#NotI



On this National Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, I hereby declare a counter-movement: one rooted in women who hold themselves in such a manner that any mere man would cower at the thought of treating her as a sexual object.

No, I am not blaming the victims of the numerous accounts now coming to light.

Yes, I am calling for women to claim their dignity.

Yes, I am “privileged”: Both of my grandmothers earned their way while operating in the man’s world of the early- and mid-20th century—one had been a flapper who helped see her family through the Depression on her self-employed earnings, the other was a product of the prairie and early childhood among American Indians, whose culture she admired throughout her life. Thrust into leadership of the business empire my grandfather had founded upon his accidental death when she was 65, she ably managed the existential crisis created by his death, continuing to oversee the businesses’ growing success over the next three decades. My mother was similarly a strong role model, equally at home on corporate and non-profit boards as hands-on Camping Chair of my Girl Scout troop, and the founder at age 60 of a now top-ranked K-12 independent school.

I was a young woman entrepreneur in the 1980s in the (surprisingly to me) very male chauvinistic grocery industry, with the added twist of being at the forefront of the new “teleshopping” industry, as President of the all-delivery San Francisco Grocery Express. Started in 1981, and based in a warehouse in San Francisco’s produce district, we offered the revolutionary service of home-delivered groceries ordered by phone. In 1984, we pioneered computer shopping: you could dial into our computer from yours over your 300 baud modem and order your groceries for delivery. I worked with IBM and Sears in the development of their Prodigy online service, through which Grocery Express was available on its roll-out in 1988.

As a 1980s version of a “hipster” capitalist, I was treated as a “media darling”: featured in magazine and TV stories in an era when entrepreneurship was “hot:” “In Search of Excellence” was a top-rated TV show; books about entrepreneurs topped the bestseller lists. And as a young, attractive woman, I made a good story, feeding the current interest.

I was very surprised to learn how very male, and how very old school, the mainline grocery industry was. Attending the National Grocers Association convention in Chicago felt more like being with meat packers than my peers, and as my publicity grew, and offers to buy me out rolled in, I found myself confronted with many men who tried to discount me as just a pretty face.

Yet I have never been sexually harassed or the subject of an inappropriate approach. And I have to ask myself why. Was it channeling my Quaker grandmother’s formidable demeanor—one cannot imagine anyone crossing it with a suggestion of impropriety. But, no, I don’t think I really mastered that. I think it was more what my father taught me. He was a typical successful businessman of the “Mad Men” era, at the height of his success and dynamism in the 1950s and ‘60s (as chronicled in his biography, An Epic Life). And he witnessed first-hand behaviors such as that depicted in the popular TV series: predatory men, taking advantage of the loosened mores and availability of attractive women around them, whether in the workplace or social sphere. Yet Dad had a very strong moral code that he voiced regularly in imparting lessons to his children, whom he was also grooming in his business: one who cheats on one’s personal relationships will cheat in business. Temptations are everywhere, and the only protection is to hold oneself in check: project the persona by which you want to be regarded. If you’re on the make, others will pick up on it. If you’re not, be strong in making sure it’s clear you aren’t.

And I think it is this our culture has lost. We have become seduced by the corrupt culture of politics and celebrity, where all are by definition on the make.

It is time to recapture and re-embrace a culture of individual enterprise, which is by definition dependent on reputation of unfailing integrity.

Today’s Millennials express an extreme distrust of politicians, and admiration of “hipster” capitalists, and well they ought—and well we ought encourage this. In the private sector, virtue—playing fair, achieving success through satisfying one’s customers—is rewarded. Lying, cheating, stealing, or being a sexual predator is a quick road to universal refusal to do business with you.

So let us on this National Women’s Entrepreneurship Day celebrate the realm of enterprise as the ultimate women’s liberator, and warn our sisters from playing in the corrupt and exploitative sandboxes of popular culture and politics.

Knowledge Better Left Unknown



They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. About certain things, however, any knowledge at all is dangerous and potentially fatal. One such piece of purported knowledge pertains to the size distribution of income and wealth. This knowledge serves no good purpose; it is wholly unnecessary for defensible government policy or action. It serves only as fuel for economic misunderstanding and demagoguery. It feeds envy and provokes public mischief. If such knowledge were completely unknown, no decent project would be harmed, and a multitude of destructive policies and actions would be rendered more difficult to initiate or carry out.

A lesser but still important problem is that all such purported information is subject to high degrees of conceptual and measurement error, as even a moment’s reflection makes plain and a careful study of the matter amply confirms. Yet people bandy about alleged facts about the distribution of income and wealth as if such data were as precise and reliable as measurements of human height and weight.

(For much more extensive discussions of this subject, see my book Against Leviathan: Government Power and a Free Society (2004), especially chapters 1, 3, and 16.)

A Poor Politician



“Un político pobre es un pobre político” is a well-known Mexican aphorism attributed to Carlos Hank González. My translation: “A politician who is poor is a poor politician.” Bill and Hillary Clinton certainly took that maxim to heart, as have nearly all other politicians who ever got their filthy mitts into the Treasury and their slimy vote into the dispensation of privileges, favors, and subsides for their cronies and key supporters. Corruption should be understood as intrinsic to “American democracy”—a feature, not a bug.

Yet the leftists constantly cry out for more government, ostensibly to eliminate the corruption that invariably comes packaged with whatever the government purports to do in the public interest. (Not that the rightists don’t have their own ways of carrying out the same kind of shenanigans, of course.) In truth, the only way to curb political corruption is to drastically reduce the scope of government. Only when the politicians have nothing with which to be corrupt will they stop being corrupt.

Review: Marshall Spotlights Neglected Part of Civil Rights History



Marshall, the biopic of the illustrious and path-breaking civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall, is an important reminder about just how deep-seated racism and prejudice were in American society (and some say still are). Well acted and evenly paced, the film is a worthy addition to a growing list of good films depicting layered aspects of the African-American experience and the fight for justice. (Other moves include Hidden Figures, Loving, Fences, Twelve Years a Slave.)

Some viewers might find the content of Marshall unfamiliar because so much of the contemporary discussion of racism targeting African Americans centers on the South under Jim Crow and slavery. The American Civil War is well over one hundred years old. Jim Crow and its racially segregationist laws were legally dismantled in the 1960s. Most history books give short shrift to the ways racism was institutionalized in social and cultural institutions in northern states. But the entire nation has been struggling with the consequences of both legal (de jure) and de facto racial segregation since colonial courts sanctioned slavery in the 1660s.

Thus, Marshall’s setting, 1941 Greenwich, Connecticut, is important to the story as well as raising awareness of a much neglected part of the twentieth century Civil Rights Movement. The story centers on a now largely forgotten criminal court case, The State of Connecticut vs. Joseph Spellman. Prosecutors charged African-American chauffeur Joseph Spellman (Sterling K. Brown, This is Us, Army Wives) with raping and then attempting to kill wealthy socialite Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson, Almost Famous, Nine, Deepwater Horizon). After sixteen hours of interrogation, Spelling confessed to the crime.

Why Subsidize the U.S. Department of Education When We Could be Funding ESAs Ourselves?



Last month marked the 38th anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Department of Education.

Proponents insisted that elevating the Office of Education to a Cabinet-level department would improve federal education spending efficiency as well as student achievement. Opponents countered that there is scant (if any) evidence that increasing federal control over education would achieve either.

Turns out, oppoenents were right.

From fiscal years 1970 through 2016, U.S. Office/Department of Education (ED) K-12 spending outpaced student enrollment by more than 10 to one.

Over this period, ED spending increased more than 115 percent in real terms from $38.1 billion to $82.1 billion. Yet elementary and secondary enrollment increased by just 11 percent, from 45.5 million students to 50.6 million students.

Meanwhile, math and reading scores of 17-year-olds have improved by just two points each since the early 1970s, to 306 in math and 287 in reading out of a possible 500, on the Nation’s Report Card, the longest-running nationally representative assessment of American students.

The percentages of public high school seniors who now score proficient or better on this assessment are also alarmingly low.

The Boon of Growing U.S. Imports from Mexico



Since NAFTA went into effect in 1994, U.S. imports of goods from Mexico have grown from about $4 billion per year to about $28 billion (annual rate as of March 2017). Americans have also purchased a lot more services, not counted in this measure, from Mexicans during the past two decades (e.g., tourist services such as entertainment, transportation, and the occupancy of hotel rooms for Americans visiting Mexico). These are goods and services that Americans wanted enough to voluntarily pay for them. These imports represent what trade is for—namely, getting possession of goods and services that foreigners offer for sale on relatively attractive terms. Much of the growth in the volume of imports from Mexico can be attributed to reductions in trade restrictions embedded in NAFTA, which the U.S. government is now trying to scrap or drastically revamp. If NAFTA were such a bad deal, why did Americans voluntarily agree to pay Mexicans for more and more of these goods?

Yes, I know, in some cases these transactions occurred because Americans purchased goods from Mexicans that they had previously purchased from Americans or might otherwise have bought from Americans. So what? The Acme Corporation doesn’t possess a right to have anyone continue to buy its products. Every seller is constantly at risk of losing out to competitors, foreign or domestic. If I can’t compete with others who supply the same things that I supply—which for me is manifestly the case—-do I have a just right to penalize those who choose to buy from my competitors rather than from me or to send the government to do the dirty work on my behalf?

The so-called protectionism being touted by President Trump and his supporters is little more than picking the pockets of U.S. consumers. Note, however, that much of the goods imported from Mexico consists not of immediately consumable goods, but of producer goods (e.g., petroleum, automobile parts, and components of a vast array of other manufactured goods) that help to make U.S. goods better and cheaper than they otherwise would be. The Trumpistas suppose that exports are a benefit and imports a regrettable thing ought to be reduced as much as possible. In this regard, they have matters upside down: imports are what Americans value; exports are directly or indirectly only a means of importing the valuable goods. If you doubt this claim, simply imagine what would be the case if Americans regularly sent vast quantities of goods abroad and got back no goods at all. This situation would give rise to an infinitely positive balance of trade—and amount to an economic disaster. Sad to say, the Trump forces have infused new life into mercantilist fallacies that were debunked centuries ago by Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and a host of economists since their day. It is sad to contemplate how many voters prefer picking their neighbors’ pockets to honestly earning their own way in open competitive markets.

The JFK Files



I’ve heard it said that “you never forget where you were when you heard that President Kennedy was shot.” I remember, but most American’s don’t because Kennedy’s assassination was 54 years ago and most Americans weren’t alive then.

Like many Americans, I am convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald, the person who shot President Kennedy, did not act alone. The convincing evidence, as I see it, is that Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby, who was convicted of the murder but died of lung cancer in prison while his case was being appealed.

There is no doubt that Ruby killed Oswald, because that killing was televised, but why did Ruby do it? Oswald was already in custody, and if he was the actual assassin, he surely would be sentenced to death. The only reason for Ruby to kill Oswald first would be to keep him from revealing his conspirators.

Enabling California K-12 Students to Thrive through Education Savings Accounts



California is an innovation leader in lots of areas except one: K-12 education. Enacting education savings accounts (ESAs) would help.

As I detail in a new policy report, California’s public-school system, which largely rations education based on where a child’s parents can afford to live, is a relic of a bygone era. Such a system cannot provide the customized learning students need to succeed. That’s why a growing number of states are enacting ESA programs.

Similar to health savings accounts (HSAs), which put individuals in charge of their healthcare, ESAs empower parents to direct their children’s education.

The ESA concept is simple. Parents of a student who is not thriving in public school simply withdraw her or him and sign a contract promising not to re-enroll their child while using an ESA. Next the state deposits the per-student formula funding it would have spent into that child’s ESA instead. Under most programs parents receive type of dedicated-use debit card to pay for authorized expenses including private school tuition, online courses, testing fees, tutoring, and special education therapies. Any leftover funds remain in the child’s ESA for future education expenses, including college.

A Few Thoughts on Catalonia



The Catalan independence movement has drawn some support among libertarians.

From a theoretical standpoint, any group’s attempt to break away from a larger political entity is hard to argue with. Ultimately, though, the principle of self-determination, taken to its logical extreme, would mean dissolving the state and replacing it with voluntary associations. Which is why some classical liberals have taken a more limited view of self-determination.

Ludwig von Mises, for instance, argued in Liberalism that the only defensible self-determination was that of individuals, not nations, and since it is impracticable on technical grounds, it is necessary to accept the will of the majority in a given territory.

Fred S. McChesney, Rest in Peace



I first met Fred S. McChesney (1948–2017) at the Federal Trade Commission in the early 1980s. Ronald Reagan had just been elected to the presidency and had appointed James C. Miller III as the FTC’s chairman. Robert D. Tollison had been confirmed as the Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Economics. I am not sure how Fred ended up on the FTC’s professional staff after having practiced law in the D.C. area, but he was serving as the Bureau of Consumer Protection’s Associate Director for Policy and Planning when I interviewed for a position in his “shop.” That interview did not turn into a job offer from Fred, which was a blessing in disguise because I ended up working instead for Bob Tollison. Fortunately, that near-miss did not preclude our future friendship.

Being nearly the same age and with similar doctoral training in economics, Fred at the University of Virginia (UVA), me at Texas A&M, we later became intellectual soulmates, although I hasten to emphasize that I am not a lawyer. Fred was: He held a Juris Doctorate from the University of Miami’s Law School and had been counted among the first generation of students to graduate from the program created by then-Dean Henry Manne to produce lawyers with Ph.D.-level knowledge of microeconomic theory. Joint economics Ph.D.-J.D. degree programs are now thriving at George Mason University, New York University, and other schools, but Fred was on the leading edge of Henry Manne’s curricular innovation.

  • MyGovCost.org
  • FDAReview.org
  • OnPower.org
  • elindependent.org