies and improve them once they arrive.

Categories: Policy Institutes

More Headaches in Obamacare Open Enrollment

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 09:51

Nicole Kaeding

Open enrollment for Obamacare’s second year begins in two months. Recent reports suggest that this year’s enrollment period will not be a smooth process.

According to Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of the Associated Press, individuals face many hurdles in signing up for or renewing coverage:

  • For the roughly 8 million people who signed up this year, the administration has set up automatic renewal. But consumers who go that route may regret it. They risk sticker shock by missing out on lower-premium options. And they could get stuck with an outdated and possibly incorrect government subsidy. Automatic renewal should be a last resort, consumer advocates say.
  • An additional 5 million people or so will be signing up for the first time on HealthCare.gov and state exchange websites. But the Nov. 15-Feb. 15 open enrollment season will be half as long the 2013-2014 sign-up period, and it overlaps with the holiday season.
  • Of those enrolled this year, the overwhelming majority received tax credits to help pay their premiums. Because those subsidies are tied to income, those 6.7 million consumers will have to file new forms with their 2014 tax returns to prove they got the right amount. Too much subsidy and their tax refunds will be reduced. Too little, and the government owes them.
  • Tens of millions of people who remained uninsured this year face tax penalties for the first time, unless they can secure an exemption.

These won’t be the only issues. In July, the Government Accountability Office told Congress that the HealthCare.gov website is still not complete. The back-end system that links the website to insurers and distributes the subsidies is not operational. Additionally, thousands, possibly millions, of insurance policies will be cancelled over the next several months for not including all of Obamacare’s mandates which will increase the confusion for individuals.

The Obama administration says that this year’s open enrollment period will be better than the last, but the complexity and short enrollment period will still create lots of headaches for consumers. Shockingly, overhauling a large swath of the United States economy is not easy work.

Categories: Policy Institutes

War Powers in the Bush-Obama Era

Sun, 09/14/2014 - 22:25

Gene Healy

Over at the National Interest, I have a piece examining President Obama’s claim, in his nationally televised address Wednesday night, that “I have the authority to address the threat from ISI[S].” 

Just where he’s supposed to get that authority isn’t clear—even to the Obama administration itself. In the last week, Obama officials have invoked (1) the War Powers Resolution, (2) the 2002 Authorization of Military Force (AUMF) against Iraq, and (3) the AUMF that Congress passed three days after 9/11. Any AUMF in a storm, it seems. 

As I explain in the article, not one of those claims survives a good-faith reading of the relevant legislative text. The WPR specifically forecloses any interpretation that it grants the president a “free pass” for elective bombing. And invoking the 2001 or 2002 AUMF for a new war against a new enemy over a decade later is the sort of statute-stretching that makes using TARP to bail out car companies look timid by comparison. 

You could describe the president’s approach as “three bad arguments in search of a theme.” Near as I can discern it, that theme is, “I’m not George W. Bush.” 

Apparently, it’s very important to Barack Obama to make clear that he doesn’t subscribe to the Congress-be-damned, I’m the “Decider” approach of his predecessor. Justifying war on a pure presidential power theory is for bad people like Dick Cheney and John Yoo, the legal architect of the Bush-Cheney “Terror Presidency.”

Obama’s nothing like that, he’ll have you know. He’s the guy who told us on the campaign trail that “The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers,” and affirmed that the president lacks the power to launch military attacks absent an “actual or imminent threat to the nation.”  (His eventual veep, Joe Biden, went further, promising to “impeach [Bush] if he takes the nation to war against Iran without congressional approval.”)

And yet, it’s hard to escape the echoes of Obama’s predecessor in Wednesday night’s speech, from his case for preventive war against an enemy that “if left unchecked… could pose a growing threat beyond that region—including to the United States,” to his promise to “support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units” (When they stand up, we will stand down). As John Yoo himself said last week: “Obama has adopted the same view of war powers as the Bush administration.”

Tortured, bad-faith constructions of authorization passed by past Congresses for different wars can’t hide that underlying reality. Obama may not be George W. Bush, but he’s doing a pretty decent imitation.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Should Scotland Reclaim Its Independence?

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 17:42

David Boaz

At USA Today, I write about Scottish independence, which the Scottish people will vote on this coming Thursday. I note that the late Nobel laureate Gary Becker wrote in 2005, like Simon Lester today, that the disadvantages of small nations are much reduced in a world of free trade:

My conclusion is that developments in the global economy during the past 50 years have greatly reduced the economic disadvantages of small nations enumerated for his time by Hamilton. In fact, being small now may even have efficiency advantages…. [As trade barriers have come down over the past half-century,] small countries can now gain the advantages of large markets through trading with other nations.

I go over arguments on currency, tax rates, and the likelihood that an independent Scotland could be as socialist as some of its political leaders would like if it has to create its own prosperity. In the end, I write:

In any case, the economic arguments will go on till the vote on September 18. Scotland certainly has the elements necessary to be a successful European country. The real question is whether the Scots themselves desire, to borrow an Irish anthem, “that Scotland long a province be/A nation once again.” As a descendant of Scots who helped America secure its independence, I hope so.

I wrote previously about Scottish independence here

Categories: Policy Institutes

Scottish Independence: Not That Big a Deal in Today's World

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 09:52

Simon Lester

Yesterday, my colleague Doug Bandow blogged about Scottish independence, concluding with the following: “Whatever the Scots choose on September 18, Americans should wish them well.” I just wanted to add a quick point here, drawing on something law professor Eric Posner said on this issue: “the benefits of a large country—mainly, security and a large internal market—are of diminishing significance in a world of free trade and relative peace.”

To me, this is a very important consideration. If Scottish independence meant an increased chance of war or high tariffs designed to separate the Scottish market from the rest of the world, it would be worrying. But those seem unlikely. In terms of war and peace, there have been no Mel Gibson sightings that I’m aware of. On trade, there may be some bureaucratic challenges, but it seems clear the goal is for Scotland to join the EU and be part of its large, single market. As for trade with the rest of the world, Scotland will take on the EU’s trade policy–which is not perfect of course–but has followed the trend toward liberalization that the rest of the world has pursued over the past few decades. In all likelihood, Scotland will continue to search for export markets for its whisky and allow the free flow of imports.

If Scottish independence meant it would become like North Korea, I’d be concerned. But it doesn’t seem like that’s the path it is on. With the exception of a few regions, we live in a highly integrated, peaceful world. Scottish independence would not change that.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Argentina: Down The Tubes, Again

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 17:32

Steve H. Hanke

President Christina Fernández de Kirchner has turned up her left-wing rhetoric as the economy goes down the tubes. Indeed, GDP has contracted for the past two quarters; inflation is galloping at 56%, not the official 15.01%; and the country has defaulted on its debt, again. Never mind. The President claims Argentina’s financial system is “one of the most solid in the world.” She asserts that Argentina’s woes can be laid squarely at the feet of foreign “vulture funds” and greedy capitalists who have speculated against the peso. Yes, the peso has lost 42.6% of its value against the U.S. dollar on the black market since the first of the year, and for very legitimate reasons.

But, for realists like me, a fact check is always worth a peso. Recently, Bloomberg’s Charlie Devreux and Pablo Gonzales penned some most edifying reportage on one thing that’s booming in Argentina: criminality. Bandits have put cargos of grain headed for the port of Rosario in their crosshairs. And why not – grain is traded in greenbacks, not pesos.

Property’s worst enemy is theft: theft makes property insecure. And unless property is secure, it can’t be accumulated and it is wasted. The increasing incidence of heists on grain, Argentina’s most valuable export, indicates that property rights are becoming more insecure and that the economy only has one way to go: down the tubes.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Indonesia Reform, Please

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 15:26

Steve H. Hanke

The Indonesian stock market has just hit a record high on the hope that the incoming President, Joko Widodo, will push through economic reforms. But, what path should he follow? My advice to President Widodo is the same as that I gave President Suharto, when I was his advisor in 1998: follow Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew.

When Singapore gained independence in 1965, Lee Kuan Yew developed a set of sound principles, which proved to be highly successful. Indeed, their implementation propelled Singapore to the top of the world’s competitiveness rankings. I have dubbed these principles the “Singapore Strategy.” It contains the following five elements:

  • First and foremost, stabilize the currency. Singapore achieved stability with a currency board system – a simple, transparent, rule-driven monetary regime.
  • Second, don’t pass the begging bowl. Singapore refused to accept foreign aid of any kind.
  • Third, foster first-world, competitive, private enterprises. Singapore accomplished this via light taxation, light regulation, and completely open and free trade.
  • Fourth, emphasize personal security, public order, and the protection of private property.
  • The final key to Lee Kuan Yew’s “Singapore Strategy” is the means to accomplish the previous four goals: a small, transparent government that avoids complexity and red tape. And one that is directed by first-class civil servants who are paid first-class wages.
Categories: Policy Institutes

Bennett Piece Exemplifies Core Problems

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 12:30

Neal McCluskey

This morning, former Reagan administration education secretary Bill Bennett took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to make the “conservative” case for the Common Core. In that effort, he actually made a great case for Core opponents, illustrating the contradictions of the Core while furnishing several examples of all-too-frequent Core spin. And he did it, ironically, while implying that Core opponents have “badly and sometimes mischievously muddled” the Core story.

To lay all of this out I’ll provide some quotes, then either respond to them with my own information, or with another, largely contradictory, quote from Bennett’s piece. Let’s begin:

First, we can all agree that there is a need for common standards of assessment in K-12 education.

We can? What’s the evidence for that? Bennett offers none, and even loaded polling questions find that only about two-thirds of Americans support generic standards “that are the same across states.” And I, for one, think there need to be competing standards in order to see what works, what works better, and what works for different subsets of the unique individuals we call “children.”

When I was chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities in the 1980s, I asked 250 people across the political spectrum what 10 books every student should be familiar with by the time they finish high school. Almost every person agreed on five vital sources: the Bible, Shakespeare, America’s founding documents, the great American novel “Huckleberry Finn” and classical works of mythology and poetry, like the Iliad and the Odyssey….That’s the fundamental idea behind a core curriculum: preserving and emphasizing what’s essential, in fields like literature and math, to a worthwhile education.

Presumably, the Core includes these readings that almost everyone Bennett polled agreed students should tackle. Right? Um, no:

Why then is Common Core drawing such heavy fire? Some of the criticism is legitimate, but much of it is based on myths. For example, a myth persists that Common Core involves a required reading list. Not so.

Here we see a basic problem for Core supporters: they want the public to believe either that the Core is rich and rigorous, or that it is empty and just a floor, depending, is seems, on whom they are trying to convince to support it. So in one breath they’ll talk about the obvious need for core content, and in the next they’ll protest if anyone says the standards have, well, core content. This may be because there actually is no unanimous agreement on what students should read.

Governors, state education administrators and teachers used these principles as a guide when they developed a set of common standards that were later presented to the country as Common Core. Forty-five states signed up originally.

Let’s be clear: States adopted the Core, in the vast majority of cases, only after the federal government all but said they had to in order to compete for $4 billion in Race to the Top money. Federal force was further applied by the No Child Left Behind waiver program. And all this occurred in the context of federally driven standards and testing since at least 1994. So, would most states have adopted the Core on their own? We don’t know for sure, but the evidence is heavily stacked against it.

Critics accused President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan of dangling federal money to encourage states to adopt the Common Core. The administration never should have done this. It made a voluntary agreement among states look like a top-down directive from the federal government. But remember: The original Common Core standards were separate from the federal government, and they can be separated once again.

Huh? Critics didn’t just “accuse” – the Obama administration actually did dangle money, as Bennett himself acknowledges. Meanwhile, what Bennett ignores, but even Core supporters like Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute agree on, is that Core supporters worked to get the federal government to incentivize adoption of the Core. So the Core is in no meaningful way “separate from the federal government.”

Call it Common Core or call it something else, as Arizona has done by renaming its standards “Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards,” but public schools should have high standards based on a core curriculum that is aligned with tests that are comparable across state lines.

Talk about misinformation! Bennett seems to be advising states to deceive the public by simply renaming the Core. Then he offers this:

The U.S. has several types of national exams that assume at least some common basis of knowledge and understanding. These exams—NAEP, AP, SAT and ACT—work and most of the country agrees that they are useful.

It’s not clear on what Bennett bases the assertion that “most of the country agrees that they are useful,” but what’s interesting is that we already have national standards! So why force everyone to use the Common Core?

Next, there’s this:

The standards do not prescribe what is taught in our classrooms or how it’s taught.

You just have to read the standards to know that this is wrong. Or even just understand the logic of standards: What would be the point if they didn’t prescribe at all what is taught? And in some cases, the Core absolutely does delve into “how” things are taught, which Core supporters would likely agree enters the realm of curriculum. And that’s exactly what Bennett seems to want, having said above that “public schools should have high standards based on a core curriculum that is aligned with tests that are comparable across state lines.”

Finally:

The principles behind the Common Core affirm a great intellectual tradition and inheritance. We should not allow them to be hijacked by the federal government or misguided bureaucrats and politicos.

The problem is that the Core has already been taken over by the feds, bureaucrats, and politicos, which is a huge reason that many conservatives – not to mention liberals, libertarians, and others – are opposed to them. Another likely reason? The feeling that they just can’t get straight answers from Common Core defenders.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Five Absurd Overreactions to the Surge in Child Migrants

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 12:10

Alex Nowrasteh

The surge of unaccompanied migrant children (UAC) that dominated the news cycle in June and July of this year has receded – so much so that many emergency shelters established to handle the inflow are shutting down.  At the height of the surge, many commentators and government officials expected 90,000 UAC to be apprehended by the end of the fiscal year (FY).  As the end of the FY approaches, the number of apprehended UAC stands at roughly 66,000 - far below the estimates.

Now that the surge has receded, here are some of the most absurd overreactions to it.  Never before have so many commentators been so angry over so few migrants.

1.  U.S. Representative Phil Gingrey (R-GA) quoted in “POLITIFACT: Deadly viruses part of border crisis?Tampa Bay Times (July 29).  

Rep. Gingrey said: “Reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning.” [Emphasis added]

Ebola is a terrifying virus and a recent outbreak in West Africa shared the headlines with the surge in UAC, but that doesn’t mean the two events are linked.  Rep. Gingrey’s office indicated that he heard about child migrants carrying Ebola from border agents.  The rest of us are still waiting to hear about it.

2.  Mackubin Thomas Owens, “Camp of the Saints, 2014 Style?” National Review Online (June 13).

Apparently the terrible consequences of an influx of child migrants, which was only equal to about 6 percent of the total number of legal immigrants admitted this year, was predicted by a controversial 1973 French novel entitled The Camp of the Saints – which described the end of Western Civilization due to an influx of third-world immigrants.

Owens’ comments reveal a Western tradition that should be abandoned – that every small issue signals the downfall of Western Civilization.            

3.  Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, “SOUTHCOM chief: Central America drug war a fire threat to U.S. national security,” Military Times (July 8).

“In comparison to other global threats, the near collapse of societies in the hemisphere with the associated drug and illegal alien flow are frequently viewed to be of low importance. Many argue these threats are not existential and do not challenge our national security. I disagree.” [Emphasis added]

There are certainly national security challenges that accompany America’s disastrous prosecution of the war on drugs and there is a security component to regulating immigration.  But it is quite a leap to go from pointing out problems that could potentially get worse to then stating they are “existential.”

4.  Allen West, “Aliens coming to your neighborhood? White House secretly dispersing illegal immigrants around the country,” allenbwest.com (July 14).

Former Representative Allen West (R-FL) claims that hundreds of UAC are being resettled in places like Nebraska as part of a left-wing plot to change demographics in those places: 

“Nebraska is another red state — could it be the liberal progressive objective is to begin altering the demographics there as well?” 

West then lists lots of other places where UAC were being settled – in red and blue states alike.      

5.  Dinesh D’Souza, “Manipulation by Obama Caused U.S. border Crisis – Dinesh D’Souza,” Interview with USAWatchdog.com, (August 6).

Dinesh D’Souza cites Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals as the inspiration for a cynical Obama Administration ploy to cause the border crisis to convince Americans to embrace his agenda.  D’Souza said:

I think the border crisis is a pure Alinsky type of move.  Here’s what I mean by that.  Alinsky’s strategy was always to take people of good will and put them into an impossible situation.  At one point in his book, he talks about exploiting the innocence and decency of the American middle class.  We don’t like to say no to people who show up with outstretched arms.  They’re hungry, they’re sick, they need inoculations.  So, Obama’s point is how do I manipulate the goodness of the American people to put them in an impossible position?  Well, simply put out the word on the other side of the border that we are not that serious about enforcing the immigration laws.  Moreover, we are trying to get amnesty for lawbreakers already in this country.  Pretty soon, half the world shows up, and Obama throws up his hands and pretends, oh gee, how did they all come here?  I don’t blame them.  I blame the cynicism and manipulation of the Obama Administration which has manufactured, to a large degree, this crisis.[Emphasis added] 

So, President Obama uses the cynical logic of Alinsky’s Rules for Radical to cause the surge in UAC to support his political agenda … but didn’t foresee the disastrously negative political consequences such a surge would have for him, his party, and the prospects for immigration reform?  D’Souza’s claim doesn’t pass the laugh test. 

Overreactions of this caliber are the norm for other policy debates too.  Holding people to this standard is a small way to address this chronic annoyance.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Why Is Barack Obama Lecturing Scotland about Its Independence Vote?

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 10:48

Doug Bandow

Polls show a close vote over Scottish independence.  It is a momentous decision, but why is President Barack Obama bothering the Scots with his opinion?

Until recently virtually everyone outside of Scotland believed that the Scots would deliver a solid no vote.  But many in the UK’s north feel disenfranchised.  More fundamentally, many Scots reject the more vibrant market system which characterizes the UK as well as U.S. 

The tightening race has created panic in Westminster.  Now the three largest national parties are promising to pass along additional powers to the Scottish assembly—though they can’t agree on how much and which powers.

Britain’s government long has been overly centralized, but the rush to toss national authority overboard raises the question:  what is Westminster hoping to preserve?  If the Scots are so unhappy with the present system, why not accept the result with grace? 

Even a narrow win in which almost half of voters say they wanted to leave might prove Pyrrhic.  It would leave a barely united United Kingdom, one likely to face continuing Scottish dissatisfaction and future secession votes.

Yet a comical cavalcade of outsiders has been telling the Scottish what to do.

For instance, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said “it’s hard to see how the world would be helped by an independent Scotland.”  Russian President Vladimir Putin observed:  “one should not forget that being part of a single strong state has some advantages.”  Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang endorsed a “strong, prosperous and united United Kingdom.”

In June President Barack Obama declared:  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” meaning the UK, which he said appeared to have “worked pretty well.”  He worried about the impact on the U.S.:  “the United Kingdom has been an extraordinary partner for us.”  Moreover, “we obviously have a deep interest in making sure that one of the closest allies that we will ever have remains strong, robust, united and an effective partner.” 

President Obama didn’t stop there.  He also told the United Kingdom that it should remain in the European Union.  Opined the president:  “With respect to the EU, we share a strategic vision with Great Britain on a whole range of international issues and so it’s always encouraging for us to know that Great Britain has a seat at the table in the larger European project.” 

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Ca.) argued:  “It’s clear from this side of the Atlantic that a United Kingdom, including Scotland, would be the strongest possible American ally.”  He was joined by 26 colleagues in introducing a resolution declaring “that a united, secure, and prosperous United Kingdom is important for U.S. national security priorities in Europe and around the world.” 

While Westminster, which apparently requested the president to intervene, might find these arguments convincing, not so the Scottish public.  Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, who is running the yes campaign, observed that “Being told what to do tends to instigate a position in Scotland where we will say we will choose our own way forward.”

The American experience inspires some.  One Scottish independence activist told NBC News:  “Americans went through their own struggle for independence 200 years ago and it turned out pretty well for them.  They were the pioneers of this process!  You would expect America to look out for what’s in its own best interests and there’s no reason why Scotland shouldn’t be exactly the same.”

Indeed.  As I wrote in my new American Spectator article:  “Whatever the Scots choose on September 18, Americans should wish them well.”

Categories: Policy Institutes

What the President Said about ISIS, and What I Heard

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 10:03

Christopher A. Preble

It seems particularly appropriate, on this 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, to ponder anew what counterterrorism steps are prudent and effective, and what measures are reckless and counterproductive.

With this in mind, I was moderately inclined to go along with President Obama’s plan to attack the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), provided that he defined a limited and achievable set of goals, and therefore established limits on the size and scope of the U.S. military mission.

But when the president says this:

“We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are.” 

I hear this:

“All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving anything of note…”

Though they didn’t race there, a team of U.S. special forces eventually made their way to Pakistan and pumped a couple of bullets into bin Laden, so he’s not making these videos any more. That seems worthy. If we can repeat these sorts of operations elsewhere, and shut up a few more loudmouths, we should.

But the larger point stands. We shouldn’t terrorize ourselves. We shouldn’t exaggerate the threat posed by terrorism. And we shouldn’t react in ways that feed the terrorists’ narrative, or serve the terrorists’ goals.

Categories: Policy Institutes

The Naked Truth about TSA Spending

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 08:39

Chris Edwards

Governments tend to spend money on low-value activities because they do not have market signals or customer feedback to guide them. In this report, I examined the problem with respect to the Transportation Security Administration. As one example, TSA’s SPOT program for finding terrorists spends more than $200 million a year with few if any benefits.

Further confirmation of TSA’s misallocation problem comes from a new academic study looking at the full-body “nudie” scanners installed in U.S. airports at great expense between 2009 and 2013. A team of university researchers bought a Rapiscan Secure 1000 backscatter X-ray machine and began testing it on various types of weapons and explosives. It turns out that a terrorist could fool the machines pretty easily:

We find that the system provides weak protection against adaptive adversaries: It is possible to conceal knives, guns, and explosives from detection by exploiting properties of the device’s backscatter X-ray technology.

If you walked though the machines with a big block of C-4 plastic explosive in your hands, it would be detected. The problem, of course, is that terrorists are smarter than that:

We show that an adaptive adversary, with the ability to refine his techniques based on experiment, can confidently smuggle contraband past the scanner by carefully arranging it on his body, obscuring it with other materials, or properly shaping it. Using these techniques, we are able to hide firearms, knives, plastic explosive simulants, and detonators in our tests. These attacks are surprisingly robust, and they suggest a failure on the part of the Secure 1000’s designers and the TSA to adequately anticipate adaptive attackers.

The Rapiscan machines were pulled from U.S. airports due to concerns about civil liberties and the possible health effects of emitted radiation. But as one of the study authors observed to Bloomberg: “What does this say about how these scanners were tested and acquired in the first place? … It says there’s something wrong with the government’s process … [the process] is secret and not independent. Those are problems.” It’s also a problem that the government has a monopoly on aviation security, and that TSA is not accountable to anyone for its level of efficiency or performance. Well, it’s accountable to Congress I suppose, but that doesn’t really amount to much these days.

The good news is that airport security screening does not have to be a government monopoly. We should move to private contracting with federal oversight, which is the approach taken by Canada and numerous European countries. For more, see my report and check out the writings of Bob Poole at Reason.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Cato Live Tweeting Obama's ISIS Speech! #CatoWHSpeech

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 17:10

Christopher A. Preble

At 9:00PM tonight, President Obama will announce expanded U.S. military action against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He will likely explain an apparent change in direction that will include airstrikes in Iraq and Syria and possibly increased training and weapons procurement for the Iraqi military and “moderate“ segments of the Syrian rebellion. Americans are understandably worried about getting sucked back into an open-ended conflict.

Don’t miss Cato experts live tweeting Obama’s speech tonight, using the hashtag #CatoWHSpeech. You can check out the reactions and opinions of our scholars in real time. Just follow along and join in!

Categories: Policy Institutes

CO2 Going Up. Human Progress Going Up.

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 12:02

Paul C. "Chip" Knappenberger

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

Yesterday it was announced by the World Meteorological Organization (an arm of the United Nations), with front page coverage by the global media, that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) last year reached a new high value (396 parts per million, ppm) and got there in record time (2.9ppm/yr). Although newer data (through July of 2014) indicate that the rate of rise has fallen back again to levels more characteristic of the past decade, the signal remains—carbon dioxide is building in the atmosphere and rising to levels that have probably not been seen in along time (hundreds of thousands of years).

This rise is a continued reminder of the steady drumbeat of human progress. The carbon dioxide that is building in the atmosphere, at least in part, gets there through human emissions of carbon dioxide that are the by-product of burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) to produce the vast majority the energy that has powered mankind’s industrial and technical ascent since the Industrial Revolution.

The gradual increase in the rate of the rise of the carbon dixoide concentration is a sign that we are continuing to expand our energy use and availability, primarily in developing countries like India and China. With more than a billion people still without much access to electricity (and many more than that who would like access to more) and all the life-improving benefits that come with it, we still have a long way to go.

Consequently, we should anticipate that the atmospheric CO2 concentration will continue to grow for many years to come.

The benefits that fossil use have delivered to humanity are enormous. A taste of them can be found at Cato’s HumanProgress.org website and a compelling case for why we should continue to embrace and expand fossil fuel use is made by Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress in his excellent (and very soon forthcoming) book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.

The only concern that arises from growing atmospheric CO2 levels stems from the potential climate changes that may result. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that acts basically to trap heat trying to escape from earth to space. But a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the projections of climate change that have been made by the current family of computerized climate models has been overdone—that the world will warm up significantly less than has been predicted as a result of our ongoing carbon dioxide emissions. We continue to detail the evidence that the earth’s “climate sensitivity” to carbon dioxide is less than expected. Our most recent summary of the new, relevant literature on this topic is available here. Less warming means less resultant impacts which mean less worry about rising CO2 levels (and less impetus for governemtn action).

So rather than accompanying the WMO announcement with hand-wringing and talk of self-destructive doom and gloom—which was obiquitous in media coverage of the data release—the more appropriate response would be to applaud our progress in energy expansion across the world.

The last time an announcement of atmospheric CO2 levels reaching some new high (an announcement that could be made virtually every day), we wrote:

[The rise] of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere should remind us of our continuing success at expanding the global supply of energy to meet a growing demand. That success which ultimately leads to an improvement of the global standard of living and a reduction in vulnerability to the vagaries of weather and climate.

[The rise] is cause for celebration.

The same holds today, and will do so far into the future.

Categories: Policy Institutes

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