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David Boaz

The American economist Henry George wrote, “What protection teaches us, is to do to ourselves in time of peace what enemies seek to do to us in time of war.” In Russia, Vladimir Putin started a war and then, in response to mild American and European sanctions, retaliated by imposing greater sanctions—on his own people.

Even American journalists, whose economic acumen I have been known to question, have noted the likely effects of Putin’s sanctions. See Michael Birnbaum in the Washington Post:

Russia on Thursday banned most imports of Western food products, a sweeping escalation in an economic war that will deal a multibillion-dollar hit to affected nations but will also unreel wide-ranging consequences at home.

The measures were a signal that Russia is not backing down from a confrontation that has sent Western-Russian tensions to heights not seen since the Cold War—and that it is willing to risk barer shelves and higher food prices at home in the name of striking a blow against countries that have tried to punish it over its role in the Ukraine conflict.

Russia has suspended imports of meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and milk products from the United States, the 28-nation European Union, Norway, Canada and Australia for a year. The move came in retaliation for sanctions those countries imposed on Russia….

In Russia, the food measures promised to hit not just city centers, where the urban middle class has grown accustomed to visiting supermarkets overflowing with high-quality imported European cheeses, fish and sausages. Analysts warned that food prices also would increase and that a wide range of Russian industries, including food processing plants, shippers and retailers, would be affected….

“It will be quite sensitive,” said Yevsey Gurvich, the head of the Economic Expert Group. “Not only rich people will feel it, but literally every family will be affected.” He said he estimated that Russian consumer prices would go up 2 percent this year because of the measures.

“Alternatives to imported foods will be more costly, and, anyway, I believe they will be insufficient, and our supplies will diminish. And, hence, prices will go up,” he said.

Americans who wished for more painful sanctions on Russia than President Obama has imposed are getting their wish—thanks to Putin. 

Walter Olson

The intelligence and entertainment value of national British politics are likely to rise now that Boris Johnson, the euro-skeptical, cosmopolitan Conservative mayor of London, is looking to re-enter Parliament. A steady critic of the European Union’s regulatory and welfare schemes precisely because he believes in an outward-facing and trade-oriented Britain, Johnson may well be the most quotable British politician since Margaret Thatcher. As former David Cameron aide Alex Deane makes clear in a piece in City A.M., Johnson, like Thatcher, is unafraid to speak in terms of individual liberty derived from classical liberalism, even if (also like Thatcher) he has not always lived up to his preachings in office. (Or as the outspoken mayor once himself said: “My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it.”)

Reading the Deane column, this quote from Johnson caught my eye from nine years ago when national I.D. cards were under debate:

I will in no circumstances carry one and even were I compelled to do so, I would take it out and destroy it on the spot were I ever asked to produce it. It is a plastic poll tax that will do nothing to assist the struggle against terrorists and will hugely expand the powers of the state over the individual.

Bring back that Boris. 

K. William Watson

An internal audit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture of the “Economic Adjustment Assistance to Users of Upland Cotton Program” (EAAP) has revealed widespread misuse of subsidies given to owners of textile mills.  The program pays mills based on how much cotton they buy and requires that they spend the money on capital improvements at the mill.  It turns out some owners were just buying whatever the heck they wanted with the money—and that’s probably a good thing.

The primary purpose of the EAAP is to increase the demand for cotton.  The money goes to the mills, but the intended beneficiary is the cotton farmer, who gets an overpaying customer.  By conditioning the payment on an equivalent reinvestment in the cotton mill, the program also hopes to artificially increase the supply of cotton mills.  This, too, is meant to benefit cotton farmers by keeping their customers invested in buying their product. 

If the textile mill owners are using the subsidies to purchase—as the Washington Free Beacon reports—“Ford Explorers, artwork, sound systems, and elephant lamps,” then the program is ultimately less distortive of the U.S. and global cotton market.  That’s a good thing.  If the government is going to take money from some people and give it to others, at the very least we should hope that they do it in the least destructive way possible.

On the other hand, if the mill owners get the money with no strings attached, that increases the incentive for them to take the subsidy in the first place.  My guess, though, is that paying people to buy things they actually want is less distortive than paying them to buy things the government wants them to buy.

So, a toast to government incompetence (this time).  If someone’s going to do bad things, I’m glad it’s these idiots.

Daniel R. Pearson

The Russian government announced on August 6 that it will ban imports of most food and agricultural products from Australia, Canada, the European Union, Norway and the United States for one year.  The full extent of the ban, as well as its effects on exporters and Russian consumers, are not yet clear.  It is interesting, though, to contrast this action with an earlier effort to use food sanctions as a diplomatic weapon:  the 1980 embargo of U.S. grain sales to the Soviet Union. 

The Soviets had invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 with 80,000 troops and 1800 tanks.  President Carter responded by cancelling private contracts to supply 17 million metric tons (MMT) of U.S. wheat and corn to the Soviet Union.  However, he chose to allow shipment of 8 MMT that had been agreed as part of the 1975 U.S.-Soviet Grains Agreement.  Sales in excess of the level assured in the Grains Agreement were embargoed.

Because grains are relatively fungible, and because numerous countries had surpluses available for export, the Soviets were able to replace most of the embargoed grain from willing suppliers.  Argentine agriculture did particularly well during that timeframe.  U.S. agriculture did not do so well.  Market prices had been relatively high, in large part due to strong export demand.  When a considerable portion of that demand evaporated with the stroke of a pen, commodity prices fell precipitously. 

The grain embargo became a potent political issue in the 1980 presidential campaign.  Ronald Reagan’s opposition to the embargo helped to boost his campaign in rural areas.  He took office in January 1981 and revoked the embargo three months later.

In retrospect, the grain embargo generally is seen as supporting the proposition that economic sanctions often inflict greater costs on the country imposing them than on the country at which they are aimed.

The new sanctions are expected to cut off some $15 billion in Russian imports from the EU.  Russia has been Europe’s second largest (behind the United States) export market for foodstuffs, accounting for 10 percent of the EU’s total foreign sales.  The United States has a smaller stake, with only $1.3 billion of food/ag exports to Russia.  That country has been the third largest market for U.S. poultry exports.  About 7 percent of U.S. poultry exports – valued at over $300 million – were shipped to Russia last year, down from 20 percent as recently as 2008.  Russia’s WTO commitments should prevent import restrictions based on political pressures.  Nonetheless, trade in poultry appears to have fluctuated over time in response to the influence of Russia’s domestic poultry producers.  (It’s worth noting that Russia’s import ban does not include either baby food or wine.  It’s not clear how those omissions should be interpreted.)

Russia’s food and agricultural economy has changed greatly since 1980.  Both Russian farmers and consumers have benefitted from the end of central planning.  Despite continuing weaknesses in the rule of law, market forces have led to substantial productivity improvements in Russian agriculture.  Over the past four decades, that country has gone from being one of the world’s largest wheat importers to one of the top five exporters.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts Russia’s wheat exports for 2013/14 to be 18.5 MMT, which would amount to about 11 percent of the global total.

Russian consumers also face far more favorable circumstances than in 1980.  No longer do they stand in lines in front of grocery stores hoping that meat, vegetables or bread will be available.  Instead, the market forces that have encouraged more domestic production of grains also have encouraged imports of a wide variety of meats, fruits, vegetables, dairy products and processed foods.  Russia imported over $43 billion of food and raw agricultural materials last year, amounting to more than 40 percent of the country’s total food supplies. Over 60 percent of food sold in Moscow and other major cities is believed to have been imported. This relatively high level of import penetration suggests that at least some Russian consumers are likely to notice the import ban quite quickly. 

Over time, at least some food items currently imported from countries subject to the ban are likely to be obtainable from other countries.  Finding new suppliers no doubt will take awhile, and the costs to transport fresh fruits and vegetables from countries outside Europe may be noticeably higher.  An increase in food inflation – already 7.9 percent for the first half of 2014 – seems probable. 

Russia’s import ban certainly will create some pain and inconvenience for producers and exporters in the targeted countries.  It seems quite likely, though, that once again the country imposing trade sanctions will be hurt by them far more than the countries against which they are aimed. In the case of the old Soviet grain embargo, political pressures by U.S. farmers helped lead to its demise.  It will be interesting to see whether discontent on the part of Russian consumers plays any role in the eventual end of this new trade restriction.

Tim Lynch

Over at Cato’s Police Misconduct web site we have identified the worst case for the month of July.

It was the case of Eric Garner, who was killed by New York City police officers using a banned chokehold maneuver. A cell phone video of the incident shows Garner (who stood at least 6’3” and 350+ lbs.) arguing with police officers in an agitated state, then pulling back when officers tried to arrest him. Almost immediately, one of the officers started using an illegal chokehold maneuver to subdue Garner, at which point the 350+ pound asthmatic can be heard saying “I can’t breathe” repeatedly.  Garner was pronounced dead a short time later.  The medical examiner has ruled the death a homicide.

Garner was accused of and being arrested for selling single, untaxed cigarettes on the street corner.

Chokeholds have been banned since 1994 because they were determined to be too dangerous. Every officer and recruit is trained not to use them.  In response to the incident, NYC Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has ordered a top-to-bottom review of use of force training methods, with retraining programs likely to follow. It’s a good step, but it won’t do Eric Garner and his six children any good.


The sexting case from Virginia is too awful and bizarre not to include as a “runner up” for the worst case in July.

Seventeen-year old Trey Sims had been arrested for allegedly sending a video of his erect penis to his girlfriend, also a minor. Prince William County prosecutors charged the teen with two felony charges: for possession of child pornography and manufacturing child pornography. These charges could have landed him in jail until he reached 21 years of age and then put him on the sex offender list, potentially for the remainder of his life. All for ‘sexting’ his girlfriend.

If it wasn’t bad enough already that prosecutors were willing to go forward with such drastic charges—and ones intended to protect children like Trey from adult predators—it gets worse. Manassas city police had already forcibly taken pictures of the teen’s penis when he was arrested, but that, apparently, wasn’t enough. Commonwealth’s attorney Claiborne Richardson told the teen’s lawyer that he either had to plead guilty or they would obtain a search warrant for pictures of his erect penis—which would be obtained by bringing the teen to a hospital and forcing him to take an erection-inducing drug while police officers took pictures of his forcibly-erect penis. Apparently, special software would then be used to compare the penises. When he did not plead guilty, substitute Juvenile Court Judge Jan Roltsch-Anoll granted the search warrant.  Thankfully, it was never actually served.

When word got out about what was happening, the government agents backed off a bit.  Sims just recently agreed to a year of probation to avoid the more serious charges.

Timothy Sandefur and Ilya Shapiro

Under a 1943 Supreme Court decision called Parker v. Brown, state governments and private parties who act on state orders are typically immune from prosecution under federal antitrust laws. Thus, while private parties who create cartels face severe penalties, state governments can authorize the same anti-competitive behavior with impunity. 

Still, the Supreme Court has held that this kind of immunity only applies if the private parties who engage in cartel behavior are “actively supervised” by state officials. A case now before the Supreme Court, N.C. State Board of Dental Examiners v.FTC, presents an opportunity to expand on that directive.

Beginning in about 2003, the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners issued cease-and-desist orders to beauticians and others who were offering “teeth whitening” services (in which a plastic strip treated with peroxide is applied to the teeth in order to make them brighter). Although teeth-whitening is perfectly safe—and can even be done at home with an over-the-counter kit—the state’s licensed dentists want to limit competition in this lucrative area.

The Board is made up entirely of practicing dentists and hygienists and is elected by other licensed dentists and hygienists—with no input from the general public—and evidence later revealed that the Board issued orders on this subject in response to complaints from dentists, not consumers. The Federal Trade Commission charged the Board with engaging in anticompetitive conduct. Although the Board argued that it should enjoy Parker immunity, the FTC, and later the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, rejected that argument, holding that the Board was not “actively supervised” by the state, but was instead a group of private business owners exploiting government power.

Whatever one’s opinion of antitrust law—Cato’s isn’t too favorable—existing immunity doctrines are irrational and dangerous, and allow private entities to use government power to raise prices and restrict consumer choice. Worse, state-established cartels can frequently harm constitutional rights, such as the right to earn a living, by barring new businesses from opening. The North Carolina case is a prime example of private entities arbitrarily abusing government power to block entrepreneurs from entering an industry and providing for themselves and their families.

Cato and the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a Supreme Court brief supporting the FTC—you know it’s a bad case when we’re on the federal government’s side!—and arguing that courts should only rarely immunize private parties who act on government’s behalf. The Fourth Circuit was not only correct in applying the “active supervision” requirement, but existing immunity doctrines are too lax. Instead, courts should grant antitrust immunity to private entities acting under color of state law only where their restraint on competition is commanded by state law, and where that restraint substantially advances an important state interest. This test would help protect the constitutional right to economic liberty against the only entity that can normally create monopolies and yet which today enjoys immunity from antimonopoly laws: the government.

The case will be argued at the Supreme Court on October 14.

Matthew Feeney

Today the Commonwealth of Virginia reached a temporary agreement with Uber and Lyft, both of which provide ridesharing services via their apps. Under the terms of the agreement, both companies have been granted broker’s licenses and are allowed to operate provided they meet a number of conditions, which are outlined in today’s press release from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s office.

Uber and Lyft have both praised the agreement, which comes two months after the Virginia DMV issued the companies cease and desist letters.

It is welcome news that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Herring have worked out an agreement with Uber and Lyft. However, the agreement is temporary and lawmakers in Virginia and elsewhere in the U.S. need to implement permanent legislation that allows for innovative companies such as Uber and Lyft to fairly compete against taxis, as R Street Institute policy analyst Zach Graves stated in a news release:

Public interest advocates should be wary that this is only a temporary measure, and the battle over transportation services regulation in Virginia is certain to come up again in the 2015 legislative session. Ultimately, policymakers in Virginia and other states need to advance legislation that offers permanent legalization for all transportation network companies, without imposing additional anti-competitive regulations at the behest of the Taxi industry.

The concluding paragraph of the attorney general’s press release mentions that that the Virginia DMV is conducting a study as part of working towards such legislation:

Virginia DMV is currently leading a study at the request of the General Assembly to developing [sic] a long-term legislative solution that addresses services provided by Uber, Lyft, and similar companies, while also ensuring a level playing field for taxicabs and all other passenger transportation services. The study is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2015 legislative session. This temporary authority agreement can serve as a foundation for potential legislation and will also provide valuable data on the operations of these companies as legislation is crafted.

Let’s hope that the Virginia DMV does propose a solution that really would level the playing field. Companies like Uber and Lyft do, thanks to their business model, occupy mostly uncharted regulatory territory. It would be good to see Virginia among the first U.S. jurisdictions to successfully adapt to the rise of the so-called sharing economy, which will continue to grow.  

Matthew Feeney

While many sellers and buyers in the so-called sharing economy might like it for its convenience, there is a case to be made that in the developing world decentralized and peer-to-peer economies could help solve a crippling informational problem in environments with weak property rights and bad regulatory regimes.

Writing in Forbes earlier this week, Adam Ozimek, Director of Research and Senior Economist at Econsult Solutions, Inc., pointed out that the rating systems used by companies such as Uber and Airbnb allow for customers to “do what we previously thought tight regulations and even natural monopolies were needed to do.” Before the rise of the technologies that allowed for Uber and Lyft to exist, the taxi industry could argue that customers might face rip-offs or safety concerns  iin the absence of regulation. Thanks to the rating system used by companies in the sharing economy, this informational problem can be overcome.

Ozimek believes that the technologies used by the sharing economy could transform the developing world:

What I think is notable is how much more transformative these technologies should be for the developing world.

In developing countries you can find a lack a (sic) government that functions well enough to provide an effective regulatory regime. In addition, unreliable governance and weak property rights can make it hard to attract the investment required to build large companies with significant reputational capital. But a decentralized, crowd-based ratings system doesn’t require lots of capital investment. It doesn’t require effective regulatory bodies and good governance. It lowers the capital and regulatory bar for the existence of an effective services industry.

After all, in a country with a corrupt government, would you be more confident having a cab driver with a long list of good reviews or one with a bureaucratically issued license?

Of course, the rise of the sharing economy is dependent upon access to the necessary technologies, which many people in the developing world lack. Earlier this year Pew published findings on the use of cellphones and the Internet in emerging nations. According to Pew, in every nation surveyed, smartphones remain a minority of cell phones used. However, these minorities are significant in a number of countries such as China and Lebanon, where 37 percent and 45 percent of people respectively own smartphones.

A Gallup poll  conducted at the end of last year found that in the 62 percent of adults in the United States have access to smartphones with Internet access. 88 percent of Americans between 18 and 29-years-old said that they owned a smartphone.

Ozimek’s Forbes post was published on the same day that the U.S.-Africa leaders’ summit began in Washington, D.C. Pew’s findings show that the percentage of people who occasionally use the Internet or have a smartphone in the African nations examined ranges from the very low (Uganda at 12 percent) to the comparatively high (South Africa at 43 percent). Pew also found an unsurprising strong correlation between Internet use and national income.

As my colleague Marian Tupy pointed out a few days ago, Sub-Saharan Africa is “one of new millennium’s success stories,” with economic freedom and growth in the region resulting in a drop in poverty. Tupy also mentioned that there have been important recent improvements to the social standing of girls and women in Africa, which has become more peaceful since 1990.

Ozimek is right that the technologies used in the sharing economy will overcome the informational problem affecting much of the developing world. However, increased access to these technologies will require economic prosperity and growth, which Tupy pointed out comes about thanks to economic freedom, not aid.



Jim Harper

On Wikipedia’s list of Wikipedia controversies, you can read up on U.S. congressional staff edits to Wikipedia, which drew attention in mid-2006 because edits coming from Capitol Hill often sought to whitewash the pages of members of Congress. Most Hill staff know better than to do that now, but attention to Wikipedia editing in Congress has spiked again thanks to a new Twitter feed: @congressedits.

(How does it work? Congress has fixed, known IP addresses, and Wikipedia displays the IPs of users who are not logged in. Scan Wikipedia for edits coming from those IP addresses and you know which edits are being done by non-logged-in, Capitol Hill Wikipedians.)

So, is congressional Wikipedia editing bad? Not necessarily.

In a recent 90-day period, there were almost 400,000 hits on Wikipedia articles about bills pending in Congress. This makes Wikipedia a major source of information about congressional activity for average Americans. Getting content on Wikipedia from some of the most knowledgeable potential editors — congressional staff — could help Wikipedia deliver government transparency on a grand scale, positioning the public to demand better outcomes.

For this to happen, though, Wikipedians on the Hill must navigate Wikipedia rules around notability, neutrality, and conflicts of interest. Perhaps more challenging, Capitol Hill’s consensus on Wikipedia editing must shift from aversion to embrace.

We’ll be discussing congressional Wikipedia editing and the sea change to government transparency it might produce at a noon-time session on the Hill August 18th. The event is open to all, but Hill staff interested in improving congressional and government transparency are particularly welcome to join the discussion.

Jason Bedrick

Yesterday, I noted that American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten cited an imaginary statistic on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Weingarten claimed that “most teachers right now in America have less than two years of experience.” That’s clearly false because the most recent NCES data shows that 91 percent of government school teachers had more than three years of classroom experience in 2011-12.

As I noted in an update to my post, some claimed that Weingarten had probably intended to refer to the mode, not “most.” Weingarten herself later admitted that she misspoke and meant to refer to the mode, but even then, the data she meant to cite was out of date. What she said was technically true for 2007-08 (though misleading, as I will show), but she claimed that this was the case “right now,” which is false. In fact, the most recent data (see page 12) show that the mode for teacher experience was five years in 2011-12.

Nevertheless, she still claims that the statistic she meant to cite buttresses her point. Actually though, her use of that statistic is misleading.

Let’s say the AFT threw a party that eight adults and two children attended. Their ages were 45, 41, 39, 38, 37, 35, 34, 32, 1, and 1. When asked about the ages of the attendees, Weingarten reports, “the mode of the partygoers’ ages was less than two years old.”

That’s technically true, but also terribly misleading. Using the mode to answer that question without further context obscures the fact that only 20 percent of the partygoers were under age two and that the median age was 36. 

Indeed, Weingarten’s (intended) use of the mode to describe the level of government school teacher experience was even worse than the above hypothetical, since only 9 percent of teachers had less than three years of experience (and it’s not clear from the NCES data how many of those teachers have less than two years experience, as Weingarten claimed). The average years of experience is 13.8 (page 10). 

Weingarten intended to use the mode to support her claim that “you don’t have a lot of the people who are senior teachers any more.” It’s hard to know what she meant by “a lot” or “senior” but more than 57 percent of teachers have 10+ years of experience and more than 21 percent have 20+ years of experience. A third have been teaching for between three and nine years.

There is some truth to the broader point that the teacher workforce is “greening,” though not nearly to the extent that Weingarten implies. A Consortium for Policy Research in Education report notes that about 37 percent of teachers had less than 10 years of experience in 1987-88 and that number has climbed about five points to 42.3 percent in 2011-12 (according to NCES).

Teachers today may be slightly less experienced on average than 25 years ago, but with nearly six in ten teachers having more than a decade’s worth of experience under their belts, Weingarten’s use of statistics is misleading at best.

How concerned should we be about this greening? At this point, probably not very. As the Urban Institute reported in 2010, teachers show the largest productivity gains in the first few years in the classroom, “after which their performance tends to level off. At some point, it even declines:

This and other research shows that, on average, teachers with more than 20 years of experience are more effective than teachers with no experience, but are not much more effective than those with 5 years of experience (Ladd 2008). Studies have also documented some evidence that effectiveness declines after some point, particularly among high school teachers. In fact, evidence suggests that the most experienced (greater than 25 years) high school mathematics teachers may be less effective than their less experienced counterparts (Ladd 2008) and even their inexperienced colleagues (Harris and Sass 2007). [Emphasis in the original.]

In summary, the teaching workforce is only slightly “greener” than a quarter-century ago, but the vast majority (91 percent) have more than three years of teaching experience, which is around when productivity gains begin to level out. Presenting the mode for years of teacher experience without that context greatly distorts the reality of the teaching workforce.

Doug Bandow

The United States confronts increasingly urgent challenges around the globe.  Washington’s policies are widely seen as failing

The Obama administration has been doing a little better, but not good enough, with China.  There is no open conflict between the two, but tensions are high. 

Territorial disputes throughout the South China Sea and Sea of Japan could flare into violence.  North Korea is more disruptive than ever.  Other important issues lurk in the background.

While there should be no surprise when important powers like the U.S. and People’s Republic of China (PRC) disagree, the two must work through such issues.  Unfortunately, the U.S. is far better at making demands than negotiating solutions.  In particular, Washington seems to ignore the interdependence of issues, the fact that positions taken in one area may affect responses in others.

For instance, the U.S. famously initiated a “pivot” to Asia, or “rebalancing” of U.S. resources to the region.  The U.S. implausibly claimed that the shift had nothing to do with China. 

But the residents of Zhongnanhai are not stupid.  For what other reason would America reaffirm military alliances and augment military forces in Beijing’s backyard?

Yet at the same time the Obama administration was pressing the PRC to apply greater pressure on North Korea to end the latter’s nuclear program and constant provocations.  Step on Pyongyang’s windpipe and force North Korea to yield, said Washington.

The U.S. acted as if it was asking for a small favor.  In fact, no one knows how the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would react.  Worst geopolitically for China would be eventual Korean reunification, which would leave an expanded U.S. ally hosting American troops on the Yalu.

The latter would be unpleasant for Beijing even without the “pivot.”  A unified Korea could play a significant role in any campaign to contain the PRC.

The Obama administration’s attempt to moderate territorial disputes in the region runs into the same problem.  America is committed to one side, maintaining defense relationships, deployments, and treaties with several interested parties including Japan.  Washington’s endorsement of the status quo favors America’s friends and allies.

The PRC likely would be skeptical even if it saw the U.S.-led bloc as benign.  However, America’s senior ally is Japan, still remembered for its World War II depredations in China. 

The U.S. has sought Beijing’s aid in overthrowing the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and forcing Iran to abandon any nuclear weapons ambitions.  The PRC’s acquiescence would expand American influence and even perhaps create a new U.S. client state.  That is not obviously in the PRC’s interest, especially when America is seen as attempting to maintain its dominance in East Asia.

Other issues also cannot be considered in isolation.  While human rights are not a security question, American pressure on Beijing to respect political activities hostile to the Communist Party’s monopoly of power may be seen to be no less threatening than Washington’s military moves. 

Moreover, U.S. attempts to convince Beijing to combat climate change by limiting energy use—which would inevitably slow China’s economic growth—look more sinister when Washington is working to constrain the PRC’s influence. 

There inevitably will be disagreements and misunderstandings between America and China.  The two nations must manage such controversies.  As I point out in a new article on China-U.S. Focus, “the world’s superpower and incipient superpower must strive to develop a sustained cooperative relationship, as did imperial Great Britain and rising America.”

Doing so will require recognizing that issues are interrelated.  In particular, the U.S. cannot be seen as leading a coalition against Beijing if it hopes to convince the PRC to adopt policies seemingly against its own geopolitical interests.  Washington will have to relearn the art of diplomacy as it better sets priorities.

Doug Bandow

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is angry with the U.S., citing all manner of crimes and misdemeanors.  Worse, Washington has turned the Republic of Korea into an international welfare queen, apparently forever stuck on the U.S. defense dole.

It’s time for the ROK to graduate and America to allow the Koreans solve their own problems.

Last week North Korea’s deputy UN ambassador, Ri Tong-il, denounced Washington:   U.S. behavior “is reminding us of the historical lasting symptoms of a mentally retarded patient.”  The DPRK’s list of grievances was long. 

Although it’s tempting to dismiss Ambassador Ri’s dyspeptic remarks, he made a legitimate point when justifying his nation’s nuclear program:  “No country in the world has been living like the DPRK, under serious threats to its existence, sovereignty, survival.”  Even paranoids have enemies.

In any war the North would face South Korea, which has vastly outstripped Pyongyang, and the U.S., the globe’s superpower.  East Asia is filled with additional American allies, while the North’s Cold War partners, Moscow and Beijing, have drifted away.  Impoverished, bankrupt, and alone in a world in which Washington bombs and invades small countries at will, the DPRK would be foolish to entrust its survival to U.S. self-restraint.

Which raises the question:  just what is America doing with troops on the Korean peninsula? 

The region never was a vital interest for Washington.  At the end of World War II the U.S. and Soviet Union divided the peninsula.  The North’s invasion of the ROK in June 1950 drew America back in militarily.  Washington later initiated a “Mutual” Defense Treaty with the South and retained a sizable military garrison, since whittled down to 28,500.

However, South Korea began its economic take off in the 1960s.  Democracy came to the South in the late 1980s. About the same time Beijing was reforming and the Cold War was ending, highlighted by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Today the ROK has 40 times the GDP, twice the population, all the new technologies, the most important allies, access to international markets, and a system legitimized by elections and popular consent.  Yet Seoul remains seemingly helpless, dependent on America.

Why should Washington defend the South 61 years after the Korean War ended?

The ROK is well able to construct whatever military forces are necessary for its own protection.  The idea that Seoul cannot match a bankrupt, starving, and isolated nation with a fraction of South Korea’s resources is nonsense.

The DPRK’s nuclear capabilities are unclear, but American conventional forces on the peninsula play no role in preventing a nuclear strike.  To the contrary, U.S. conventional deployments put Americans in harm’s way, creating nuclear hostages.

 Some Americans envision U.S. bases in South Korea as “dual use,” part of a regional network to contain Beijing.  However, with South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping exchanging state visits, it would be foolish to expect the ROK to commit national suicide by joining an American war against China.

Unfortunately, the defense promise is expensive for Washington, which must not only risk war but also create a larger military to back the commitment.  Moreover, the U.S. military presence inevitably makes America the focal point of North Korea’s antagonisms.

South Korea has achieved much internationally.  But that only sets Seoul’s military dependence in starker relief.  As I point out on Forbes online:  “a serious nation in every other regard, the ROK is a defense welfare queen, abusing the generosity of the American people.”

U.S. troops should return home and Washington’s security guarantee should end.  South Korea then would be freed of its embarrassing reliance on others for its defense.

Ilya Shapiro

Last year, in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the Supreme Court delivered a blow to the use of racial preferences in university admissions by reversing a Fifth Circuit panel opinion that had allows the use of race in UT-Austin’s admissions policy. That wasn’t the end of the story, however; after holding that the university bears the burden of proving that its use of racial preferences is necessary and narrowly tailored—a point on which university administrators are due no deference—the Court remanded the case back to the Fifth Circuit to determine whether UT had offered evidence sufficient to prove that its use of race was “narrowly tailored to achieving the educational benefits” of diversity. 

Recall that UT-Austin’s admissions program fills most of its spots through a race-neutral Top Ten Percent Plan—which offers admission to high school graduates in the top ten percent of their class—then fills the remaining seats with a “holistic” rating that takes into account various factors typical to admissions programs (including race for certain preferred minorities).

Well, on remand, the Fifth Circuit panel split 2-1 but once again sided with the university, holding that even if the Top Ten Percent Plan already provided a “critical mass” of minority students, the use of racial preferences was necessary to achieve some other special kind of diversity.  The dissenting opinion by Judge Emilio Garza points out how the majority has deferred, once again, to the university’s hand-waving claim that its use of racial preferences is narrowly tailored to an actual, appropriate interest, without having actually proven anything approaching what is constitutionally required. 

Abigail Fisher, the white former applicant suing UT-Austin, has asked the full Fifth Circuit to rehear the case. Cato has filed a brief supporting that petition. 

In our brief, we argue that the Fifth Circuit panel failed to apply actual, deference-free strict scrutiny, failed to require the university to define the “critical mass” its race-based policy is intended to achieve, and failed to require the university to explain with particularity why race-blind measures wouldn’t be able to achieve its interests.  The constitutional laziness and deference the panel majority showed is striking.  The Fifth Circuit should hear this case en banc and correct the errors made by the panel majority, which contradict circuit precedent in various ways.

Further background and Cato’s previous filings in the case are available here.

Jason Bedrick

In a conversation about teacher tenure reform on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today, Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) claimed that “most teachers right now in America have less than two years of experience.” 

Randi Weingarten on Morning Joe

Studies show that teachers are more effective after a few years of classroom experience, so this new development would be quite disturbing… if it were remotely true.

According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, only 9% of government school teachers had less than three years of classroom experience in 2011-12. Even charitably assuming that by “most” Weingarten meant only 50.1%, there would have had to have been massive layoffs and unprecedented hiring in the last two years. Since the number of teachers has not changed significantly in that time, Weingarten’s claim assumes that about 1.4 million experienced teachers were replaced by new recruits since 2012. The latest NCES data showed only 8% of government school teachers leaving the profession after the 2008-09 school year, which is fewer than 275,000.

In other words, Weingarten would like us to believe that the number of teachers leaving the profession has increased five-fold in five years. Even half that number would have resulted in screaming headlines across the nation. It simply did not happen.

These figures are especially hard to believe when government school teacher “accountability” systems routinely rate nearly all teachers as “effective”—even when those same systems categorize schools as low-performing. Here’s an example from Michigan reported this morning, where school performance is somehow declining as teacher “effectiveness” supposedly improves:

For the last two years, every high school student in the Lansing School District received a letter from the district stating that all three high schools are on the state’s low-performing watch list.

The letters are mandated after a school is designated as one of the worst performing in the state by finishing in the bottom 5 percent academically.

Yet, according to the district, the effectiveness of its teachers is increasing significantly while it has had more schools put on the state’s low-performing watch list.

In 2009-10, the district had one school on the persistently lowest achieving list. That number increased to two in 2010-11 and then eight in 2011-12 and six in 2012-13. The 2013-14 list of low performing schools will be released later this month by the Michigan Department of Education.

In 2011-12, the Lansing School District rated all 887 of its teachers as “effective” — the second highest of four ratings available. In 2012-13, 337 teachers received “highly effective,” 456 received “effective,” 20 received “minimally effective” and 1 received “ineffective.”

In 2013-14, 363 teachers received “highly effective,” 301 received “effective,” 16 received “minimally effective” and 1 received “ineffective.”

In three years, only two out of 2,382 teacher evaluations (or 0.08%) rated teachers as “ineffective” in the failing schools. Would they have us believe that there was just an influx of rotten kids?

This problem is not only rampant across Michigan, but across the nation. Nearly all of New York’s teachers were rated “effective” while two-third of students were failing reading and math tests. In Indiana, fewer than 0.5% of teachers were rated “ineffective” last year, though 320 of 2,114 schools received a “D” or “F” grade. In 2013, only 4% of Louisiana teachers were rated “ineffective” though about 28% of schools received a “D” or “F” grade.

Government teacher evaluation systems too often fail to identify ineffective teachers and union rules often make it almost impossible to fire incompetent teachers, yet the AFT’s president would have us believe that there has been an unprecedented number of government school teachers replaced in the last two years. If you believe that, she also has a magic new diet pill to sell you.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the AFT has muddied national discourse about education policy with dubious “data.”


[Hat tip to Bob Bowden of Choice Media and Dave Dorsey of the Kansas Policy Institute.]

Doug Bandow

The agony of the families of the 298 people who died on flight MH17 lives on.  Fighting has prevented Dutch personnel from reaching the crash site.  However, despite calls for stronger action against Russia and its separatist clients in Ukraine, the tragic shoot down changed nothing in practice. 

American intelligence reportedly concluded that Russian separatists misjudged the flight for a Ukrainian military plane, which seems most likely.  If so, then what to do?

The bodies were still warm in Ukraine when America’s hawks began stiring the war machine.  Said Sen. John McCain:  involvement of Russia or Russian separatists in the plane shoot down “would open the gates for us assisting, finally, giving the Ukrainians some defensive weapons [and] sanctions that would be imposed as a result of that.  That would be the beginning.” 

The better answer, however, remains to do largely nothing.  The MH17 incident, while outrageous, actually is no trigger for anything.  Errant attacks on civilians, while always tragic, are not unusual.

However, in none of the earlier cases did an accidental or erroneous shoot down act as a casus belli.  Not once did much of anything happen.  Even during the Cold War such incidents were resolved peacefully.  The U.S. has no more cause than before for extensive involvement in the Ukraine imbroglio. 

Of course, Moscow’s geopolitical machinations are to be deplored.  But Russia is no Soviet Union and Vladimir Putin is no Joseph Stalin.  Unlike the U.S.S.R., Russia represents no ideological or military threat to America.

In fact, Putin’s Russia appears to have reverted to a traditional great power, concerned about international respect and border security.  Its ambitions are fierce, but bounded. 

Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine, like the former’s war against Georgia, is consistent if unfortunate.   But such action isn’t likely to lead much further.  Indeed, Moscow apparently has no interest in swallowing Ukraine, with a majority of non-Russians (in contrast to Crimea), just like it did not absorb Georgia.  Aggression further west is even less likely.

President Barack Obama correctly dismissed the threat posed by Moscow:  “Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors, not out of strength but out of weakness.” 

The situation facing Ukraine is tragic, but not one of strategic significance to America.  The U.S. never viewed Kiev’s independence as important, let alone vital, when facing the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union. 

Kiev’s situation is even less so today.  As I point out in National Interest:  “Washington has no security reason to confront Russia militarily, or to risk escalation to military action, over Moscow’s treatment of Ukraine.” 

The Ukrainians deserve sympathy, of course.  Moreover, diplomatic as well as economic pressure to constrain Russian misbehavior is warranted.  However, such efforts should be have a purpose other than punishment.  It would be a mistake to rupture relations with a country that could do much to impede or advance more substantial American objectives elsewhere—Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, North Korea, and more. 

More broadly, it is time for Europe to take over responsibility for its own defense.  Russia’s economic and military strength is dwarfed by Europe, which possesses an economy eight times the size of Russia’s and a population three times as great.  The Ukraine crisis is primarily a problem for Brussels, not Washington.

The conflict in the Ukraine is a human tragedy.  However, the U.S. has little cause for leading an international campaign against Moscow.  Instead, let Europe take the lead in putting its security and prosperity on the line.

Chris Edwards

News outlets are running stories about the rise in corporate tax inversions. Inversions are financial reorganizations that place U.S. firms under foreign parent corporations. They are one of the many ways that companies are responding to America’s uniquely high corporate tax rate.

Liberal policymakers and pundits are outraged by inversions because they fear that the government will be starved of revenues. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has demanded new rules to stop inversions because “allowing these transactions to continue, we run the risk of eroding our corporate tax base and undoing the progress we have made to reduce our budget deficits.”

However, it is our high 40 percent tax rate that is eroding our corporate tax base. If we chopped the rate substantially, tax avoidance would fall and U.S. investment would rise. Over time, more income would be reported to the government, with the result that the government would probably not lose any money, and it could even gain some. Governments, businesses, and workers would all win from a corporate tax rate cut.

Here is some evidence that the government would win. For 19 OECD countries for which there is good data back to the 1960s, I plotted the average corporate tax rates and average corporate tax revenues. The chart illustrates the Laffer effect of cutting high statutory tax rates on a very mobile tax base.

Between the mid-1960s and mid-1980s, many countries had corporate tax rates of 40 percent or more. Governments in the 19 countries collected an average 2.5 percent of GDP from corporate taxes during those years.

Then came the Thatcher-Reagan tax-cutting revolution, and corporate tax rates began falling everywhere. Between 1985 and 2012, the average rate for the sample of 19 countries fell from 45 percent to 25 percent.

Did governments in these countries collect less revenue after that huge rate cut? The opposite occurred: corporate tax revenues soared during the 1990s and 2000s. Revenues did fall during the recent recession, but they are now starting to climb again. Even in the depths of the recession, average corporate tax revenues were still higher than they were prior to the beginning of the rate-cutting revolution in the 1980s.

For more on inversions, see my recent NYT article. For more on the mobility of corporate profits in the global economy, see Global Tax Revolution.

Data Notes:

  • OECD corporate tax revenue data is here. For three countries with missing 2012 data, I proxied the values with the 2011 figures.
  • OECD corporate tax rate data is available back to 1981. I have used the central government rates only because I have not found a good source for subnational (state/provincial) rates for years prior to the OECD data.
  • For this reason, the revenues (which include subnational governments) and the rates (which do not) are not an exact match, but that is not a big problem for the purpose of showing the rate/revenue trends over time.
  • The 19 countries included in chart calculations are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States.