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Welcome Rumblings Of A Wider Drug War Clemency

Cato Op-Eds - Fri, 01/31/2014 - 13:55

Walter Olson

Do opinion columns get results? Last month I wrote an op-ed for Bloomberg View chiding President Obama for not using his clemency powers more broadly on behalf of inmates serving insanely long drug sentences. Now the New York Times reports:

The Justice Department wants low-level drug criminals who were sentenced under tough laws from the days of the crack epidemic to ask the president for early release from prison.

In an unprecedented move, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole asked defense lawyers on Thursday to help the government locate prisoners and encourage them to apply for clemency. The clemency drive is part of the Obama administration’s effort to undo a disparity that flooded the nation’s prison system and disproportionately affected black men.

“Bypassing Congress” is suddenly the White House slogan of the hour, but as Eugene Kontorovich points out at the Volokh Conspiracy, that loose term tends to confound two entirely different kinds of executive action. It’s fully consistent with our constitutional design for the president to act unilaterally in exercising what are known as inherent executive powers along with some range of statutory executive powers legitimately delegated by Congress. Since the American Revolution and indeed long before, executive clemency has been among the most widely recognized of inherent executive powers, a subject of very broad discretion. For a president, that’s some of the most solid ground he can stand on, constitutionally speaking; he gets onto thin ice when he tries to use unilateral executive action to accomplish essentially legislative goals, as by decreeing changes in labor law that Congress is unwilling to enact.

Last month, I wrote:

It’s baffling that over a quarter-century in which presidents of both parties have relentlessly sought to assert powers the Constitution never granted them they should be so meek about using the pardon powers that our constitutional system unquestionably gives them.

It’s entirely consistent to insist on applying close constitutional scrutiny when the president decrees, say, higher minimum wages at federal contractors, even as we applaud this week’s progress toward the wise and merciful use of executive clemency powers well-settled since the time of the Founding.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Know Your Libertarian History: The Great Tax Revolt of the 1970s

Cato Op-Eds - Fri, 01/31/2014 - 13:49

David Boaz

One of the great libertarian victories of the past few decades was the tax revolt of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The inflation of the 1970s caused higher property taxes and income tax bracket creep, which led to California’s Proposition 13, the Kemp-Roth tax cut bill, the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the 1981 tax cut, the deceleration of government spending, the further lowering of marginal rates in 1986—and a long period during which economic growth exceeded government growth.

This story isn’t told often in history books and popular media. Even with the boom in histories of modern conservatism, which in many instances focuses on the reaction to socialism and the welfare state, there is rarely a sense of the important arguments that free-market advocates were making. That’s why it’s important to have historians who understand economics and appreciate the value of limited government. One such historian is Brian Domitrovic, author of Econoclasts: The Rebels Who Sparked the Supply-Side Revolution and Restored American Prosperity.

In the latest issue of Cato Policy Report, the Cato Institute’s newsletter for Sponsors and friends, Domitrovic has a lead article titled “Tax Revolt! It’s Time to Learn from Past Success,” where he tells the story outlined above. If you get discouraged about the possibility of positive change, you should read it. Or read it if you just want to know more about the history of movements for limited government.

Also in the January-February Cato Policy Report: my editorial on Pope Francis, Nelson Mandela, and the longing for Utopia; leading scholars and policymakers on a century of central banking; and reports on NSA surveillance, jury nullification, and Cato’s recent policy studies.

Note that if you were a Cato Sponsor, you would get articles like this in your mailbox every month, along with the satisfaction of supporting the work of the Cato Institute. Become a Sponsor now!

Categories: Policy Institutes

Full Facts Needed on the Common Core

Cato Op-Eds - Fri, 01/31/2014 - 12:59

Neal McCluskey

Today the Washington Post has a story, also featured in their DC-area radio ads, about how some states are looking to change the name of the Common Core, but not the substance, because the brand has gotten too toxic. That the Post has so prominently run such a story shows just how noxious the fumes surrounding the Common Core curriculum standards have become, and it’s great that the paper is shining a light on dubious efforts to quell opposition. But within the story itself are several examples illustrating why, even as disgust over the Core grows, the average person doesn’t know how truly foul much about the Core is.

The Post certainly makes clear how some states are trying to cover the Core’s stench with perfume rather than attack its rot. Basically, states such as Arizona and Iowa are just changing the Core’s name. Speaking to the Council of Chief State School Officers, one of the two professional organizations that created the Core, likely Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee captured the tactic in one, succinct sentence: “Rebrand it, refocus it, but don’t retreat.”

That doesn’t sound like addressing people’s serious concerns. It sounds like, well, deception—alas, nothing new in the Common Core sales job.

Unfortunately, the Post’s story is itself guilty of Core-tilted inaccuracy, though whether knowingly or unknowingly is impossible to tell. And the Post is hardly alone among media outlets in these failings.

There’s no more crucial an example of this than the piece’s description of the Obama administration’s role in getting states to adopt the Core. Twice the article says the administration gave its “endorsement” to the Core, as if the President simply blurbed the back cover of the standards or was filmed hauling lumber in his Ford Common Core 150.

But the administration didn’t just say “Man, this Core is great!” No, it told states that if they wanted to compete for part of the $4.35-billion Race to the Top—a chunk of the “Stimulus”—they had to promise to adopt the Core. And if they wanted waivers from the almost universally disliked No Child Left Behind Act, they would have only one option other than the Core to show that their standards were “college and career ready.”

There’s a reason most states promised to adopt the Common Core before the final standards were even published: They had to for a shot at federal money!

Unfortunately, the Post’s article not only ignores the federal coercion behind the Core, but does so after stating that “the standards were established by state officials with bipartisan support and quickly earned widespread approval.” If you ignore the big federal bribe in the room, that makes Core adoption sound like the “state-led and voluntary” process Core supporters love to tell us it was. But, of course, the bribe was there, so readers are getting at least an incomplete—and definitely pro-Core slanted—picture of what happened.

Making matters worse, soon after stating that there was a mere “endorsement” of the standards by the administration, the article says, “[Core] opponents include tea party activists who say the Common Core standards amount to a federal takeover of local education.” Readers seeing this without knowing about the serious federal coercion involved reinforces the meme that tea party types are kooks who see phantom federal control behind everything they don’t like. It also backs up Core supporters’ tactic of dismissing opponents as nuts rather than dealing with their myriad, grounded concerns.

The article has other problems, but the failure to report on the absolutely real federal coercion behind the Core is the most damaging. A big part of the opposition to the Core is driven by the fact that it is a one-size-fits-all regime being inserted into schools largely by the power of a central government that has no authority to do so. This opposition is made more virulent by the mantra of supporters that the Core is “state led and voluntary” and the aggravating assertion that any who say otherwise are “misinformed” or willfully lying.

To be sure, people on all sides of the issue say things that are wrong—some probably intentionally. But for the public to know the truth, news reports must give the full, basic facts about the Core and its implementation. This is especially important because, as this article does a great job of making clear, some politicians will definitely deceive the public if they think it will help their cause.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Dear America, I Saw You Naked

Cato Op-Eds - Fri, 01/31/2014 - 08:56

Jim Harper

Politico has a hilarious, revolting, and insightful article, written by former Transportation Security Administration screener Jason Edward Harrington. It’s called “Dear America, I Saw You Naked.” The subhead: “And yes, we were laughing.”

Many of the images we gawked at were of overweight people, their every fold and dimple on full awful display. Piercings of every kind were visible. Women who’d had mastectomies were easy to discern—their chests showed up on our screens as dull, pixelated regions. Hernias appeared as bulging, blistery growths in the crotch area. Passengers were often caught off-guard by the X-Ray scan and so materialized on-screen in ridiculous, blurred poses—mouths agape, à la Edvard Munch. One of us in the I.O. room would occasionally identify a passenger as female, only to have the officers out on the checkpoint floor radio back that it was actually a man. All the old, crass stereotypes about race and genitalia size thrived on our secure government radio channels.

In July, 2011, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the TSA to conduct a formal rulemaking and take comments from the public on the use of strip-search machines at airports. TSA took twenty months to propose a two-sentence regulation, which, as we pointed out to the agency, is totally defective.

The comment period closed in June last year, and we have waited another seven months, at this point, for a final rule. When it comes out, it can be challenged in court under the “arbitrary and capricious” standard of the Administrative Procedure Act.

The evidence in the rulemaking docket shows that strip-search machines cost more in dollars, privacy, and dignity than they provide in security, which, as Harrington’s article again shows, is not very much: “We knew the full-body scanners didn’t work before they were even installed.”

Categories: Policy Institutes

GOP Statement Seeks Reform to Legal Immigration System

Cato Op-Eds - Thu, 01/30/2014 - 16:54

Alex Nowrasteh

A statement of principles was released at today’s Republican members retreat.  Part of it was a brief outline of how the legal immigration system and guest worker visa systems should be reformed.  It reads:

“For far too long, the United States has emphasized extended family members and pure luck over employment-based immigration.  This is inconsistent with nearly every other developed country. Every year thousands of foreign nationals pursue degrees at America’s colleges and universities, particularly in high skilled fields. Many of them want to use their expertise in U.S. industries that will spur economic growth and create jobs for Americans. When visas aren’t available, we end up exporting this labor and ingenuity to other countries. Visa and green card allocations need to reflect the needs of employers and the desire for these exceptional individuals to help grow our economy.

The goal of any temporary worker program should be to address the economic needs of the country and to strengthen our national security by allowing for realistic, enforceable, legal paths for entry into the United States. Of particular concern are the needs of the agricultural industry, among others. It is imperative that these temporary workers are able to meet the economic needs of the country and do not displace or disadvantage American workers.”

One point these principles don’t mention is that a working legal immigration system is essential to resolving unauthorized immigration. The solution to America’s problem with unauthorized immigration does not lie with more restrictions, less lawful immigration, and more restrictions on the freedom of Americans.  The solution lies with deregulating our immigration system, allowing more immigrants to come lawful on green cards and guest worker visas, and minimizing the government’s role in picking immigrant winners and losers.  The market can do that far more effectively than a government agency, regardless of all the shiny new fences, border drones, and invasive government databases they command.   

Some of these ideas are good starts and I would have welcomed them more enthusiastically last year, but better late than never.  One big problem is that they are too negative on family-based immigration, 54 percent of whom work.  Agriculture did not deserve special mention as only about 5 percent of unauthorized immigrants work in agriculture, while many more work in retail or manufacturing.  Here are some moderate and broad libertarian suggestions for marginally improving the current immigration system:

  1. Low skilled guest worker visas:  Create a large, cheap, lightly-regulated, and minimally protectionist (small fees and comparable wage requirements) guest worker visa program for Zones 1, 2, and 3 occupations. The numbers should be uncapped but at the minimum should not be numerically limited per sector.  Guest workers should also be able to change employers very easily without ex ante government permission.  As a way to get rid of government regulation of employers, the federal government should license employers who are allowed to hire guest workers so they can move freely between them.  After all, being able to quit a job is the best defense against an abusive employer.  A similar visa should be created for agricultural workers.  Peaceful and non-welfare using workers ought to be able to move back and forth between the U.S. and their home countries easily.  The Senate’s guest worker visa plan was unworkable, overly complex, and too small – it should be scrapped in favor of something bigger and simpler.
  2. Green card reform:  There should be more ways for highly skilled and medium skilled immigrants to get green cards with fewer regulations, higher caps, no limitations on the country of origin, and far fewer restrictions on the types of skilled immigrants who can enter.  The category for immediate relatives for family-based green cards should include the spouses, minor children, and parents of all green card holders.           
  3. State based visas:  States and localities should be able to sponsor guest worker visas or at least get more allocated to businesses in their jurisdictions. 
  4. Welfare reform:  Poor immigrants are less likely to use welfare benefits than poor Americans and the size of their received benefits is typically smaller. Regardless, non-citizens who are here on guest worker visas or green cards should not be able to access means-tested welfare programs. This is a relatively easy reform (here’s the Cato blueprint) that’s fair for American taxpayers and the immigrants. 

This GOP statement comes on the heels of President Obama’s SOTU, where he was very conciliatory toward House Republicans.  He tried to give them room to pursue reform this year at their own pace and he appeared sensitive to the demands of some Republicans in the House.  Hopefully these Republican principles can blossom into bills. 

There is a chorus of prominent conservative voices against immigration reform this year.  In The Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol opposed reform in 2014 because it would hurt the GOP’s chances to make Congressional gains.  The editors of National Review echoed Kristol’s worries about Republican political prospects in 2014 but also moved beyond partisanship and developed a set of principles that call for the economic central planning of the American supply of labor, a massive government database to track employment and employees, and for another domestic police force just as the intensity of the War on Drugs could be diminishing.  

Categories: Policy Institutes

For Europe’s Youth, Minimum Wages Mean Minimal Employment

Cato Op-Eds - Thu, 01/30/2014 - 15:56

Steve H. Hanke

Yesterday, in the wake of Tuesday’s State of the Union address, I poured cold water on President Obama’s claim that a hike in the minimum wage would benefit the United States’ economy, pointing specifically to unemployment rates in the European Union. The data never lie: EU countries with minimum wage laws suffer higher rates of unemployment than those that do not mandate minimum wages. This point is even more pronounced when we look at rates of unemployment among the EU’s youth – defined as those younger than 25 years of age.

In the twenty-one EU countries where there are minimum wage laws, 27.7% of the youth demographic – more than one in four young adults – was unemployed in 2012. This is considerably higher than the youth unemployment rate in the seven EU countries without minimum wage laws – 19.5% in 2012 – a gap that has only widened since the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008.

I will conclude yet again with a piece of wisdom from Nobelist Milton Friedman, who correctly noted that “the minimum wage law is most properly described as a law saying employers must discriminate against people who have low skills. That’s what the law says.”

Categories: Policy Institutes

We Need a Debate about the Size of Government, but It Helps to Understand Basic Fiscal Facts

Cato Op-Eds - Thu, 01/30/2014 - 15:35

Daniel J. Mitchell

Self awareness is supposed to be a good thing, so I’m going to openly acknowledge that I have an unusual fixation on the size of government.

I don’t lose a wink of sleep thinking about deficits, but I toss and turn all night fretting about the overall burden of government spending.

My peculiar focus on the size and scope of government can be seen in this video, which explains that spending is the disease and deficits are just a symptom.

Moreover, my Golden Rule explicitly targets the spending side of the budget. And I also came up with a “Bob Dole Award” to mock those who mistakenly dwell on deficits.

With all this as background, you’ll understand why I got excited when I started reading Robert Samuelson’s column in today’s Washington Post.

Well, there’s a presidential whopper. Obama is right that the role of the federal government deserves an important debate, but he is wrong when he says that we’ve had that debate. Just the opposite: The White House and Congress have spent the past five years evading the debate. They’ve argued over federal budget deficits without addressing the underlying issues of what the government should do, what programs are unneeded, whether some beneficiaries are undeserving… The avoidance is entirely bipartisan. Congressional Republicans have been just as allergic to genuine debate as the White House and its Democratic congressional allies.

By the way, I have mixed feelings about the final sentence in that excerpt. Yes, Republicans oftentimes have displayed grotesque levels of fiscal irresponsibility. Heck, just look at the new farm bill. Or the vote on the Export-Import Bank. Or the vote on housing subsidies. Or…well, you get the point.

On the other hand, GOPers have voted for three consecutive years in favor of a budget that restrains the growth of federal spending, in large part because it includes much-needed reforms to major entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

But Republican inconsistency isn’t my focus today.

I want to address other parts of Samuelson’s column that left a bad taste in my mouth.

He argues that you can’t balance the budget merely by cutting discretionary programs. That’s technically untrue, but it’s an accurate assessment of political reality.

I’m much more worried about his assertion that you can’t balance the budget even if entitlement spending also is being addressed.

Let’s look at what he wrote and then I’ll explain why he’s wrong.

Eliminating many programs that are arguably marginal — Amtrak, subsidies for public broadcasting and the like — would not produce enough savings to balance the budget. The reason: Spending on Social Security, Medicare and other health programs… But even plausible benefit trims for affluent retirees would still leave deficits. There would still be a need for tax increases.

This is wrong. Not just wrong, but demonstrably inaccurate.

The Ryan budget, for instance, balanced the budget in 2023. Without a single penny of tax hikes.

Senator Rand Paul and the Republican Study Committee also have produced balanced budget plans. Even as scored by the statists at the Congressional Budget Office.

By the way, you don’t even need to cut spending to balance the budget. Spending cuts would be very desirable, of course, but the key to eliminating red ink is simply making sure that government spending climbs at a slower rate than revenues.

And since revenues are expected to grow by about 6 percent per year, it shouldn’t take advanced knowledge of mathematics to realize that the deficit will fall if spending grows by less than 6 percent annually.

Indeed, we could balance the budget as early as 2018 if spending merely was restrained so that the budget grew at the rate of inflation.

But never forget that the goal of fiscal policy should be shrinking the size and scope of the federal government, not fiscal balance.

Ask yourself the following questions.

  1. If $1 trillion floated down from Heaven and into the hands of the IRS, would that alter in any way the argument for getting rid of wasteful and corrupt parts of the federal leviathan, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development?
  2. If the politicians had all that extra money and the budget was balanced, would that mean we could - or should - forget about entitlement reform?
  3. If there was no red ink, would that negate the moral and economic imperative of ending the welfare state?

In other words, the first part of Samuelson’s column is right. We need a debate about “the underlying issues of what the government should do, what programs are unneeded, whether some beneficiaries are undeserving.”

But we’re not going to come up with a good answer if we don’t understand basic fiscal facts.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Rebuttal of Senator Sessions’ Anti-Immigration Talking Points

Cato Op-Eds - Thu, 01/30/2014 - 15:31

Alex Nowrasteh

On Tuesday, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) sent out an email memo with talking points for opponents of immigration reform.  Most of the points are based on misinterpretations of government reports, cherry-picked findings by organizations that engage in statistical chicanery, or just flat-out incorrect.  These anti-immigration arguments do not advance a logical argument against immigration.  Here is a point by point rebuttal of the major claims of this memo:

Claim:  No immigration reform proposals will halt unauthorized immigration.

Fact:  Guest worker visas are the most effective way of halting unauthorized immigration because it provides a lawful pathway for low-skilled immigrants to enter instead of overstaying a visa, running across a desert, or being smuggled in.  Providing a lawful immigration pathway will funnel peaceful migrant workers into the legal system leaving immigration enforcement to deal with a much smaller pool of unlawful immigrants.  Italian immigrants in 1910 did not crash boats in to the Jersey Shore to avoid Border Patrol.  They entered legally through Ellis Island because there was a legal way to enter.  Let’s reopen that pathway – at least partly.      

Congress did open it a little bit in the 1950s which ended up cutting unauthorized immigration by over 90 percent by creating a low-skilled guest worker visa called the Bracero Program.  That program later ended due to union pressure, causing unauthorized immigration to immediately skyrocket. The program was shut down after domestic unions, especially Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers, mounted a national campaign against it.

According to Stuart Anderson of the National Foundation for American Policy, a February 1958 Border Patrol document from the El Centro, California district states, “Should Public Law 78 [Bracero Program) be repealed or a restriction placed on the number of braceros allowed to enter the United States, we can look forward to a large increase in the number of illegal alien entrants into the United States.”  That is exactly what happened.

The government cannot regulate immigration if much of it is illegal.  Legalizing the flow of workers into the United States is a simple and cost-effective way to control the border.


Sources: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

Further reading:

How to Make a Guest Worker Visa Work

Immigration Reform Should Boost All Skill Levels

Claim:  Immigration reform will increase the budget deficit.

Fact:  Immigration has a very small impact on the size of budget deficits. For what it’s worth, a Congressional Budget Office’s dynamic score of the Senate immigration reform plan found that it would reduce federal government budget deficits by about $1.2 trillion over the next 20 years. Extra growth to the economy and tax revenue from more legal immigrants more than offsets the additional cost of government benefits.  Poor immigrants consume government benefits at a lower rate than poor natives and they also pay taxes.  Highly skilled immigrants make a more positive contribution to government budgets.  According to a survey of countries, the impact is rarely more than plus or minus 1 percent of GDP.  In the U.S. case it is generally positive over the long run but the numbers are very small.  In short, according to economist Robert Rowthorn, “[t]he desirability of large-scale immigration should be decided on other grounds.”

Further readings:

Poor Immigrants Use Public Benefits at a Lower Rate than Poor Native-Born Citizens

CBO Dynamically Scores Immigration Bill

The Fiscal Impact of Immigration on the Advanced Economies 

Claim: New immigrant workers are mostly lesser-skilled and will compete in every sector, industry, and occupation in the U.S. economy.

Fact:  Few immigrants compete with U.S.-born workers. To compete, immigrant workers need to have similar characteristics to U.S.-born workers. But as the anti-immigration talking points admit, immigrants are more likely to be lesser-skilled than Americans. Immigrants with lesser-skills do not compete against Americans with higher skills. For instance, an immigrant worker in a meat-packing plant does not compete with an American accountant anymore than Senator Sessions does. 

Immigrants are much more likely to be lower skilled and higher skilled than Americans so there isn’t much competition. Because immigrants and the U.S.-born mostly have different skills, they are more likely to be complementary – meaning that they work with Americans rather than compete against Americans. 

It takes years for many immigrants to learn English to the point where they could potentially compete with English speaking U.S.-born workers. As a result, the labor market splits in two: One where English is spoken and the second where other languages are spoken. Jobs where English is required are higher paid professions while jobs that don’t require English language skills are typically lower paid. A restaurant offers a perfect example. Low-skilled immigrant workers are primarily the dishwashers, busboys, and cooks – jobs that don’t require much English language ability and are lower paid. The low-skilled Americans who used to do those jobs instead specialized in restaurant jobs that require English. Lower-skilled Americans became the waiters, hosts, and managers – all jobs that require English and are higher paying. Lower-skilled immigrants helps push up those lower-skilled Americans through the economic process described above, also known as complementary task specialization. 

Immigrants are not just workers though, they are also consumers and entrepreneurs. Hispanic and Asian Americans, the two most recent ethnic and racial immigrant groups, spend about $2 trillion dollars a year. That spending, made possible by immigrant work and entrepreneurship, creates job opportunities for Americans elsewhere in the economy. Immigrants are also about twice as likely as their U.S.-born counterparts to start a business – a remarkable achievement in a country as entrepreneurial as the United States.     

Further readings:

How Does Immigration Impact Wages?

Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity

Claim:  Immigrants take American jobs.

Fact:  Immigrants come when there are jobs available and leave when there aren’t many. There has been a slow-down in unauthorized immigration since the beginning of the Great Recession because many of the jobs immigrants used to work evaporated during the housing collapse. The collapse in new housing construction tracks very closely with the decrease in unauthorized immigrant crossings. Throughout American history, immigration increases during times of economic prosperity or decreases and sometimes reverses during bad times. More guest workers and lawful immigrants will ensure that when the economy recovers, Americans will be able to find enough workers to fill positions and enough customers for new goods and services.  But due to the economics of immigration, we will not be overwhelmed by immigrants when there are no jobs for them.   

Further readings:

Immigrants Are Attracted to Jobs, Not Welfare    

Immigrants Did Not Take Your Job

Invisible Hands: Immigration and American Economic Growth

Claim:  The last 40 years has been a period of record immigration to the United States.

Fact:  About 13 percent of America’s population is foreign born, below the all time peak of 14.7 percent in 1910. The average percent of the population that was foreign born between 1860 and 1920 was about 14 percent – higher than it is today. 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.  Rich countries like Canada, Australia, and Switzerland all let in far more immigrants as a percentage of their population every year and have far larger immigrant populations. Switzerland, for instance, lets in about five times as many immigrants as the U.S. does every year as a percentage of their population. The percent of the U.S. population that is foreign born is also below the OECD average. In and of itself, that is not an argument for opening lawful immigration but it should damper the notion that the U.S. has the most immigrant friendly policies in the world. The numerical numbers of immigrants who come here yearly is large, about the same annual number as a hundred years ago, the U.S. has the third largest population in the world to absorb them.     

Further readings:

Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States

Where Does the U.S. Rank in Welcoming Immigrants?

Immigrant Inflows Among OECD Nations

Claim:  A sensible immigration policy would also listen to the opinions of the American people and not paid lobbyists.

Fact:  A sensible immigration policy should absolutely be based on the opinions of the American people. Every day tens of millions of Americans willingly live near immigrants, employ them, sell them goods and services, and deal with them peacefully and voluntarily. The daily actions of the U.S.-born show how comfortable they are living with New Americans, in direct contrast to the few very loud opponents of immigration. Let the economic demands of Americans set immigration policy, not bureaucrats in Washington.

Claim:  We must enforce every immigration law before reforming them, otherwise we destroy the rule of law. 

Fact:  Bad laws should be reformed, not enforced at all costs. Congress didn’t wait until it caught every bootlegger before ending Prohibition or prosecuted every tax cheat before it instituted the Reagan tax cuts. Congress doesn’t have to keep trying to enforce immigration laws that are fundamentally at odds with our pro-immigration traditions, counter economic growth, and increase unauthorized immigration. 

Immigration laws themselves undermine the rule of law. The rule of law means that lawmakers, judges, and individuals are all subject to the same laws and that the laws must be nonarbitrary, consistent with our traditions as a free society, and as free as possible from government ad hoc actions.

Current immigration laws abjectly fall far short of these standards. Our immigration laws are complex and give the government bureaucrats administering them arbitrary power. Most businesses applying for a worker visa have to deal with arbitrary and changing application standards. For instance, government regulatory changes to streamline work visas were adopted in the closing days of the Bush administration. The Obama administration, after taking office, changed portions of those regulations to satisfy union demands. Who knows what regulations will change next year or the year after? Current immigration laws are much more restrictive than the open immigration system our country had from the founding until the early 20th century (with some exceptions), so they aren’t consistent with our traditions.  If the rule of law requires predictability as well as respect for America’s traditions, the immigration system fails. 

U.S. states are finally relenting, slightly, in the War on Drugs. Let’s not start a new War on Immigrants just as the previous fiasco is starting to wind down. 

Further reading:

Saying the Law is the Law Isn’t Enough

Claim:  The House plan provides legal status and work authorization first – the fundamental grant of amnesty.

Fact:  The legal definition of amnesty is an act of forgiveness for past offenses, especially to a class of persons as a whole. The 1986 Reagan amnesty can be accurately described as an amnesty but no proposal in 2013 is because the regulatory hoops, fees, and fines serve as a punishment and not a forgiveness for past offenses.  As Mark Krikorian, head of the anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies, wrote in 2001 in National Review, “Both the retrospective and prospective approaches [of amnesty] grant legal residence, and eventually citizenship, to illegal aliens — the defining characteristics [emphasis added] of an amnesty.”  A House version of legalization would likely not include a path to citizenship for most legalized unauthorized immigrants meaning that for them, according to Mark Krikorian’s definition, they would not be amnestied

Further reading:

Immigration Reform is Not Amnesty    

Claim:  Most immigrants who are legalized will get access to welfare immediately.

Fact:  Under the proposed Senate version of reform, the legalized immigrants wouldn’t have access to means-tested welfare for 13 years – at a minimum. But if welfare is a genuine concern, it is far easier to deny non-citizens access to welfare than it is to stop all immigration.  I co-authored a Cato policy analysis on this very topic that is simple to implement and Constitutional. 

Furthermore, there is no evidence that immigrants and their descendants drive increases in the benefit levels and total size of welfare programs regulated on the state level.  For every state like California and New York that has many immigrants and a large welfare state, there is a state like Texas or Florida with many immigrants and a shrinking (individual benefit levels in real terms) or smaller welfare state.  There is no relationship between immigration and growth of welfare spending in the U.S. over time.

Further reading:

Building a Wall around the Welfare State, Instead of around the Country

The Political Externalities of Immigration: Evidence from the United States

Claim:  President Obama has been openly and aggressively defying immigration law.

Fact:  President Obama has presided over a large immigration enforcement apparatus that is on track to deport its 2 millionth person in the next few months – something that took President George W. Bush a full 8 years to accomplish.  With the notable exception of deferring deportation for some childhood arrivals and some recent reorganization of enforcement priorities, President Obama has been a noted enforcer of immigration laws.

Further readings:

President Obama: Deporter-In-Chief

President Obama Is Still the Deporter-In-Chief

In conclusion, the memo that Senator Sessions’ staff emailed around had many charts showing how the Great Recession affected Americans.  Those charts are as accurate as they are scary but there is no connection between them and immigration, nor is there any indication that immigrants are the cause of our economic problems. 

Categories: Policy Institutes

George F. Will Weighs in on the Halbig Cases

Cato Op-Eds - Thu, 01/30/2014 - 14:34

Michael F. Cannon

Last year, along with Jonathan Adler, I published this law-review article that explains how the IRS has now begun to tax, borrow, and spend hundreds of billions of dollars ultra vires – that is, without any statutory authorization from Congress. Today, George F. Will writes about our research, and the lawsuits that have sprang from it, in his syndicated column: 

Someone you probably are not familiar with has filed a suit you probably have not heard about concerning a four-word phrase you should know about. The suit could blow to smithereens something everyone has heard altogether too much about, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (hereafter, ACA).

Scott Pruitt and some kindred spirits might accelerate the ACA’s collapse by blocking another of the Obama administration’s lawless uses of the Internal Revenue Service. Pruitt was elected Oklahoma’s attorney general by promising to defend states’ prerogatives against federal encroachment, and today he and some properly litigious people elsewhere are defending a state prerogative that the ACA explicitly created. If they succeed, the ACA’s disintegration will accelerate.

Pruitt is the plaintiff in, well, Pruitt v. Sebelius. I call these “the Halbig cases,” because even though Pruitt was first out of the gate, Halbig v. Sebelius is the farthest along of the four lawsuits that have been filed so far. 

Over at DarwinsFool.com, I tweak a couple of things Will writes about these cases, and give a little more context. For example, it’s not just four little words that prevent the IRS from taxing, borrowing, and spending those billions of dollars. It is a tightly worded set of eligibility rules that unequivocally precludes what the IRS is trying to do. Also, it is not accurate to say that these lawsuits would blow ObamaCare to smithereens. For more, including a classic Ferris Bueller clip, see here.

And click here for a comprehensive list of reference materials and commentary about the Halbig cases. 

Categories: Policy Institutes

The More We Learn about ObamaCare, the Less the President Wants to Discuss It

Cato Op-Eds - Thu, 01/30/2014 - 13:52

Michael F. Cannon

Remember how the more we learned about ObamaCare, the more we would like it? Well, it seems the more we learn about this law, the less President Obama wants to talk about it. He relegated it to just a few paragraphs, tucked away near the end of his latest State of the Union political rally speech. And while he defended the law, he closed his health care remarks by begging Congress not to repeal it, and asking the American people to nag each other into buying his health plans.

My full response to the president’s health care remarks are over at my Forbes blog, Darwin’s Fool. Here’s an excerpt:

Note what the president did not say: he did not say that [Amanda] Shelley would not have gotten the care she needed. That was already guaranteed pre-ObamaCare. If ObamaCare saved Shelley from something, it was health care bills that she couldn’t pay. It’s impossible to know from this brief account just how much that might have been. But we can say this: making health care more affordable for Shelley should not have cost anyone else their job. It may be that ObamaCare doesn’t reduce bankruptcies at all, but merely shifts them from medical bankruptcies to other types of bankruptcies because more people cannot find work.

Read the whole thing.

Actually, I should amend that. Making health care more affordable will cost some people their jobs, and that’s okay. Progress on affordability comes when less-trained people (e.g., nurse practitioners) can provide services that could previously be provided only by highly trained people (e.g., doctors). When that happens, whether enabled by technology or removing regulatory barriers, prices fall – and high-cost providers could lose their jobs. The same thing has happened in agriculture, allowing food prices to drop and making it easier to reduce hunger. My point was that we should not be making health care more affordable for Ms. Shelley by taxing her neighbor out of a job.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Gender Pay Gap: When You've Lost Slate...

Cato Op-Eds - Thu, 01/30/2014 - 13:49

Walter Olson

White House speechwriters couldn’t resist sticking an applause line into President Obama’s State of the Union speech about how women supposedly earn only 77 cents to every dollar a man earns in America. Even more depressing, it drew some of the night’s biggest applause. But as almost everyone familiar with the numbers has had reason to know for years and years, it simply isn’t true. Most, if not all, of the gap melts away once you factor in variables such as hours worked, choice of occupation, and midcareer family interruption, among others. Hanna Rosin at Slate is the latest to set the record straight:

…The point here is not that there is no wage inequality. But by focusing our outrage into a tidy, misleading statistic we’ve missed the actual challenges. It would in fact be much simpler if the problem were rank sexism and all you had to do was enlighten the nation’s bosses or throw the Equal Pay Act at them. But the [more-accurate] 91 percent statistic suggests a much more complicated set of problems. Is it that women are choosing lower-paying professions or that our country values women’s professions less? And why do women work fewer hours? Is this all discrimination or, as economist Claudia Goldin likes to say, also a result of “rational choices” women make about how they want to conduct their lives.

All credit to well-known Washington journalist Hanna Rosin, a co-founder of Slate’s Double X, for writing a piece bound to displease some of her colleagues in the liberal commentariat. 

Categories: Policy Institutes

So Long And Thanks For All The Nannying

Cato Op-Eds - Thu, 01/30/2014 - 11:57

Walter Olson

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has announced his retirement from the House of Representatives. Here’s an excerpt from my non-fan-letter from 2011, when he lost his longtime chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee:

Some lawmakers can talk a decent game about lean ‘n’ smart regulation, but no one ever accused Waxman of having a light touch. (The 900-page Waxman-Markey environmental bill, mercifully killed by the Senate, included provisions letting Washington rewrite local building codes.) He’s known for aggressive micromanagement even of agencies run by putative allies: his staff has repeatedly twisted the ears of Obamanaut appointees to complain that their approach to regulation is too moderate and gradual. More than any other lawmaker on the Hill, he’s stood in the way of any meaningful reform of the 2008 CPSIA law, which piles impractical burdens on small makers of children’s products, thrift stores, bicycles and others.

Like his predecessor, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), Waxman and his subcommittee chairs have famously used hearings as a club to discipline interest groups that don’t cooperate. Last spring he menaced large employers with hearings after several of them announced (contrary to some predictions) that ObamaCare was going to hurt their bottom lines. …

The committee was an unending source of ghastly new legislative proposals for regulatory manacles to be fastened on one or another sector of the economy, ideas that with any luck we may now be spared …. Thus it appears unlikely that the Republican-led committee will give its blessing to something called the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 (H.R. 5786), introduced by Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), which – by mandating that all compounds found in personal-care items at any detectable level be expensively tested for and disclosed on labels – could have added tens of thousands of dollars of cost overhead to that little herbal-soap business your sister is trying to start in her garage. (Fragrance expert Robert Tisserand explains why most small personal-care product makers would not survive if the bill passed). Nor is it likely that the new leadership of chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) will be in a hurry to adopt Rep. Schakowsky’s H.R. 1408, the Inclusive Home Design Act, which would mandate handicap accessibility features in most new private homes.

(hat tip for title: Jonathan Blanks)

Categories: Policy Institutes

Minimum Wage Laws Kill Jobs

Cato Op-Eds - Wed, 01/29/2014 - 17:11

Steve H. Hanke

President Obama set the chattering classes abuzz after his unilateral announcement to raise the minimum wage. During his State of the Union address, he sang the praises for his action, saying that “It’s good for the economy; it’s good for America.[1] Yet this conclusion doesn’t pass the economic smell test; just look at the data from Europe.

There are seven European Union (EU) countries with no minimum wage (Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, and Sweden). If we compare the levels of unemployment in these countries with EU countries that impose a minimum wage, the results are clear – a minimum wage leads to higher levels of unemployment. In the 21 countries with a minimum wage, the average country has an unemployment rate of 11.8%; whereas, the average unemployment rate in the seven nations without a minimum wage is about one third lower – at 7.9%.

Nobelist Milton Friedman said it best when he concluded that “The real tragedy of minimum wage laws is that they are supported by well-meaning groups who want to reduce poverty. But the people who are hurt most by high minimums are the most poverty stricken.”[2]



[1] Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, New York Times, January 28, 2014.

[2] Milton Friedman, The Minimum Wage Rate, Who Really Pays? An Interview With Milton Friedman and Yale Brozen, 26-27 (Free Society Association ed. 1966), quoted in Keith B. Leffler, “Minimum Wages, Welfare, and Wealth Transfers to the Poor,”Journal of Law and Economics 21, no. 2 (October 1978): 345–58.

Categories: Policy Institutes

School Choice Week Grinches in Colorado

Cato Op-Eds - Wed, 01/29/2014 - 16:43

Jason Bedrick

Just before National School Choice Week, Democratic state legislators in Colorado killed a school choice tax credit bill. The legislation would have granted tax credits to families with children in private schools worth up to half of the average per pupil spending at government schools or up to $1,000 for homeschoolers.

Democratic Senate President Morgan Carroll did not even give the legislation a fair hearing in the committee that normally takes up education or tax related bills. Instead he assigned it to the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee, locally known as the “kill committee,” where it faced certain doom from legislators apparently impervious to the evidence:

Under SB 33, a family’s tax credit for full-time private tuition costs could not be more than half the state’s average per-pupil amount. While revenues to the treasury would decline,the official fiscal note showed that over time the limited credit amount would reduce state spending even more for each student who exercised an educational option outside the public system.

Still, Democrats on the committee were unconvinced. “I think it will actually detract from the funding of our public schools,” said Sen. Matt Jones (D-Louisville).

Colorado currently has a school voucher program operating in Douglas County.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Obama Administration Seeks to Head Off Spending Transparency

Cato Op-Eds - Wed, 01/29/2014 - 09:34

Jim Harper

Congratulations to Cato’s media staff who worked though the night last night to produce an excellent Cato response to the State of the Union speech. It’s a lot of work, and they make it look easy.

State of the Union 2014

At minute 10:00, my appearance in the video pivots from NSA spying and secrecy to a transparency issue that is just as important to the long-term maintenance of freedom in our country. It’s an issue you might not have heard about.

Leaked documents revealed this week that President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget is seeking to gut spending transparency legislation that is making its way through Congress. The DATA Act is intended to transform the U.S. government’s spending information from inaccessible documents buried in the executive branch into open data, available for the public to use. The House has passed one version. A Senate committee has forwarded another version of the bill to the floor.

Open spending data has potential to improve public oversight of the government massively. You can see a hint of that potential at the Washington Examiner’s “Appropriate Appropriations?” web page. There, for the first time ever, you can easily find what bills in Congress would spend taxpayers dollars. You can look up who from your state has introduced bills that plan to spend your money. The page is powered by Cato data.

While bipartisan support for spending transparency has built up over years in the House and Senate, the Obama Administration has never taken an official position on the DATA Act. Now we’ve learned that the Obama OMB is working to undercut this transparency legislation. The chief Senate sponsor of the DATA Act, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), has rejected the administration’s moves in no uncertain terms.

President Obama didn’t talk about transparency in the State of the Union, but it’s a 2008 campaign promise he could still deliver on. His OMB is working behind the scenes to prevent that.

Categories: Policy Institutes

The Freedom’s the Thing

Cato Op-Eds - Wed, 01/29/2014 - 08:52

Neal McCluskey

We are in the midst of National School Choice Week, and much of the talk is about test scores, helping poor children access better schools, getting more bang for our bucks, and lots of other, very worthy, important things. But something often seems to get lost in the shuffle not just of School Choice Week, but the overall choice and education debate: freedom. The most fundamental American value is liberty – individual freedom – and not only is an education system rooted in free choice the only system consistent with a free society, it is key to peaceful coexistence among the nations’ hugely diverse people.

That only an education system rooted in free choice is consistent with a free society should be self-evident. Should be, but isn’t, with “social reproduction” – shaping the young to conform with and perpetuate present society – thought by many to be a primary purpose of education, and one which must be controlled by government. As long as a “democratic” process is employed – often poorly defined as some sort of vague, deliberative/majoritarian system – then all is well.

But all is not well. While in the abstract it might be easy to say “this is the society we want to reproduce,” the reality is that Americans simply do not agree on what norms, values, and facts they want their children to have and know.

The irony of this is that far from uniting people – a major desired outcome of instilling one set of norms and knowledge – our public schools force us into constant, divisive conflict. As Cato’s Public Schooling Battle Map makes painfully clear, Americans are forced to fight over myriad disputed values, creating seemingly incessant conflagrations over sex education, student prayer, evolution, history curricula, student speech rights, summer reading lists…even student hairstyles. (Don’t believe the last one? Check out incidents in Washington County, UT; Lake County, FL; Alachua, FL; Farmington, NM; Mesquite, TX; Rockton, IL; and Clark-Shawnee, OH.)

Perhaps worse than the fighting, though, is the means to achieve peace. If we want to avoid conflicts, it often requires, as Stephen Arons pointed out almost two decades ago, that people violate their consciences, an outcome that should be avoided at all costs in a free society. Should we make a religious person fund condom-distribution programs they find immoral? Or require someone to subsidize history curricula they feel disparages their ethnic group? Or make a Muslim family pay for schools that take off Christmas, but are in session on Islamic holidays? The answer to these and many other such questions is an emphatic “no.” We should – we must – let people freely choose educational options that comply with their values as long as they can get others to voluntarily provide them.

Interestingly, while choice supporters should first and foremost want to defend and perpetuate individual liberty because it is the right and just thing to, they should also emphasize freedom because it seems to be what resonates most with the public. As Dick Carpenter recently found, the greatest support for choice in surveys comes when choice is presented as expanding freedom, as opposed to creating equality or fostering competition. Which is, frankly, as it should be: While lots of positive outcomes of choice are important, freedom is absolutely essential.

Categories: Policy Institutes

New SOTU Education Promises Just Like the Old SOTU Education Promises

Cato Op-Eds - Wed, 01/29/2014 - 08:36

Jason Bedrick

What should President Obama have said about education policy in this year’s State of the Union address? In a more perfect world, he would have announced his plan to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education in order to restore control of education policy to the state and local governments where it constitutionally belongs.

Downsize the Department of Education

In that imaginary world, the President also would have called for an expansion of the Washington D.C. school choice program, where the federal government actually has legitimate constitutional authority, and used his bully pulpit to promote state-level educational choice programs across the country as a means of reducing inequality and expanding opportunity. And he would have announced that his administration would no longer seek to keep low-income black kids in failing government schools in Louisiana.

Alas, what President Obama proposed instead were mostly the same tired themes we’ve already heard in previous SOTU addresses. 

Once again, the president called for Congress to enact universal preschool (and threatened to go around them if they did not), claiming that “research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education.” The research to which he alludes concerned a very small and high-quality program for disadvantaged children. (It’s notable that the president dramatically scaled down the audacity of his claims since last year’s SOTU.) There’s absolutely no evidence that the government could scale up the program for all children nationwide with the same level of quality.

Indeed, when the federal government has tried to do so, it has failed. The federal government’s own study of Head Start was so negative that the Obama administration released it on the Friday before Christmas, practically guaranteeing that almost no one would ever hear about it. Nearly fifty years and $200 billion later, Head Start produces no measurable, lasting benefits. To argue that “this time will be different” is magical thinking.

And once again, the president claimed that he “[wants] to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt.” If so, he should propose phasing out federal student loans and Pell Grants, which are spurring the rapid increases in tuition.

Fortunately, outside the administration’s push for Common Core, few of the administration’s SOTU-promoted education initiatives ever get off the ground.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Farm Bill Spending Up 49 Percent

Cato Op-Eds - Wed, 01/29/2014 - 08:33

Chris Edwards

Under cover of SOTU media coverage, Congress is set to sneak through the first big farm bill since 2008. The Congressional Budget Office released its estimate of the bill’s cost: $956 billion over 2014-2023. It would thus mean almost $1 trillion more borrowed from U.S. and foreign creditors, adding more weight to the anchor pulling down the living standards of our children and grandchildren.

If you are a reporter, please don’t write that the farm bill “slashes” anything. Even according to the official score, it just trims $16.5 billion from expected spending of $956 billion over the decade, which is just 1.7 percent. The food stamp (“nutrition”) portion of the bill trims just $8 billion from expected spending of $756 billion, which is just 1.1 percent.

However, the 2014 farm bill is not a cut at all when compared to the 2008 farm bill, which was projected to cost $640 billion over 10 years. That is a 49 percent spending increase.  

Sure, the new bill shuffles the farm subsidy deck chairs, but the bill’s main budget attribute is that it ratifies the huge recent increase in food stamp spending. The House bill had proposed trimming a modest $39 billion (5 percent) from food stamps, but Republican leaders caved in and agreed to just a token 1 percent trim in the final bill.


Here are 10 reasons why the farm bill makes no sense.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Cato Scholars Respond to the 2014 State of the Union

Cato Op-Eds - Wed, 01/29/2014 - 07:12

Caleb O. Brown

State of the Union 2014

Cato Institute scholars Alex Nowrasteh, Aaron Ross Powell, Trevor Burrus, Benjamin H. Friedman, Simon Lester, Neal McCluskey, Mark Calabria, Dan Mitchell, Justin Logan, Patrick J. Michaels, Walter Olson and Jim Harper respond to President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Address.

Video produced by Caleb O. Brown, Austin Bragg and Lester Romero.

Categories: Policy Institutes

The State of the Union Is...Irrelevant

Cato Op-Eds - Tue, 01/28/2014 - 15:51

Gene Healy

Kevin Williamson has your red-meat, small-r republican rant on the State of the Union over at NR. He’s right that the once-modest Annual Message has become as bloated and ridiculous as the presidency itself.   

Like Williamson, I used to fume and fume about our latter-day Speech from the Throne, but lately I’m no longer sure it’s worth the bother. For the speech to be worth getting worked up about, somebody would have to be listening. But as I point out in the Washington Examiner today, the polling and poli sci evidence suggest that POTUS is basically howling into the void: 

“There is overwhelming evidence that presidents, even ‘great communicators,’ rarely move the public in their direction,” writes George C. Edwards III, a presidential scholar at Texas A&M University. “Going public does not work.” In a 2013 analysis of SOTU polling, Gallup found that “most presidents have shown an average decrease in approval of one or more points between the last poll conducted before the State of the Union and the first one conducted afterward.”

(For more on that point, see Table 2.2 from Edwards’s book On Deaf Ears: The Limits of the Bully Pulpit or this review of the evidence by Ezra Klein) 

Nor does the president usually fare any better trying to use the SOTU to bend Congress to his will. As this Associated Press analysis puts it, the speech is “high volume, low yield” in terms of generating legislative action.  Contra TR, the bully pulpit isn’t so “bully.” 

None of that is to deny that the modern president has powers vastly greater than he was ever intended to have—or than one man should ever have. The danger isn’t his “power to persuade”: it’s what he can get away with under the “living Constitution” version of Article II: waging war worldwide, reshaping the law through “royal dispensations,”  taking care that his secret laws are faithfully executed. What he does matters; what he says in this stage-managed spectacle is the least of our worries. 

Many of us at Cato will watch and read the speech tonight because it’s sort of our job. If the spirit moves you, follow along on Twitter, hashtag #CatoSOTU. Otherwise, it seems to me that the late Justice Rehnquist had the right attitude

When asked why [he planned to skip the SOTU], he explained that it conflicted with a watercolor class at the YMCA. An incredulous law clerk said, “You can’t miss the State of Union Address for a watercolor class.” Rehnquist responded that he had spent $25 to enroll in the class, and he was going to get every benefit out of it.


Categories: Policy Institutes