The Independent Institute


Brexit Can Herald a New ‘Golden Era’ for the City of London as a Global Powerhouse

On June 23, 2016, the British people voted to leave the European Union. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech on January 17, 2017 then made it clear that the United Kingdom would opt for a hard Brexit: It would leave not just the EU, but also the European Economic Area, membership of which means accepting freedom of movement and the vast regulatory apparatus of the Single Market. Then on March 29, the UK invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, thereby giving formal notice of its intent to leave and triggering a two-year deadline that can be extended only if all parties agree, which is highly unlikely. The UK is therefore likely to leave the EU on March 29, 2019.

One of the most complicated and difficult topics related to Brexit is that of financial services, and in particular, the future of the City of London. To be frank, the relationship between the City and the EU was always a strained one (see, e.g., Congdon, 2014). The City had grown to prominence in an earlier era, when regulation was light and competition prospered. Indeed, competition was the key to the City’s success as a global financial leader. As the EU project developed, however, the City became subject to increasingly onerous EU regulations and especially after the Eurozone was established, these regulations tended to favor the interests of the Eurozone financial sector over those of the UK’s.

Review: The Promise, the Armenian Holocaust, and the Origins of Genocide

If you want to know the origin of the term “genocide,” watch the film The Promise. Literally. The movie is billed as a romantic drama, but it’s really a well-produced, narratively complex story of the Ottoman Empire’s systematic and targeted extermination of 1.5 million Christian Armenians through starvation, forced labor, rioting, and massacres in what is now Turkey.

In fact, the word “genocide” was coined in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin, who drew directly from the Turkish government’s expulsion of 2 million Armenians between 1915 and 1924 to define the practical parameters of the term. The Promise, while fiction, does a hauntingly good job of staying faithful to the story of the what is often now referred to as the Armenian Holocaust.

The Promise opens on the eve of World War I. The Ottoman Empire is desperately trying to hold on to power. The Muslim government has allied with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire against England, France, Italy, and the Russians. Anti-Armenian feelings have been festering for decades as Mikael (Oscar Isaac, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, X-Men: Apocalypse), a young Armenian apothecary (traditional pharmacist), decides to become a doctor. But he’s too poor to afford the fees at the imperial medical school. So, he agrees to marry Maral (Angela Sarafyan, A Beautiful Life, Lost and Found in Armenia) and uses her dowry to pay for medical school. He sincerely promises Maral he will return, marry her, and spend the rest of his life in service to his ethnically and religiously diverse village.

In Constantinople, Mikael lives with his uncle who runs a thriving bizarre, mirroring the mercantile and professional wealth generated by many urban Armenians despite legal and economic discrimination under Muslim rule. Mikael meets his uncle’s family nanny, Ana (Charlotte Le Bon, The Hundred-Foot Journey, The Walk, Anthropoid), an Armenian raised in Paris. Ana watches over his aunt and uncle’s two children, her charm and exuberance entrancing Mikael. He falls far her even though she is involved with an American journalist working for the Associated Press (Christian Bale, American Psycho, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises).

Soon thereafter, the Turkish government adopts policies that consciously and violently purge Armenians from the empire. One policy that ensnares Mikael is the conscription of male Armenians into work camps where they are starved and murdered upon completion of their tasks. Mikael’s uncle is among the hundreds of prominent business people and intellectuals who are rounded up and presumably murdered or sent to work camps. Elsewhere, Turkish rioters ransack stores and pillage homes. Turkish troops massacre hundreds of Armenians, burn their villages and towns, and force the refugees on long marches across rugged terrain and the desert to Aleppo.

The film treads lightly on the religious foundations of the expulsion, even though historically this is a crucial component of the story. As an independent nation, Armenia was the first nation to convert completely to Christianity, seeding centuries-long suspicions among Muslims about Armenian loyalties. In the movie, Mikael befriends a well-connected Muslim student in medical school, Emre Ogan (Marwan Kenzari, Collide, Ben-Hur), who actively works to protect him from the government pogrom at great risk to himself and his status within his family. This creative choice to emphasize the secular nature of the government’s purge is likely because the filmmakers wanted to emphasize the theme of religious tolerance, a perspective made clear to audiences in the opening narration.

Reviewers have criticized The Promise because the romantic triangle between Mikael, Ana, and journalist Chris Myers seems clumsy and distracting. To some extent this may be a reaction to what may be construed as “bait and switch” on the part of the filmmakers. The movie’s trailers pitch the romantic tension, not the atrocities that drive the plot (see the official movie poster). The film, however, never loses its identity as principally a story about the opening months of the genocide.

Creatively, the romantic triangle provides a narratively complex way of telling a complicated story to an audience removed from the history and incidents. Individually, the characters are authentic. Isaac and Le Bon seem to have a genuine connection and chemistry on screen. Their affection for each other is well played. Mikael’s story illustrates the emotional and intellectual dilemmas facing Armenians at the time, as he is pulled toward a more cosmopolitan direction in Constantinople but is unwilling to give up the commitments he has made to his family and village. Ana is the expatriate hoping to return to the home of her heritage, a bridge between the modern, sophisticated, and prosperous life that comes with economic success, one one side, and the lure of traditional values on the other. She is the foil for Mikael’s torn loyalties and understanding of self. Chris Myers is the journalist driven to shine a light on the injustices of prejudice and state-sponsored terror. The love triangle gets messy, and the shifts in emotional commitments reflect the exigencies of the moment.

The problem is with Christian Bale, or more accurately, his character. Chris Myers, the AP reporter, is a rough-and-tough front-line reporter. His character is exactly the type that would be reporting on the atrocities to the world, just as the New York Times did every day during the genocide. Audiences, however, are left guessing why the sensitive, passionate Ana has any romantic interest in the gruff, hard-drinking, often obnoxious Myers. 

The real danger is that a viewing public so far removed from these atrocities might find the scope of its brutality unbelievable. But the Turkish government did attempt to systematically annihilate the Armenian people, along with other Christian minorities such as Assyrians and Greeks, succeeding in killing three-quarters of the nearly 2 million Armenians living in the Turkey, more than a half-million Greeks, and another 300,000 Assyrians. Entire villages were burned to the ground and their residents were massacred. Hundreds of thousands died on forced marches. The Ottoman government did round up the intellectuals and execute them.

However incredulous audiences may be regarding the historical facts, they will find that The Promise is a well-acted and visually engaging epic. (Its diverse landscapes and sweeping vistas are rendered brilliantly with the aid of digital technology.) The film’s pace convincingly builds toward a climactic and tragic evacuation on the beaches below Musa Dagh mountain, the real-life location of a successful resistance against the Turkish army as it closed in on the fleeing refugees. (The hero in the film, as in history, is the French Navy.)

The Promise is a strong film with enough historical accuracy to make it a natural and worthy complement to any secondary school curriculum on the Jewish Holocaust (along with the novels The Gendarme by Mark Mustian and The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel). The story of the Armenian Genocide deserves a wide hearing, and The Promise does a fine job of telling it. The film serves as a compelling reminder that state-sponsored mass murder and ethnic cleansing didn’t begin with the Germans in the 1930s and wasn’t a simple extrapolation from the political aftermath of World War I. Indeed, the Ottoman Empire foreshadowed its brutality and efficiency twenty years earlier, taking atrocity to a new level in the twentieth century.

Think Twice before You Find Fault with Modernity

Modernity has never lacked for critics, people who see only regression from a nobler or more glorious past when men were men and women liked them that way. But for the economic or cultural historian, such an outlook is the sheerest balderdash.

If I had lived a thousand years ago, I would almost certainly have scratched out a precarious living, constantly on the edge of starvation, chronically ill, and culturally embedded in an inescapable wasteland of vicious error and destructive superstitions. I would never have thrilled to a song by Handel, a concerto grosso by Bach, a symphony by Beethoven or Brahms. I would never have watched any of Shakespeare’s plays or read any of his poetry. I would never have encountered even the intellectual gems that existed in the works of Aristotle or the classical Greek dramatists, never have learned Euclidean geometry, never have met with the ancient contributions to astronomy, because I would almost certainly have been illiterate and too far removed from any place that harbored learned people. And in those days, before the development of printing with movable type, the only means of spreading existing knowledge remained as always before the laborious copying of existing works by hand and the slow passage of copies from hand to hand. In short, life would have been poor, nasty, brutish, and short, even if not solitary.

People who glamorize the remote past practice a highly selective filtering of gold from a mountainous mass of ugly, toxic dirt. Life was hard even for those who sat in luxury above the masses and exploited them. They knew nothing of bacteriology; their children died in droves. The masses worked against heavy odds to extract enough from the soil to make their survival possible, and many failed to meet the test. Even if one doesn’t like industrialization and its consequences, one cannot escape the reality that what preceded modernity was materially, intellectually, and culturally close to zero for nearly everyone. Something is surely amiss when modern critics, enjoying all the material comforts and conveniences as well as the cultural amenities available at the push of a button, venture to dismiss modernity as if it were something even one in a thousand of them would give up.

State Governments Are Becoming the Biggest Drug Lords of All

The so-called war on drugs—actually a war on certain people associated in various ways with certain drugs—has served since the Nixon administration as a major profit center for governments at every level. Owing to the ostensible efforts to suppress the possession, use, and commerce in these drugs, governments have been able to justify great increases in their staffs, budgets, and power. Of all the interest groups that have devoted themselves to propping up this social, economic, and political catastrophe, the government itself stands prominently above the others, especially the police, the prosecutors, the prison guards, and the unions that represent the police and the prison personnel. Despite substantial efforts by various private groups opposed to the war on drugs and despite the growing public disapproval of the war on drugs, especially the marijuana laws, the government groups have remained steadfast in their opposition to any slackening of the established actions to cut off drug supplies and punish everyone engaged in the industry, whether as producer, consumer, or middleman. At present, President Trump, his attorney general, and his secretary of homeland security are all voicing support for not only retaining, but ramping up the national government’s war on drugs, including its enforcement of the federal marijuana laws.

In recent decades, however, a growing number of states have liberalized their drug laws, especially those related to marijuana.

Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia currently have laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form. Three other states will soon join them after recently passing measures permitting use of medical marijuana.

Seven states and the District of Columbia have adopted the most expansive laws legalizing marijuana for receational use. Most recently, California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada all passed measures in November legalizing recreational marijuana. California’s Prop. 64 measure allows adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their homes. Other tax and licensing provisions of the law will not take effect until January 2018. (For source, see here.)

As this summary indicates, states that are “liberalizing” their marijuana laws are not doing so by simply repealing existing laws that make the possession, distribution, and production of these products illegal. Instead, the states are creating a complex regime of control, regulation, and taxation.

Thoughts on the Trinity Lutheran Case and SCOTUS

The media has been reporting on the arguments in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, the so-called “playground case.” I’ve had a chance to examine the briefs and arguments and wanted to share these thoughts.

First, a bit of background. The state of Missouri operates a program whereby it reimburses nonprofits when they install rubber playground surfaces made from recycled tires. Money for the state program comes from a fee/tax on new tire sales. Trinity Lutheran Church, according to its petition to the Supreme Court, applied for Missouri’s Scrap Tire Grant Program so that it could provide a safer playground for children who attend its daycare and for neighborhood children who use the playground after hours.

The Church would have gotten the grant but for the following provision in the Missouri Constitution: “That no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion, or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof, as such; and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.”

UK News Special: Theresa May Calls a General Election

You will by now have seen the news from the United Kingdom: Prime Minister Theresa May is calling a snap general election. Frankly, I had been wondering why she didn’t do this earlier.

Here is my quick take:

Now, I admit that I was never a great fan of Mrs. May. I don’t care for Tory “law and order” types who have a long history of instinctively overreacting, especially in Ireland, and as Home Secretary she supported measures that greatly restricted our freedom.

But she is proving to be a skilled and formidable Prime Minister. She respected the result of the Brexit referendum despite being a Remainer herself. She got it right on the UK leaving the Single Market, she is doing a good job dealing with EU leaders, and she is right to blame Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, who will just not keep quiet with her daily demands for IndyRef2, a second referendum on Scottish independence. Calling an election will not only give Mrs. May a fresh five-year mandate, but it should also sort out the Sturgeon problem once and for all.

The Fed’s Inflation Fixation

The Federal Reserve has an inflation target of 2% per year. That target appears to be a minimum: They are concerned when inflation falls below their target but appear to be content with inflation above 2%. The current inflation rate from March 2016 to March 2017, measured by the Consumer Price Index, is 2.4%.

Prices provide information about the cost of bringing goods and services to market. Viewed in that way, a price increase should indicate that a good or service is more expensive to produce, and a price decrease should indicate it is less expensive to produce. Deviations from this function lower the informational value of prices and make economic calculation more difficult.

Because advances in technology generally make goods and services less expensive to produce, prices should generally be falling to reflect the falling real cost of production. Even a stable price level is somewhat misleading when productivity increases lower the cost of producing goods and services. Increased productivity would result in falling prices, were it not for the fact that the value of money is falling faster.

Sanctuary Cities and Federal Dollars

Sanctuary Cities are in an uproar over President Trump’s executive order promising to withhold federal money from “sanctuary jurisdictions.” They are seeking court intervention to nullify the order. Sanctuary cities, as a general matter, prohibit local cops from cooperating with Immigration & Customs Enforcement agents, forbid the local cops from notifying the feds regarding illegal aliens in law enforcement custody, etc.

According to Trump’s order, “Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States. These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic.” The Order calls upon the Attorney General and the Secretary for Homeland Security, “in their discretion and to the extent consistent with law,” to compile a list of sanctuary jurisdictions that will “not [be] eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary.”

This could be a huge hit for some cities. For example, it is reported that nearly a quarter of Seattle’s $4 billion budget came from federal government.

The Real Educational Choice Debate Isn’t About Money. It’s About Government Control

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking about the future of school choice at an event hosted in Washington, DC, by the Independent Women’s Forum, featuring The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke and SAVE President Edward Bartlett.

The core issue of this public policy debate is not about money. It’s about competing visions over who has the right and responsibility for the education and upbringing of children.

The rationale animating the creation of the US Department of Education is that government knows best. Consider the remarks of Congressman Samuel Moulton of Illinois one year before the US Department of Education was originally established back in 1867. The department would be:

...a pure fountain from which a pure stream can be poured upon all the States. We want a controlling head by which the conflicting systems in the different States can be harmonized, by which there can be uniformity. ...I take the high ground that every child [is] entitled to an education at the hands of somebody, and that this ought not be left to the caprice of individuals or [the] States so far as we have any power to regulate it.” (Remarks made on June 8, 1866, pp. 3044-45)

Flash forward over 150 years. Earlier this month Arizona enacted what is being hailed as “the most expansive choice program in the country,” a universal education savings account (ESA) program, which is being phased in to include all students over the next few school years (SB 1431).

Venezuela’s Inferno

The decision by Venezuela’s Supreme Court, a political poodle of President Nicolás Maduro, to take over the powers of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, has sparked off massive demonstrations that the government’s vicious repression has been unable to stop. Although the decision was reversed a day later, the spirit of rebellion has proven resilient. Three young demonstrators have been killed and hundreds are injured.

Maduro has ordered the use of helicopters to spread tear gas and other substances on protestors (a hospital was targeted in one incident), and stationed snipers in various buildings from which shots have been fired at opposition rallies. This level of repression by the National Guard, the political police, and the so-called “collectives” (groups of armed Chavista thugs reminiscent of Brown Shirts who roam the streets beating up dissenters) has not been seen since 2014, when some of the opposition leaders were incarcerated and dozens of students killed.

Maduro thought he had managed to survive an attempt to force a recall referendum at the end of last year, when he called a “dialogue” aimed at disarming his adversaries and gaining time. He had the invaluable help of three former Spanish and Latin American presidents, and, briefly but ambiguously, the Vatican. When the dialogue proved to be a joke, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, began an effort to expose the farcical nature of the process and the true measure of the Venezuelan dictatorship. He invoked, once again, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which opens the door, under certain conditions, to the suspension of a country from membership of the hemispheric body.